Toyota's first mass-produced hybrid vehicle. According to the website, it is also the world's first mass produced HEV.

There are already 30,000 on the road in Japan, and as of June 2000, it is now available in the United States. Starting at only $20,450, it is a lot better deal than General Motors' old EV-1, which was something like $40,000 for a 3 year lease.


  1. 1.5 liter, 16 valve, 4-cylinder engine with something Toyota calls 'Variable Valve Timing with intelligence'
  2. 58 hp max engine output at 4000 rpm.
  3. 30 kW (40 hp) max electric motor output at 940-2000 rpm (probably used for the extra power needed to get some worthwile acceleration, so at low speeds, the effective hp is probably about 80-90).
  4. Battery: sealed Nickel-Metal Hydride
  5. Maximum speed: 100 mph.
  6. Maximum range: 600 miles. (ha! My Volkswagen Jetta TDI (supposedly) gets more than that!)
  7. Regenerative braking: When you hit the brakes, some of the car's kinetic energy is diverted into charging the battery via the ABS system.
  8. And the weirdest thing I noticed: City mpg in the low 50s, Highway mpg in the low 40s! I'm lost on this one, but my wild guess is that it's related to the higher occurences of regenerative braking that occurs in the city.
My parents are looking at this car as a possible replacement for their old 1990 Dodge Colt. If they get it, they're going to have to sign up for it, since only 1000 are being sold in the US every month.
My folks have a Prius, and I'd like to offer a little public service announcement:


Y'see, quite aside from the expected sources of geek distraction in this car (the coolness of the whole hybrid thing, the cuteness, the running silence), there is a very cool little lcd panel in the dashboard. It's also a touchscreen. It is an interface to the various systems in the car (cd player, radio, mileage and trip counters), it can interface with a GPS device (drool), and (here's the dangerous part), it displays your choice of constantly updated charts while you're driving - on-the-fly mileage charts or an animated flow-chart of which engine is being used and whether or not the electric's battery is being charged or drained. Oh god. It's insanely fascinating. We narrowly avoided so many accidents while staring at it. Please, please, if you are a geek, avoid this car, for the safety of everyone. It's only a matter of time before someone gets linux running on their Prius, and then god help us all.

Heehee. Anyhow, the prius is a dream to drive. It's a smooth ride, it's incredibly quiet (you have to be careful about pedestrians - the electric motor is so quiet that you can sneak up on them and freak them out.), and while it's a very small car, it's roomy inside. The mileage is incredible, especially in the city. (yes, bitter_engineer, it's because there's more braking in the city and because there's more low-speed driving. for sustained acceleration and steady high speeds, the gas motor tends to kick in.) The switching between (that's a bit deceptive - often both motors are used, and sometimes the electric is both being charged and used. it's crazy stuff.) motors is automatic and transparent to the user (well, except for that cool display) - if you've ever driven a natural-gas/gasoline hybrid car with a picky manual switch-over, you will greatly appreciate this feature. It's expensive for a small car, but you will save a bundle on gas, and depending on what country you live in, you might get an insurance or tax bonus too for buying such an environmentally friendly car. I know in Canada in most provinces you get a rebate of the sales tax you pay.

You will also totally totally get chicks with this car. Cute, geeky, enviromentally inclined chicks. Trust mama yam on this one.

My first car is a 2001 Toyota Prius. I've had it now for 6 months, and I can say nothing but great things about it. I was nervous, buying such an unusual car for my first, but I couldn't pass up the efficiency and coolness, and best of all, very reasonable price.

I had been looking around for quite some time at various other alternative-fueled vehicles, since I live in the "smoggiest city in the US" (Houston, Texas), but none of the options was very appealing. I'm not much of a grease-monkey, so conversion kits didn't sound too great, and pre-fabs all had high price tags. Then one day, my girlfriend and I were watching television and this amazing commercial came on: A car driving through the rain forest, and a bunch of monkeys applauding. I was intrigued; she was bemused.

I checked out the website - lots of technical information there, but it sounded good enough. I read messageboards - nothing but rave reviews. I even subscribed to Consumer Reports to read their review (this was almost exactly a year ago, because that subscription just expired). Nothing but good marks.... Well, except trunk space, that had a black mark. More on that later.

Finally we decided to see it in person a couple of months later. It was a foregone conclusion, though, we were in love at first sight. And first drive. What an amazingly smooth, quiet ride... The cabin, absolutely silent - all we could hear was the hum of the tires on the road. The one drawback mentioned by Consumer Reports wasn't that much of a drawback either - the trunk could easily hold three or four bodies. In any case, we were smitten - the car had to be ours. Unfortunately, this is not the sort of car you can just drive off the lot with. Unless you're incredibly lucky and some other sot just defaulted on theirs, you will have to order it direct from Japan.

That's what we did. We ordered it and began waiting. And waiting. And waiting. The only drawback to this car, in fact, was the wait. 3 months we waited for it - and it was worth every minute of it.

