Toyota Prius Review

There are folks I trust to give good and accurate reviews, Brian K. is one of those DIYers who pays attention to details and does a goodly amount of research before he makes an investment.

So here it is…  a short review of Brian and Sue’s Prius, since they live in Maine where it gets plenty cold, I think they have a better chance to see potential short comings of the design.


Hi George,

We’ve had the Prius for 2 1/2 months now and I’ve got a bunch of experience with it now. I thought you might like to read of it.

First, we LOVE the car. What a nice vehicle! It’s a real nice ride. Everyone who rides in it winds up loving the thing also. Toyota definitely did their job when they redesigned the Prius in ’04. Lots of passenger and stowage room, very quiet, nice sound system (standard), great lights (option).

There is all sorts of power, a really big amount of low end torque- it does push one into the seats (if desired) from a standing start. Cruising at 75 is no problem, I haven’t tried to go faster, 75 will get me a big enough ticket if there is a willing cop. At 75 mph on cruise control we got 48.x mpg on a 200 mile trip when the car was brand new. Naturally, the more speed the worse the mileage, that’s standard for any car. The best mpg we’ve gotten is 64.x for a 25-30 mile pizza run. Lots of uphill and downhill and in-town driving and the Prius thrives on both of those. Last week I was on vacation and took two trips into the “mountains” (hills really) of Maine. The first trip was 220+miles and I got 56.4 mpg. The second trip was 180+ miles and I got 55.x mpg. Folks on the ‘net tell me that the mileage will increase as the car breaks in. Too, I still have the break in oil in the engine, I haven’t gone to synthetic yet there should be a small increase when that’s in the engine.

Some things we now have with the new car that are firsts for us are Anti lock brakes, traction control, and electronic stability control. In early April we had a really nasty spring snow storm. I was out in it so decided to test the new stuff in an empty parking lot rather than being surprised among other cars on the road. First the ABS. Entering the lot I feathered the brakes, then heavier feathered braking, sure enough there was the ABS. No problem, feathering the brakes still alows the ABS to work, cool. Next up, traction control. Stop and take off with more power than I’d normally use. TC kicked in and I couldn’t spin a tire. Back off on the power and things return to normal or so it seemed. OK, now ESC , this one is freaky. I started to move in a tight circle, accelerating. I’d just begin to feel the tires losing traction and the vehicle heading into a skid and the ESC chime would sound and the car would correct the skid and put the car back on it’s original track. Faster than I ever could have reacted the correction was made and the ESC cut back out. On the way home all of these systems came on at least once. Always faster than I ever could have reacted they did their job and returned control to me. We live on an unpaved dirt road up a hill. Under terrible conditions it’s largely unclimbable w/o 4wd. This storm was a pretty big test. TC came on at least once, VSC came on 3x, but even with the OEM tires the car made it up the hill first try and without difficulty. Amazing! The question I have is if they work this good with OEM tires, how good will they work with a set of good studded snows?

The issue of the traction battery came up once so far that I’ve read on the ‘net. A woman was trying to sell her Prius with 100,000 some odd miles on it. A gent called and in the conversation mentioned that the battery pack would need replacing and that it’s out of warranty. Yup, on the out of warranty (8/80,000 Maine warranty), but no on the placement. It’s a “life of the car” battery and should never need replacement for upwards of 200,000 miles or 18 years, or so Toyota says. Folks just don’t know that. Lots of BS is generally believed about the car, I hear it all. Limited range of the “electric car”, lack of power, traction battery, plug it in for recharging, you name it. In time they’ll learn. I even had one guy at work tell me all about the car, he didn’t know we had one. Naturally all that the expert was telling me was pure BS, the typical BS. He nearly $hit when I told him we had one and he didn’t know squat about what he was talking about.

I’m on vacation next week, yes, yet again. If the weather cooperates I plan on taking it up Mt. Washington to see how some other items work. What happens when the battery is full and regeneration isn’t available for braking? Does the Jake brake take over? I’m told it does so automatically. How does the power plant work when lots of power is needed for a long period of time? If there are any surprises I’ll let you know.



An added bonus! Following is an overview of how this vehicle works by Brian K.

How doe the Prius work? The short answer is great! The long answer is what this text is all about.

