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THE FUTURE IS NOW

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sat, Feb 14, 2004

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

Toyota Prius 5-Door Hatchback

THE FUTURE IS NOW By HARVEY SCHWARTZ

Introducing the Toyota Prius 5-door hatchback sedan: Weighing in at 2.890 lbs. and using a conventional steel body, this mid-size sedan has room for up to five passengers plus cargo. The Prius has plenty of 'getup and go', handles very well, gives a smooth and comfortable ride and features the latest in convenience, luxury and safety.

© Harvey Schwartz

The all-new second-generation Prius gas/electric hybrid vehicle features significantly more power and performance than the previous model. The Toyota Prius was the world's first mass-produced electric-gas hybrid vehicle when introduced in 1997 (it came to the USA in 2000), and has since become the best-selling hybrid vehicle in the world.

The new Prius is the first Toyota product to employ Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive, third-generation electric-gas hybrid powertrain technology. The new system produces more power from both the gasoline engine and the electric motor, giving the new Prius acceleration comparable to a 4-cylinder midsize car. The 2004 Prius can accelerate from 0-60mph in 10 seconds, and offers significantly improved passing performance as well.

© Harvey Schwartz

The Prius never needs to be plugged in for recharging. It will carry an estimated EPA rating of 60 mpg city and 51 mpg highway. These seemingly reversed figures reflect the unique powertrain that's optimized for maximum efficiency in the kind of slow-and-go driving that most urban commuters experience. Prius will provide the best fuel efficiency rating of any midsize vehicle sold in America .

The new Prius rides on an entirely new platform, with a wheelbase nearly 6 inches longer than the previous car. The longer wheelbase (106.3 inches) provides greater interior room, plus a smoother ride. The 2004 Prius 5-door hatchback (also available as a regular 4-door sedan), has one of the lowest co-efficient of drag rating's of just 0.26 that helps minimize interior noise and further enhance fuel mileage.


© Harvey Schwartz

With its striking 'monoform' design, the boldly styled 2004 Prius provides enough increased passenger and cargo space to move from the EPA compact to the midsize class: 96.2 cu.ft. of passenger room. Rear cargo room measures 16.1cu.ft. nearly as much as the Camry trunk capacity. The liftback design, combined with the newly standard 60/40 split fold-down rear seatbacks, greatly increases cargo capacity and flexibility in the 2004 Prius. It is just what every smart, growing family needs to take care of all necessary chores and needs while passing up gas stations because the Prius gets about 600mi. between fill-ups with it's 11.9 gallon fuel tank.

Like the original Toyota Hybrid System (THS) employed in the previous model, Hybrid Synergy Drive is defined as a full hybrid system. Unlike competitive systems currently on the market, the full hybrid system is capable of operating in gas or electric modes, as well as a mode that combines the power of the gas engine and electric motor. Compared to the hybrid technology used in the previous model, the new Hybrid Synergy Drive provides greater duration of electric-mode-only driving, as well as significantly high peak electrical power. Hybrid Synergy Drive uses a 50 percent more powerful 50-kilowatt drive motor operating at up to 500 volts. A newly adopted high-voltage power converter enables this increased voltage and power. In addition, the generator in the new Prius has a higher peak operating speed that increases electric-mode operation in city and freeway slow-an-go operation.

© Harvey Schwartz

Hybrid Synergy Drive combines a 1.5-liter 4-cylinder Atkinson Cycle gasoline engine and an electric drive motor. The gasoline engine now produces 76 hp and 82 lb.ft. of torque. As on all Toyota passenger car engines, VVTi (Variable Valve Timing with intelligence) helps to optimize power delivery across the engine speed range. The permanent-magnet electric drive motor produces its maximum power of 50 kW (67 hp) from 1200 to 1540 rpm, and peak torque of 295 lb.ft. from 0 to 1,200 rpm (!).

The electronic continuously variable transmission does not have fixed gear ratios, but rather provides infinitely variable ratios in response to driving conditions. A regenerative braking system further boosts system efficiency. When the Prius is coasting or the brakes are applied, the electric motor functions as a generator, capturing kinetic energy that would normally be lost as heat through the brakes, and transforming it into useable electricity to recharge the batteries.


© Harvey Schwartz

When driving the new Prius one of the most remarkable features is what you don't feel. The computer-controlled powertrain seamlessly blends power from the gasoline engine, the electric drive motor and the generator, you never feel the vehicle changing operational modes. You can monitor electric-gas power distribution through the Hybrid Synergy Drive system by looking at the 7in. touch-panel display monitor. This screen also shows the advanced optional navigation information that my loaded test vehicle had.

The new Prius uses an electronically controlled 'throttle-by-wire' throttle, which provides greater precision than a conventional cable-type throttle setup. A new by-wire shift control replaces the traditional gearshift lever and allows tap-of-the-finger shifting using a small joystick mounted on the dash. The new Prius is easy and fun to drive with a different type of starting procedure. First you insert the key fob into the lighted receptacle on the dash just to the right of the steering column. Put your foot on the brake and push the Start button on the middle top of the dashboard. Put the joystick in D for drive or R for reverse. Now release the parking brake on the left side and away you go. When you want to park and shut off the Prius first push in the Park button to the left of the Joystick, set the parking brake and push the Start button. It is easy as that.

© Harvey Schwartz

Besides a good amount of acceleration, Prius also features a high level of dynamic control such as ABS brakes, along with Brake Assist and Electronic Brake Force Distribution, not yet available on most sedans. An optional Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) system helps to keep you on track during severe maneuvers. The new Hill Acceleration Control helps you maintain better control on ascents and descents.