Around the due date, Houston had just been deluged with some terrifying floods (people drowned in downtown elevator shafts and parking garages, hundreds of cars totaled), and we were afraid that our car had been totaled, too. Ironically, it was running a little late - one week, in fact, so it arrived right after the floods. Finally, after months of waiting, we got to see our car.

If you've never had the experience, it's difficult to understand the feeling of stepping into your very own car - especially when it's your first car. I was in Heaven. My whole body tingled with the sensation of being surrounded by something that was totally and completely mine. I was high - but not from drugs. I was high on the sensation of owning my first car.

And what a car it is. We broke it in by driving to New Mexico, amazed at how well it handled the mountains there. Gas mileage sometimes crept over 50 mpg! On the way back, we only filled up once - over 1000 miles on two tanks of gas! The car had shaped up to be everything I dreamed.

Six months have passed and I haven't even had the slightest hiccup yet (knock on wood). In fact, when I took the car in for an oil change recently, the mechanic told me a very funny story.

It seems that the only complaints he has ever heard from Prius owners is that it "stalls on them." He described how they would be driving down the road and the engine would cut out, forcing them to hit the brakes and pull over. As soon as they came to a halt, however, they were able to start the car back up and drive away again. It was simple, he told me. They were out of gas, and the batteries were nearly dead. Every time they stepped on the brakes, they would recharge the batteries slightly, giving them enough juice to start up again, until they drained that and had to pull over again. He'd fill up their tank, start the car and charge the battery, and send them on their way.

You know, I hope running out of gas is the only complaint I ever have!

Anyway, so we've had this car six months, put nearly 9,000 miles on it, and I'm just as happy now as the day I bought it.

Update: January 1, 2003.

One and a half years of ownership, 30,000 miles and three accidents*. I still love my Prius.
Ironically, I commented above that I had hoped running out of gas would be my only problem - turns out, I did run out of gas. Twice. In New Mexico. In the mountains. On the way up, I underestimated the impact the hill would have on my gas tank (despite having been on this mountain a dozen times) and managed to run out of gas about 15 miles from the nearest village. Fortunately, someone friendly picked me up and drove me into town, and even drove me back afterwards. Lesson learned, right? Wrong. Three days later, coming back DOWN the mountain, I decided to see if I could get 500 miles on one tank.
I did. Barely. And then promptly coasted in (on batteries) to the gas station because I was completely out of gas AGAIN. I won't be doing that again - but it's good to know what my car's limits are.
*(The following two paragraphs were actually added July 16, 2006, to fill in the details of the accidents mentioned above).
So unfortunately, it's no longer "mint," due to my (now ex-) girlfriend's propensity for finding the worst spot on the highway to be at any one time. My car has been rear-ended, has rear-ended someone else, and been sideswiped by someone pulling out of a parking-spot without looking. (For bonus irony points, the ex-girlfriend also managed to total the rental car she was driving when the Prius was being repaired from the last two accidents. No, this is not why we broke up, but since her name is on half the title, it's not like I could stop her from driving, as much as I wanted to at times). Yes, my insurance rate sucks. *sighs* But at least the dealership does damn good work.
Also, something odd happened after the first accident (being rear-ended). When driving it off the lot from the dealership after the repairs, the car suddenly and mysteriously lost power. Warning lights went off, and I was reduced to 30mph. I managed to baby it back to the dealership, where they gave me a complimentary rental while they tried to figure out what was wrong. That took about two weeks, since no one really knew how to work on the Prius yet. Every time they'd tell me it was fixed, I'd pick it up, drive a mile or two and the same thing would happen. Finally, after taking apart nearly the entire back-end of my car, they traced the error to a failed brake sensor. Once that was repaired, no more warning lights and no more troubles! I love my car!

Update: June 1, 2005.

Four years of ownership, 70,000 miles. Still only three major accidents, plus some minor fender damage from a tight parking lot (that was my fault, not hers). I *still* love my Prius, and people still think I'm an ultra geek. It still gets 40-45 mpg in the city, runs quietly and efficiently. I am considering upgrading to the '06 model when this one is paid off, but only because I want the neat toys described below. Customer satisfaction for this vehicle is 175%.
My favourite thing about the Prius? I mean, besides the geek factor, the great gas mileage and reliability? It's damn-near flood-proof. Now, I'm not suggesting anyone go out and try to drive through the ocean, but in Houston, where it floods on a regular basis and cars are frequently stranded by high water, I have successfully navigated flooded roads in situations where most vehicles would have been stalled and stranded. Whether this is due to luck, good driving skills, or a hybrid engine that's designed to "restart" itself, I'm not sure, all I know is, I love to laugh at the big 4x4s creeping through the highest point on the road when I come tooling along the deep spots in my little car, half their size...

Update: July 16, 2006.

