SMUG ALERT (STILL)
2012 Toyota Prius
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, Jul 21, 2012
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
By Roy Nakano When the Toyota Prius first started selling like hotcakes back in the mid-2000s, the Los Angeles Times came out with an editorial complaining about how annoyingly smug Prius owners were becoming. They had plenty of reason to be smug. The Prius had the best gas mileage, states were giving out single-occupant carpool lane stickers to owners. It just won the Motor Trend Car of the Year award (and Just about every other COTY award). The producers of South Park even came out with an episode called “Smug Alert”, which lampooned hybrid car owners—and particularly Prius owners—for becoming so smug. Oh sure, the Prius had its detractors. They raised everything from safety concerns, to battery longevity issues, to environmental concerns, and overall cost. There were enough doubts raised to take up an entire day’s full of “Myth Busters” episodes. Those doubts were laid to rest early on. Well, eight years have gone by, and the smug alert continues onward. As gas prices remain high, so does the demand for Priuses (smug Prius owner say Prii, by the way). Resale values for used Priuses are as high as ever. This year, a survey of hybrid owners by Polk was released indicating that few are repeat owners—except for Prius owners. Consumer Reports once again indicates that among family cars, Prius owners love their cars, with more repeat customers than any other family car. That’s because Toyota understands the appeal of the car better than other hybrid car makers. To paraphrase a famous Presidential campaign slogan, “it’s the gas mileage, stupid.” For consumers, it’s the bottom line—and the Prius continues to have the best gas mileage of any vehicle without a plug.
Even electric car owners have a hard time: A global warming group just declared the Toyota Prius the most climate friendly car in 35 states—more climate friendly, in fact, than the pure electric Nissan Leaf (see “A Bit of a Shocker”). The reason? Electric power plants in those states generate energy from coal. In the meantime, Toyota has been perfecting the art of the hybrid with each successive generation, model and makeover of the Prius. The way all the components work together is remarkable, and the stellar reliability and fuel economy of the Prius are even more remarkable. One colleague that works within the ranks of Toyota opines (off the record) that the Prius is the best car that Toyota makes, considering its price, economy, room, space utilization (when the rear seats are folded down on this hatchback), and technology. For 2012, Toyota has further refined the Prius with new infotainment systems, updated headlamps and tail lamps, plus a new front fascia and bumper for 2012. The Prius Two gains new 15-inch wheel covers for 2012 and standard LED Daytime Running Lights (DRL). The Prius Three adds a standard three-door Smart Key entry system, and the Prius Four features standard auto on/off headlamps. The Prius Four also features Toyota’s new SofTex-trimmed seats—a breathing synthetic with the feel of very soft leather—and an eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat. On the audio front, the Prius Two features a new Display Audio touch-screen system with a 6.1-inch screen. The AM/FM CD player unit offers MP3/WMA playback capability with six speakers, a USB port for iPod® connectivity, auxiliary input jack, Bluetooth® hands-free phone capability and audio streaming. The display also provides vehicle information and allows the driver to customize vehicle settings.