The Prius chassis is underpinned with an independent front MacPherson strut suspension with stabilizer bar, while the rear features a torsion beam with a stabilizer bar. The Prius steers with an electric power-assisted rack & pinion system that gives very good feedback from the road and very good on-center feel. The turning circle is an impressive 34.1 feet. The Prius power-assisted brakes are very good and feature 10.0-inch vented front discs with dual-piston caliper while the rear uses a 7.87 in. drum. The Prius 5-door hatchback rides on P185/65R15 all-season radial tires that are nicely wrapped with 6X15 in. aluminum alloy wheels.

The 2004 Prius offers the amenities expected in the midsize class, plus some available more commonly found in luxury models. This car is truly amazing.

All four doors open wide for easy entry and exit. The front bucket seats are very comfortable and supportive. Instrumentation is set further back on the dashboard with a large, easy to see LED speed readout, fuel on board meter, gear selected, odometer and trip mileage. The standard automatic A/C system uses a new electric-powered air compressor. Not only does this improve fuel efficiency, it ensures passenger comfort even when the car is running only on the electric motor. The steering wheel features fingertip controls for the A/C, heater and deluxe AM-FM/CD audio system with 6-speakers, so that you don't have to take your eyes off the road to make adjustments. When you option for the navigation system you also get buttons for the map, information, front/rear defroster, mute and optional hands-free telephone. Cabin filtration, cruise control, variable speed wipers/washers, heated side mirrors, thick pile carpeting, storage slots in each door bottom, two-tiered glove box, inside fuel-filler door release, theater lighting/map lights, center console, dual cupholders, grab handles above each passenger door, rear flip-down console, power windows/door locks and remote keyless entry are all standard on the 2004 Prius, making it an outstanding value in comparison to any car in its price segment - $19,995 base, to my loaded test car priced at only $26,017.00 including delivery.

Thanks to the high efficiency of the Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive, Prius can offer a wider array of options than ever before. You can choose an auto-dimming rear view mirror, anti-theft system, fog lights, garage door opener, high-intensity discharge (HID) headlamps, intermittent rear wiper/washer, premium JBL AM-FM/cassette/CD audio system with 9-speakers and a satellite navigation system. First ever in a Toyota Division vehicle is a new Smart Entry and Start option that allows hands-free keyless entry and startup. When you pull the door handle, an on-board sensor recognizes the signal from a key in your pocket and automatically unlocks the doors. Having been security cleared, you merely push the 'Start' button located on the dash, tap the gear-selector and away you go. My test vehicle came with them all and only made my driving experience even more enjoyable.

As for safety, Toyota covers that nicely with driver/front passenger airbags, and available side-airbags, side-impact door beams, front and rear energy-absorbing crumple zones, front 3-point front seatbelts with pretensioners and force limiters, and 3-point seat belts in all 5-seating positions, rear seat Child Restraint System top tether anchor brackets and lower anchor point attachments, adjustable front seatbelt shoulder anchors, child-protector rear door locks and an internal trunk-release handle.

© Harvey Schwartz

The week that I had scheduled the new Prius was the week of the SEMA (Aftermarket) Show in Las Vegas. What a perfect time and destination to test-drive the car. It is about 300 miles to Las Vegas from Los Angeles. The ride goes over two 5,000-ft. mountain passes and long stretches of desert. Most vehicles on the Interstate stretch the speed limit in both directions and my Prius 5-door hatchback kept up with an average speed of 80 mph on the long stretches of empty desert highway, and neither of the two 5,000-ft. grades dented the Prius which reached speeds of 75 mph on the steepest grade. The computer registered average mpg at 44.9 for the 655 mile trip.

© Harvey Schwartz

I am totally amazed at what Toyota has done to the sedan class, which takes in most families in America. Here is a car that seats 5-passengers, gets to 60 mph from a standstill in just 10 seconds and gets 60 mpg in the city.

Toyota backs up the all-new Prius with a 3-year/36,000-mi. comprehensive warranty that applies to all components other than normal wear and maintenance items. Additional 60-month warranties cover the powertrain for 60,000 miles and corrosion with no mileage limitation. The hybrid related components, including the HV battery, battery control module, hybrid control module and inverter with converter, are covered for 8-years/100,000 miles. Prius also comes with 7-day/24-hour roadside assistance for 36 months.

Wake up Detroit, because as the Big Three argue about how and what to build for high mileage specs, Toyota has already filled the bill that the Federal government is demanding. Thanks to Toyota for helping to lessen our need for gasoline.

© Harvey Schwartz

For more information on Toyota products, go to www.toyota.com.
To see more of Harvey's photos, go to www.autofotos.com.

© Harvey Schwartz

SPECIFICATIONS

Name of vehicle: 2004 Toyota Prius 5-door hatchback

Price: From $19,995.00 to $26,017.00

Engine types: 4-cylinder aluminum DOHC, 16-valve VVT-I (gas) Permanent magnet synchronous motors (2) with nickel-metal hydride battery and 500 volts maximum

Horsepower: Gasoline 76 / electric 67

Torque (lbs ft): Gasoline 82 / electric 295

Transmission: Electronically continuously variable

Front suspension: Independent MacPherson struts, stabilizer bar

Rear suspension: Torsion beam with stabilizer bar

Wheels/tires: P185/65R15in. all-season radial tires/1X15 in aluminum alloy wheels

Brakes: 10-inch front vented disc/7.87-inch drum rear brake; power assisted, brake assist, dynamic rear brake proportioning

Overall length: 175 in.

Overall width: 67.9 in.

Overall height: 58.1 in.

Curb weight: 2,765 lbs with standard features / 2,890 lbs. loaded with all options

EPA mileage estimates (mpg): City 60 / Highway 51

0-60mph: 10.1sec.

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