Over five years of ownership, 90,000 miles and still going strong. Two more payments, and it's all mine!!!
Gas mileage is still over 40 (sometimes 50 on highways!!!), and only one additional significant issue since last year: While driving home from an emergency trip to Dallas, my car began experiencing sudden power loss, like the gas engine was cutting off completely. The warning light was very non-specific, so the first time it happened I had no idea what to do. I was caravanning with a friend, so we pulled over checked out the car as best we could, and couldn't find anything wrong, so we started it back up. Although the warning light was still on, the engine seemed restored to full power, so we got back in our respective vehicles and headed for Houston once more. About 15 minutes later, the same thing happened - power loss. This was starting to feel very familiar, and I was afraid it was going to turn out to be another failed brake sensor - something I wouldn't be able to afford, since it's not under warranty anymore. At this point, I was cranky, tired (had just travelled from Seattle to Houston by van - and then tow-truck when the van died - nonstop, and immediately headed for Dallas without a break), and I just wanted to get home and sleep because I had to be at work in about 5 hours. I decided that I was just going to fight it all the way home. I'd drive about 15-20 minutes, the engine would die, I'd pull over, "reboot" my car, and get back on the road. A major pain, but it got me home (and even to work the next day), and then I put it into the shop.
Turns out it was a bad battery in the battery bank. THIS was covered by warranty, so the total work cost me about $20 (and that was for the oil change I asked for while they were in there). Since then (that was six months ago), no major problems, and I'm looking forward to finally being able to say that I own a vehicle free and clear.

Update: August 30, 2009.

Yes - over eight years of ownership. Paid in full, over 130,000 miles, and still runs great. As with any car this old, there are occasional hiccups (there's an issue where it likes to report an error when there isn't one, but I just got a recall notice about it, so maybe that will finally get fixed). The poor thing has been in about 8 accidents now (mostly someone else's fault, except the last), but you can hardly tell. Gas mileage is still in the 38-40 mpg range, and maintenance is about what you'd expect. Overall, I'm just as pleased now as I was eight years ago.
My current girlfriend also drives a Prius - but a more recent model. I like it so much, I'm thinking of upgrading to the next model - it comes with a solar-panel-powered air-conditioner designed to operate on those nasty icky-hot days here in Houston. Won't THAT be a relief!

Update: May 21, 2013.

12 years and STILL going. The Prius is a little dented here and there (never bothered to get the damage from the last accident in 2009 fixed, and someone just backed into my front end a few days ago), but just got the rack and pinion replaced for free (recall notice for the win). Still gets around 35-40 mpg (running the AC takes its toll). The rear shocks and catalytic converter need to be replaced, but I'm still quite happy with my little green car. 160,000+ miles. I've driven this car all over the place, and it just keeps chugging. I keep hoping to be able to afford the next model, but something else always comes up. Maybe next year (he says for the 7th year in a row).

The '04 model has changed significantly from the 2003, so I figured I'd node some of the differences here.

First of all, the car looks different. It has a totally redesigned body, which (I think) looks much cooler than the original (which was sort of boring). Best of all, the new body actually lowers the coefficient of drag to 0.26, which means the Prius retains the title of the 'slipperiest' production car. It also bodes well for fuel economy.

The drivetrain has been overhauled, and now bears the moniker 'Hybrid Synergy Drive.' It consists of a 76 horsepower ICE which uses the Atkinson Cycle, and a 67 horse electric motor. The ICE delivers a wimpy 82 lb-foot of torque, but the electrics offer a beastly 295 lb-foot additional up to 1,200 rpm. Acceleration now is claimed to be equivalent to that of a standard four-cylinder Camry.

Fuel economy has gone up, too. Estimated city MPG is around 50-55; highway is 55-60 (U.S. gallons). All this for the same price (around USD $20K base).

Some of the most functional differences are in the body. The car is now a four-door hatchback, with folding rear seats; its slightly larger wheelbase moves it into the 'mid-size' segment, but it's actually only a couple of inches longer than the previous design.

As before, it comes standard with a touchscreen LCD for car management functions. Available options include a DVD/GPS Navigation system, a slightly nicer stereo, HID headlamps, stability control, theft protection, etc. etc. The neatest new option is the keyless entry system; the driver keeps the key fob in their pocket, and when s/he approaches the car, a sensor 'sees' the fob and unlocks the car when fingers are placed on the handle. Once inside, if the fob is present, the car will respond to a press of the 'Start' button and drive off.

Cool Toys
I'm a tad annoyed; Toyota just demonstrated a self-parking feature on the 2004 Prius in Japan, but it won't be available in the U.S. for now (likely for liability reasons). Self-park here means exactly that - once you've pulled up next to a parking place, hitting the button causes the car to measure the spot using sensors and back up into it using the electric power steering to move the wheel. The driver can remove their hands from the wheel entirely. Since I live in the U.S., though, I can forget about this, at least in this car - maybe in a couple of years. Also, there is a 'Stealth' button in Japan-spec Priuses which forces them to operate on electrical power only (at least until the battery becomes unacceptably low) which allows for extremely quiet parking and approach/departure, as well as makes it easy to shuffle around the driveway or lot without having to start the ICE. This feature apparently is missing from the U.S. version as well.

Ah well. Time to start hacking! I already found a source for a night vision CCD camera that hooks into the LCD...heh, with a linux server and an 802.11b access point to make the car a hot spot...and maybe an AC inverter...

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