THE GAME CHANGER
Final stretch for the third generation Prius
Published on Sun, Nov 2, 2014
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
Story and pictures by Roy Nakano
“I hope they don’t screw it up.” Those are the words of an engineer that works with Toyota and owns three Priuses (or Prii, as they say among the owners). Model year 2015 represents the final stretch for the third generation Toyota Prius. The car that sent all the car companies back to the drawing board is about to undergo a major change for model year 2016. In the meantime, the current Prius has been honed to hybrid perfection. We review the current model in its final production run.
Is Now the Best Time to Buy?
The first thing worth mentioning about the 2015 Toyota Prius is that you may be able to buy one for less than the groundbreaking 2004 model, particularly given the huge demand and short supply of the Prius at that time. You would have been lucky to pay full price, and very likely paid over the sticker price.
The 2015 Toyota Prius starts out at $24,200. But Toyota dealers have been generous with cash discounts and the availability of free Toyota Care maintenance—meaning you may not have to pay for oil changes or any other service required during the first couple of years (note: some dealers will add a third year of free service). All this from a car that performs better and is better equipped than that groundbreaking model.
How so? First of all, the EPA fuel economy ratings for the 2015 bests the earlier model’s real world ratings by about five miles per gallon, and remains the fuel economy leader for all cars without an electric plug. The ride, handling, and acceleration are also noticeably better—the latter aided by a driving mode selector, which allows you to choose between normal, ECO (to maximize fuel economy), EV (full electric power at very low speeds), and PWR (for better passing power).
And compared to the earlier model, every 2015 Prius—including the base Model Two—comes equipped with an integrated backup camera display, a Smart Key entry system, and 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.
Which Prius is the Best Buy?
The $25,765 Prius Three adds Smart Key operation to more doors, navigation and Entune, plus an integrated backup camera display, SiriusXM Satellite Radio capability, HD Radio™ with iTunes® Tagging, 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 $28,485 Prius Four includes that system plus eight JBL® GreenEdge™ speakers and an eight-channel JBL amplifier. GreenEdge technology is said to significantly reduces electric draw on the vehicle, and 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 $30,005 Prius Five is the top-of-the-line model, and includes Toyota’s Premium HDD Navigation System, and 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. 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.
Frankly, the best buys in the Prius range remain the Prius Two and Three models. For 2015, however, there is a new Persona Series Prius. Available in a new Absolutely Red color, it includes the breathable, leather-like SoftTex interior with dark grey stitching, front foot area illumination, 17-inch five-spoke dark metal finished aluminum alloy wheels, heated outside mirrors, and the requisite Persona Series badging. At $1,220 over the Prius Three, it’s not a bad buy.
The Four and Five both get pretty pricey, with no improvement in fuel economy. Remember, that’s the main reason for buying a Prius. We also think the basic, regular Prius is a better buy than the Prius Plug-in Hybrid model ($29,990 or $34,905, depending on the package), which lacks the range in electric mode to justify its added cost.
Beyond Fuel Economy
But the Prius is not just about fuel economy. The reliability of the car has been stellar. 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, technology, and space utilization.
As for the latter, the regular Prius is chock full of versatility. Some alternative fuel vehicles won’t let you put the back seat down (Honda Civic Hybrid), and still others severely limit the cargo room in the trunk (many of the pure electric vehicles). 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 (the Chevrolet Volt). 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 mattress, as well as its box springs and the bed frame—with the hatchback lid closed(!). Will the next Prius, due out in 2016, be as versatile?
Perfecting the Art of the Hybrid
When the game-changing second-generation Prius came out in the fall of 2003, it was met with heavy skepticism, and a multitude of myths and misinformation. One-by-one, the myths have been laid to rest (for an extended discussion on the myths, see LA Car’s Revenge of the Nerds). Today, hybrids have entered every sector of the automotive industry—from the top endurance race cars in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, to the most expensive exotic cars offered by Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche.
Meanwhile, Toyota has been perfecting the art of the hybrid with each successive generation, model and makeover of the Prius. The regular, third-generation 2015 model is the best Prius yet. In the words of the aforementioned engineer that owns three, let’s just hope they don’t screw it up when it’s replaced by the fourth generation model.
To read about the myths that have been busted about the Toyota Prius, see Revenge of the Nerds
For more information about Toyota products, go to toyota.com
Name of vehicle:
2015 Toyota Prius
$24,200 (Prius Two base price)
Look for Toyota sales incentives offering cash discounts and free Toyota Care maintenance
EPA fuel economy rating (miles per gallon):
51 city/48 highway/50 combined
1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with VVT-i
Electric motor: Permanent magnet synchronous motor
Engine horsepower: 98 hp @ 5,200 rpm
Electric motor power output: 80 hp
Hybrid system net horsepower: 134 hp
105 pound-feet @ 4,000 rpm
153 pound-feet @ 0 rpm
Electronically controlled continuously variable transmission
Hybrid battery pack:
Wheels and tires:
15-inch alloy wheels and P195/65-R15 all-season tires
Overall Length: 175.6
Overall Width: 68.7
Overall Height: 58.7
Coefficient of Drag: 0.25