To understand how it works we first need to understand what the designers were trying to accomplish. They WERE NOT trying to make a vehicle that gets great gas mileage, that comes as a by product of the design. Their primary design consideration was to produce a vehicle rated as SULEV (super ultra low emission vehicle) and PZEV (partial zero emission vehicle). They achieved both rather elegantly. The Prius has 90% fewer emissions than a ULEV. The Prius is a Gas/Electric hybrid only if the “electric” is silent. It’s a gas hybrid. Gas is the fuel that powers it. Where does it get plugged in to recharge? Nowhere. If you want to plug it in there is no provision for it so you’d be SOL.

What they did was to design an efficient powerplant that you wouldn’t want to drive if it was only driven by the ICE (internal combustion engine), frankly the ICE in the Prius is a dog. But it’s coupled to an electric motor. Both the ICE and motor can be providing power at the same time, or each can have it’s exclusive turn when the conditions are right for that. It’s easily possible (and common) to cruise down the highway at 80 mph on only electric. When a large amount of power is needed both are used and from a standing start the acceleration will push you into the seat. It’s an extremely fast car from a stop, and due to traction control won’t waste power on spinning wheels. The ICE is a relatively low RPM (4800 max) high compression engine (13:1) and produces 80 some odd hp. I told you you wouldn’t want it as the primary powerplant in a vehicle. It was designed for efficiency, not to power a sports car.

The best analogy I’ve come across for the basic design of the Prius powerplant and control system goes this way…. If you had one pair of socks to wash would you throw them in the washer and run it? Of course not, that’s not at all efficient. But that’s EXACTLY the way a typical ICE powered vehicle works. Prius waits until it has a whole load to wash before the ICE kicks in. When that happens it can send current to the motor to propel the car, send charge to the batteries and also use itself to propel the car. A typical ICE powered vehicle is lucky to achieve 27% efficiency. Prius achieves up to 37%, so I’ve read.

In addition to an efficiently utilized ICE there are other design aspects working to achieve the design parameters. The next most noticeable one from a driving aspect is the regenerative brakes. Unless one panic stops, pretty much the brake pads aren’t used. The motor is used to generate electricity to charge the NiMH traction battery. In an ICE powered car the brakes produce heat which is wasted to the atmosphere. Years ago my father taught me that braking was a waste of gas, meaning the heat thing. Prius recycles the kinetic energy into electricity so that it can be used to drive the car. The slower the charge rate the more efficient the charging of the battery and the recycling of the kinetic energy. Tests have been done by owners (the test I’m thinking of had sophisticated equipment monitoring “things”.) And they found what I found just by watching the
displays. This is one car that is OK to “ride” the brake on, well actually feathering the brake would be a better term. Basically, 2 mph/sec deceleration is most efficient use of resources. The actual test result was on level ground and showed that from 50 mph to zero should take 24 seconds for maximum battery charging efficiency.

This car really loves hilly terrain. Briskly climb the hill to use the ICE at best efficiency, then back off (or off entirely) the throttle going downhill. At times the battery will show a charge being sent to them, at times the motor may come on to drive the car. If one has to brake (feathering!), a high frequency whine will be heard very faintly (a good thing) indicating heavy charge going to the battery. At 50 mph, going down a moderate hill, it’s common for me to bring the battery from half charge to full charge just by feathering the brakes. On that charge one can ride for quite a distance without the ICE coming on, but one has to use the throttle light to moderately. Calling for too much power kicks in the ICE. So far the longest I’ve gone without using gas is cruising around town on a pizza run. We were in electric mode all the time, probably 10 minutes total driving time at the speed limit of 25mph. On that 25-30 mile trip we got 64+mpg. Oh, the way we know this is ’cause the Prius has an LCD screen that shows just what the car is doing (if you desire), MPG is one of the readouts. It’s common to gently accelerate to cruising speed under electric as long as one isn’t in a hurry. I’ve never been able to get above 46 mph without the ICE kicking in. Then after it does it’s thing I can go back on electric as much as circumstances allow.

On the mpg readout… There is no dashboard as such. There is a HUD just under the windshield with important info, like speed, fuel, what’s turned on, important stuff, you get the idea. Then there is the LCD screen that controls everything else. Climate, sound, energy display for the drivers knowledge. The computers do the rest.

