By Derek Price
Like a dog that keeps getting tricked into thinking its owner threw the ball, I keep thinking the Toyota Prius is dinky.
Maybe it’s because the first-generation Prius was such a small car, or maybe it’s because the funky spaceship styling on this hybrid vehicle is deceiving.
Whatever the case, every time I actually sit inside a new Prius I feel shocked that it’s so roomy on the inside, providing almost the same feeling as the spacious, airy Camry. There’s more volume for my knees, my shoulders, my head and my cargo than I’d predict when seeing it from a distance.
It’s even got a vacation-Bible-school back seat: “Deep and wide, deep and wide …”
I just spent a week driving a fully loaded Prius priced a hair over $35,000 — admittedly more than I would spend on a car designed to save money at the gas pump — and was impressed at all the steps Toyota has taken to make its low-weight, low-power hybrid feel more luxurious.
The Dynamic Radar Cruise Control included in the $4,320 technology package worked exactly as advertised, matching the speed of the car in front of me to make city driving feel automatic.
And while putting genuine leather seats in this car would be about as politically correct as making it run on whale oil, the “SofTex” material in my tester felt nicer than ordinary fabric.
Make no mistake, though. This car is about saving fuel, not just cows’ lives.
Its drivetrain is remarkable in getting the most bang from every drop of gasoline. It uses electric motors in combination with a traditional gas-powered engine to deliver a 51-mpg rating in city driving and 48 on the highway, and it’s a liberating feeling.
When $20 in gas will let you drive a few hundred miles, it makes you feel like you can travel as far as you want without giving a thought to the cost.
The driving feel isn’t exciting, but it is pleasant. Toyota has massaged the Prius’ suspension through the years to make it smooth and floaty, without the tension and harshness that you find in some fuel-efficient cars.
And just to be clear, you don’t have to plug a Prius into the wall to charge it. Toyota makes a plug-in Prius, but the vast majority you see on the road don’t need charging. They use the engine and a special regenerative braking system to keep the batteries topped off without tapping into any external power source.
While the technology under the hood is what the Prius is known for, Toyota tries to bring a high-tech experience to the cabin as well. Graphics on the center of the dash show how the power is being routed at any given time, and a large digital touchscreen on my test car made most features easy to use.
A little electric shifter takes some adjustment for first-time Prius drivers, but it’s super simple and effort-free once you’re used to it. I like the design better than similar concepts from Mercedes-Benz and BMW.
Pricing starts at $24,200, and my test vehicle rang up at $35,120.
At a Glance
What was tested?
2015 Toyota Prius Five ($30,005). Options: Advanced technology package ($4,320). Price as tested (including $825 destination charge): $35,150
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length: 176.4 in.
Width: 68.7 in.
Height: 58.7 in.
Engine: 1.8-liter four-cylinder (134 total system hp, 105 lbs.-ft. torque)
Transmission: Electronic CVT
Estimated Mileage: 51 city, 48 highway
2015 Toyota Prius
Why buy it?
It gets amazing gas mileage and is impressively spacious and comfortable at the same time. It sets the standard for today’s hybrid cars.