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2004 Toyota Prius

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San Francisco:  In my humble opinion the Toyota Prius may be the most important vehicle of the decade, or maybe the millennium. The problem with that is the original Prius was introduced in the last decade. Regardless of the time line the Toyota Prius is a very important vehicle.

Back in 1998 I drove a Prius; a right hand drive Prius brought over to tour the US as a preview. Toyota was cautiously optimistic about the Prius then, unsure how it would sell. They did not need to worry – demand far outstrips availability.

Much has been written about whether the Prius loses or makes money. Critics say that Toyota uses the Prius as a sort of loss leader. Toyota says they make money on every Prius that is sold. They admit that they do not make as much per vehicle as on other Toyota vehicles. I tend to believe Toyota but really, the financial side is of little interest to me. The Prius is a landmark vehicle that has changed the way we think about vehicles.

For those who don’t know, the Prius is a hybrid vehicle - a gas-electric hybrid. The whole idea of the Prius is low emissions and high fuel economy. The low emissions are proven – in California and other states adopting California’s rules the 2004 Prius is certified as an Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV). Cutting to the chase, this means the Prius is one of the cleanest vehicles available.

The fuel economy is subject to debate. The Prius is rated at 60-mpg city and 51-mpg highway. There has been grumbling from some early 2004 Prius owners that they cannot get anywhere close to those figures. All I can say is that I drove the Prius in my normal style, cruising at 80 mph on the highway and I averaged 40 mpg. I see no reason why someone could not reach 51 on the highway driving at the posted limits. The city rating can be reached if you change your style of driving. There is a computer screen that should help you do that – it "banks" saved energy to show you when you are driving conservatively.

The 2004 Prius is a much different looking vehicle than the previous car. It is also very slippery, cutting through the air with a 0.26 coefficient of drag (Cd). Besides aiding highway fuel economy, a low Cd helps to minimize wind noise, which makes for lower a quieter cabin.

The ‘04 Prius is also larger than the first generation. The wheelbase is almost six inches longer, there is 7 cubic feet more interior space, more rear leg room, and a huge 16.1 cubic foot cargo space behind the seats.

One of the biggest changes I noticed about the 2004 Prius was that it now seems so luxurious. The previous Prius was not a stripper but neither was it a Lexus. The new Prius could very well be sold as a Lexus, it is that well appointed.

Standard features include regenerative anti-lock brakes (charges the battery while braking), traction control, front airbags, remote keyless entry, heated side mirrors, audio and HVAC controls on the steering wheel, air conditioning (electric so that it is not affected by the on/off cycling of the powertrain), multi information display, power windows/locks, AM/FM radio with CD player, and cruise control. There are also nine option packages from rear intermittent wipers to side airbags, garage door opener, auto dimming rear view mirror, alarm package, Smart Entry and Start, navigational system, super sound system with 6-CD changer, Vehicle Stability Control, and fog lamps.

The Prius I drove had the full-tilt boogie-package including the Smart Entry and Start thing. It was neat. Just put the key in your pocket, grab the outside door handle, the computer unlocks the door, climb in, push the START button on the dash, (yeah just like the old days) and you’re off. You never have to take the key out of your pocket or purse.

Is there a downside to the Prius, or to any hybrid for that matter? The concern I hear from some is the cost of replacing the battery pack. There is no doubt that a battery pack will be expensive, yes very expensive. According to Toyota the number of battery failures has been extremely low, and don’t forget that the Prius has been on the market since about 1996 in Japan so there is some history to back up their claim. I guess the 3,778 people who bought a Prius this past March feel the way I do.

One thing I have trouble getting used to, and this is not specific to the Prius but all vehicles with a CVT (continuously variable transmission), is a transmission that does not shift. A CVT keeps the engine in its most efficient power range but in operation it sounds like a slipping clutch. I would imagine that non-technical types would not even notice. I know the darn thing works, and I understand the technology, but it confuses me.

Even with all the bells and whistles the ’04 Prius I drove was only $26,202 including delivery. Taxes and licensing are extra of course. If the price of fuel concerns you, and if you’re worried about the environment, the Prius is the car for you. I prefer the Prius over the other hybrids on the market because the Prius is the cream of the crop.  By Bruce Hotchkiss  AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

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Byline:  Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo AutoWire.Net
Column Name: 
 Prius is the cream of the Hybrid crop
 The 2004 Toyota Prius
Word Count:  
Photo Caption: 
The 2004 Toyota Prius
Photo Credits:  
Toyota Internet Media
Series #:   2004 - 43

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