All of what goes on in the Prius might sound just a bit daunting, but the engineers did their job here also. It’s totally seamless to the driver, just get behind the wheel and drive after a short explanation of how to start it etc.. It has no ignition. It has a power button. It’s extremely difficult for a casual thief to steal. Let me digress. The driver only has direct control of the steering, everything else is controlled by computers. It’s definitely “drive by wire”. Back to theft…. With either key option the car detects a proper digital code telling it that a proper key is in the car. At that point the computers in the car allow the operator to drive it. Without the proper digital code the computers simply won’t cooperate- and there is nothing to hot wire.

Sounds like a whole bunch of stuff just waiting to break down. I know, that was one of the things I thought of also. I did research on the ‘net. The Prius has been out since ’97. I couldn’t find any major problem from owners, none. I found it very suspicious and continued to dig. What I did find was that Prius is one of the most reliable cars on the road. It has no weak link that I was able to discover. The dealer did tell me that every once in a while they find a software glitch. The early Prius wouldn’t have worked for us, it was a sedan and too small. The redesigned ’04 and ’05 is larger, more powerful, is a 5 door and gets, get this, better mileage while still being a green car (SULEV and PZEV). One gent called it ugly, but we’ve always thought of it as “cute”. The interior is well thought out and there is a huge amount of storage. People room is more than ample, folks riding in both front and back have commented on the large amount of space. One compared it to his brothers early version Prius and said the ’05 had much more interior room. The amenities are very nice, climate control, everyone has a reading light, area lights both front and rear, 2 drink holders both front and rear, the standard stereo is a premium unit- nice, since the vehicle is so quiet. When folks experience the vehicle they always fall in love with it.

Everything I’ve discussed so far is standard on all Prii. The options we got were side curtain airbags, HID lighting, vehicle stability control and smart key. George should have posted my much smaller review which covers the VSC, I’ll never have another car without it. The lights are a must have for over 40 eyes. They aren’t the early “blue lights” that have blinded many folks. The new ones are self leveling and don’t have that problem. Smart Key hasn’t been discussed.

With smart key, one just possesses the key to gain entrance to the vehicle. Don’t put it in the “key slot”, just possess it to get the computers to start the car. If one should get car jacked, just leave and the car shuts down after a few seconds. In practice just keep smart key in your pocket and everything gets handled. The car can’t be locked from the outside without smart key outside or with the smart key inside. Neat stuff. There are provisions for a dead battery in smart key. There is a normal key built into the unit that gains access to the interior, then smart key acts as the standard electronic Prius key. Insert it into the electronic key slot and the car starts.

Ok. Driving sensation. Get behind the wheel, put your foot on the brake, push the power button. The car powers up and within 2 seconds tells you it’s OK. Push the joystick to D and release it. The car is designed to imitate an ICE car with an automatic transmission and without the foot on the brake will inch forward; it also has hill hold if you don’t want to keep the foot on the brake, but that uses electricity. Ok, take your foot off the brake and put it on the throttle. Slightly depressing it on level ground or downhill won’t kick in the ICE, you’re in stealth mode. The only sound is the noise of the tires and any airstream. Depress the throttle some more and the ICE kicks in to get you to speed. When the ICE isn’t needed it shuts down, that’s perfectly normal. It happens all the time, get to a red light and the ICE shuts down. Panic in an ICE powered car, normal in a Prius. You’ll notice there are no shift points. It has a constant velocity transmission- it has a very smooth ride. At times, under heavy load, the engine noise is discernable, most times
it’s not.

Some folks ask, “How is cabin heat?”. Great. We live in Maine and have never had a problem. Engine heat comes up quickly and is one of the design parameters. Remember it’s primarily a SULEV/PZEV? In order for low emissions the engine must be up to temperature. When the engine is shut down the hot coolant is pumped into a thermos bottle where it stays hot for up to 3 days. Start the car up and the hot coolant is pumped into the engine to heat it up quicker. If that wasn’t enough, the engine will run to further warm it and to heat the catalytic converters. The engineers have done a great job with heat management with Prius, you won’t be cold. In fact that is the only way I’ve found to get the ICE to come on when the car isn’t moving. Cabin heat comes from the ICE so when the cabin needs heat the ICE will come on to provide it. At this point (I know I’m crazy- I did this) go outside and sniff the exhaust. Notice that distinct lack of any odor? It’ll kill you from CO2 and CO, but way fewer emissions than you’d expect.