The Three adds navigation and Entune, plus an integrated backup camera display, SiriusXM Satellite Radio capability, HD Radio™ with iTunes® Tagging, advanced voice recognition and text-to-speech with programmed and customizable text responses. The Toyota Entune system is a collection of popular mobile applications and data services, with three years of complimentary access. Once a smart phone is connected to the vehicle using Bluetooth wireless technology or a USB cable, Entune’s features are operated using the vehicle’s controls or, for some services, by voice recognition. Entune offers mobile apps for Bing™, iHeartRadio, MovieTickets.com, OpenTable®, and Pandora®. Entune data services include a fuel price guide, sports scores, stocks, traffic and weather. The Prius Four includes that system plus eight JBL® GreenEdge™ speakers and an eight-channel JBL amplifier. GreenEdge technology significantly reduces electric draw on the vehicle, which can help enhance fuel economy. When the Deluxe Solar Roof Package is ordered for the Prius Four, that system is further upgraded with a Head-up Display and Premium HDD Navigation System, which uses an exclusive seven-inch touch-screen with split-screen capability. The top-of-line Prius Five is the model under review here. In addition to Toyota’s Premium HDD Navigation System, the Five is fitted with a Head-up Display that projects information right on the windshield. Dynamic Radar Cruise Control automatically reduces the car’s speed as it approaches the car in front, and automatically speeds up to the designated speed with the traffic conditions resume back to normal speed. It’s almost like having the car drive itself. Alas, the system disengages when the traffic comes to a complete stop. The Five also comes with Lane Keep Assist, which is designed to help keep the driver from wandering into the next lane. Last, but not least, the Five comes with a Pre-Collision System, which retracts the front seatbelts and applies the brakes in certain conditions when it determines that a crash is unavoidable. Even though Toyota has a bigger Prius that the company dubs the “v” (for versatile), the regular Prius is chock full of versatility. Some alternative fuel vehicles won’t let you put the back seat down, and still others severely limit the cargo room in the trunk. One extended range vehicle we can think of has the batteries in a rear center console, which sacrifices the middle seat in the back row. For the hatchback Prius, Toyota placed the hybrid batteries under the back seat, which allows for three-passenger seating in the rear, and for folding the seat back flat. With the back seat down, the Prius will fit a twin bed(!).
With all it has going for it, the Prius is not for everybody. It’s no sports sedan (although the optional 17-inch wheels and rubber help around corners and in high speed stability). It’s certainly no hot rod (the Power mode is a nice addition for some added passing ability). And there are better cars around for zipping around corners. On the other hand, as owners will tell you, the Prius comes with its own form of entertainment. Instead of hearing the roar of a V8, it’s seeing how fast you can go in silent, full-electric mode. Instead of miles per hour, it’s hyper-miling (the art of trying to maximize fuel economy). The later has been largely responsible for the not-entirely unfounded reputation of Prius owners of being slow drivers. There’s one new feature on the 2012 Toyota Prius that we’re not too crazy about. Toyota decided to fit the new car with something it calls a Vehicle Proximity Warning System (VPWS). It’s essentially a quiet but still noticeable noise-emitter that let’s pedestrians know that the vehicle is approaching. When a Prius is operating in very low speeds, the car is in full-electric mode, which makes the car very quiet. Toyota took the initiative to incorporate the VPWS into the Prius line as an abundance of safety. Unfortunately, the sound is akin to a cross between white noise and a blown gasket. We would have preferred something that sounds more like George Jetson’s flying car. Perhaps the aftermarket can address this. All-in-all, Toyota has made significant improvements to an already excellent package. As a hybrid vehicle, the latest Prius is as close to perfection as is available on the commercial market. You can pay more for a hybrid, but you won’t get any better fuel economy. It’s the one thing that perplexes us about the hybrid market. You’d think paying more (and you can pay a lot more for a hybrid) would get you more of what people buy hybrids for—i.e., better fuel economy. Not so. The Prius is still the hybrid mileage king—and it’s just one more reason the smug alert continues onward. For more information about Toyota products, go to www.toyota.com
SPECIFICATIONS Name of vehicle: 2012 Toyota Prius Five Price: $24,000 – base price $29,805 – Prius Five, includes the Premium HDD Navigation System, plus the Head-up Display, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Pre-Collision System and Lane Keep Assist. The Pre-Collision System retracts the front seatbelts and applies the brakes in certain conditions when it determines that a crash is unavoidable. Lane Keep Assist can help the driver stay within the lane. EPA fuel economy rating (miles per gallon): 51 city/48 highway/50 combined Engine: 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with VVT-i Electric motor: Permanent magnet synchronous motor Horsepower: Engine horsepower: 98 hp @ 5,200 rpm Electric motor power output: 80 hp Hybrid system net horsepower: 134 hp Engine torque: 105 pound-feet @ 4,000 rpm Electric motor: 153 pound-feet @ 0 rpm Transmission: Electronically controlled continuously variable transmission Drive System: Front-wheel-drive Hybrid battery pack: Nickel-metal hydride Wheels: 17-inch alloy wheels (optional) 17-inch: 215/45R17 (optional) Dimensions (inches) Overall Length: 175.6 Overall Width: 68.7 Overall Height: 58.7 Coefficient of Drag: 0.25