Some other questions that are typically asked are:

What is the range before recharging? I already touched on this, it doesn’t get recharged and one can’t plug it in even if one desires it. The range on a tank of gas is … It has a 11.9 gallon gas tank, using 50 mpg as the mileage close to 600 miles if you want to chance running out. THBS, that is the summer figure. The Prius has a bladder to reduce evaporative emissions (remember it’s primarily a SULEV) and in cold weather it can take 1 gallon less. The wise Prius driver sets one of the trip odo’s and gases up at 450 miles in the summer and 400 in the winter. The gas gauge isn’t to be trusted because of the bladder. THBS, I’ve found the gauge to be right on, though other owners report it to be “off”. I’ll continue to trust the trip odo’. The gauge is just a rough idea.

“I couldn’t drive a vehicle without power.”… Already touched on. It isn’t a race car, but has all sorts of get up for everyday driving. From a standing start it’s incredibly fast, and has all sorts of power for passing. Toyota claims 110hp even though if you add the ICE and motor specs it comes to 130+ hp. It doesn’t lack for power. THBS, Prius now claims the land speed record for a hybrid vehicle. The souped up version that got 130 mph on the salt flats. The version you and I can buy is claimed to have a top end of 105mph (Or is it 110?). Who cares? It’ll still get you a ticket.

Why do “electric vehicles” always look that way? I won’t touch the “electric vehicle” misnomer. It looks the way it does for aerodynamics. I’m a shooter and aerodynamic projectiles look sexy to me, the higher the BC the better the projectile looks, so the Prius is incredibly good looking to my eye. To my eye it looks something like the top half of a boattail bullet (sliced down the length). The wife calls it cute and I don’t disagree, it has a very high BC for a car. I’m working from a notoriously bad memory for specifics, but I seem to remember .24 as the number. It can coast for an incredible distance because it looks the way it does. I like that too. Note: there is a very fine throttle point where the regenerative “braking” (coasting really) isn’t active and electric mode isn’t active either. At that very fine throttle point the car coasts even though it isn’t in “N” on the “transmission”. On even a moderate hill the car picks up speed for free which can later be
turned into electricity (feather the brakes!). I love the aerodynamically clean looks! I love free!

Where can I test drive one? I have no idea. At our local dealer we placed our order and hadn’t test drove one. All Prii are pre bought (now spring ’05) before they hit the dealer. I did let my dealer know that if there was a way to test drive one to let me know. We were VERY lucky. Due to circumstances, he had one that could be test driven- we were the exception, definitely not the rule. Don’t expect a test drive. We placed our order in November, test drove one in late December and someone elses with the same option package we wanted (they deferred delivery) became available for purchase in early March we pre-purchased it then. We took delivery in late March. What we got as far as color wasn’t what we ordered (seacoast blue- think brushed denim) but color wasn’t important as long as it wasn’t black or white- we live on a gravel road.

When I was doing research before buying I read,”It will change the way you drive.”. I thought to myself, “Yah, sure, what a load of BS. These folks are nuts.”. I’m here to tell you, “It will change the way you drive.”. Sure, I still get ticked off when every car is spaced out just far enough apart to inhibit entering traffic. I still have a vehicle that allows me to enter between those vehicles when I get frustrated. Other than those times my eye is on the LCD display to see how I’m doing. Understand I still have a lead foot at times, but other than those few times I now drive for mileage and it isn’t at all painful. Does it bother me when someone cuts me off? Or drives aggressively? Not really, I’m getting 50+ mpg and driving a really nice car. We absolutely love our Prius! I’ve had many new cars but none have ever captured my heart as this car has. I know my wife feels the same way. Cars are cars, but the Prius is somehow more. It’ll do until fuel cell
technology and H2 filling stations come along.

Anyone having questions I didn’t cover might find answers at this site. John is the sole reason the site exists, he has no corporate support. Lots of photos, lots of info and there are links to other sites. It’ll be quite clear that John is definitely “a believer”. Long before we were , I might add.

FWIW, He’s way too busy to answer emails but his links lead to sites where one can ask

John’s Toyota Prius Information

Thanks for the information, Brian!

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