The 2004-2009 Toyota Prius marks a major move forward for the popular hybrid car. Not only is this second generation Prius larger than its predecessor, it is also more fuel efficient and more powerful. Where the original Prius featured a small but secure trunk, the 2004 redesign is assigned a hatchback that simultaneously improves the vehicle's appearance and functionality. Drivability is also improved on these models, as is safety and reliability.

                            

Why You Want It

The 2004-09 Prius retains the same hybrid setup as the original car-that is an electric motor and battery pack teamed to a gasoline engine, but has more power and better fuel economy. The second generation Prius also gets more creature comforts, with an emphasis on better seats, improved head and legroom and more electronic goodies. In fact, although most consider the Prius to be a compact car, its interior volume almost rivals that of the Camry. A wider stance coupled with larger tires and a firmer suspension improves the Prius' ride and handling, a common sore spot with owners of the original car. A two-tier digital instrument cluster looks super cool and is sure to impress the most rabid anti-hybrid stalwart. Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive system allows the vehicle to operate under either gasoline or electric power, or some combination of the two. At speeds up to 30 miles per hour, the Prius operates solely on electric power stored in its battery pack, which means it burns zero fuel and emits zero emissions.

 

Notable Features & Options

The Prius comes nicely equipped and includes power functions for the mirrors, windows and lock, remote keyless entry, heated side mirrors, an AM/FM stereo with CD player, air conditioning, rear defroster, and a rear wiper/washer. Anti-lock brakes are standard, as is traction control. A tilt wheel with touch controls, cruise control and alloy wheels are also standard. After 2007, models gain seat-mounted front side airbags and side curtain airbags (previously optional), and a new Touring trim debuts with a firmer suspension, xenon headlamps and 16-inch wheels. Among the Prius' many options are a JBL audio system, DVD navigation with rear backup camera, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity, VSC stability control, Smart keyless entry with push button start, leather seating, a six-disc CD changer, satellite radio and an upgraded audio system with an auxiliary audio input jack. Missing from the list are such valuable assets as heated front seats and a power moonroof. These features do not appear until the third generation 2010 Prius.

 

Model Milestones

2005: A rear wiper/washer is made standard.

2006: The Prius undergoes a mild makeover, with a revised front grille and newly designed tail lights.

2007: Seat-mounted front airbags are made standard, as are front and rear side curtain airbags. The Touring trim debuts featuring a stiffer suspension setup, larger wheels and more standard features.

2008: The Prius' already lengthy option's list grows longer, with more stand alone options bundled into packages.

2009: No major changes.

 

Engines and Performance

If you wanted to compare the Prius' acceleration with a conventional gasoline only vehicle, a good choice might be the Toyota Corolla. The Prius isn't fast, but thanks to the boost it receives from its electric motor, it is quick to merge or pass slower traffic. The 1.5-liter gasoline engine is rated at 76 horsepower while the 50 kilowatt electric motor adds another 67 ponies for a combined output of 110 horsepower. Upon depressing the accelerator, the electric motor is first to respond. The Prius glides silently along, with no engine or exhaust noise to invade the serene cabin. So long as your speed remains below 30 mph, and the battery pack is charged, the Prius' gasoline engine remains asleep. Only when the batteries run low or speeds greater than 30 mph are required does the Prius consume fossil fuel. Typically, the Prius will get around 45 mpg on the highway and, depending how far and fast you drive, anywhere from 48 to 60 mpg in the city.

 

Recalls, Safety Ratings and Warranties

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, has issued the following recalls for the 2004-09 Toyota Prius.

2004: A recall was issued for a possible improperly designed brake light switch that could result in the brake lights failing to illuminate.

2004-06: Recalls were issued for possible defective airbag inflator on the side airbag curtain assembly and for a possible defect in the electric power steering system that could cause steering failure.

2004-2009: A recall was issued for possible problem with the accelerator pedal getting stuck in the wide open position.

2005-2009: A recall was issued for some cars sold in the southeast and gulf states for failure to carry the requisite load carrying capacity modification label for the tires.

Recall repairs are required by law even if the vehicle is out of warranty. Your dealer can check to see if the repairs were performed and if not, will fix the car at no charge to you.

As for safety, NHTSA gives the 2004-09 Toyota Prius with side airbags good marks earning four out of five stars for the driver and passenger in the front end crash test. In the side impact crash test, the Prius' driver earns five out of five stars, while the front passenger earns four out of five stars. The Prius also earned four stars in the rollover crash test. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the Prius its best rating of GOOD in the frontal offset and side impact crash test, but a POOR side impact crash test score for cars not equipped with the then optional side airbags (2006 and earlier).

The 2004-09 Toyota Prius has a basic manufacturer warranty of 3-year/36,000 miles for basic coverage, 5-years/60,000 miles for the drivetrain and 8-years/100,000 miles on the hybrid related components (electric motor, battery pack, etc.). Toyota also offers a Certified Pre-Own program that can extend the existing warranty. CPO cars undergo a rigorous inspection, come with a 12-month/12,000 mile comprehensive warranty from the date you purchase the vehicle, and extends the original powertrain warranty to 7-years/100,000 miles (begins from the date the vehicle first entered service.)

 

Word on the Web

The web is filled with comments about the 2004-09 Toyota Prius and most of them are positive accolades. Consumer Reports gives the Prius high marks in all but one or two categories related to electrical components and engine cooling (2004-05 models only). JDPower.com also gives the Prius high marks in its Overall Initial Quality survey as well as vehicle dependability. On enthusiast and consumer sites, we found great praise for the Prius' roomy interior, great fuel economy and strong reliability. There were some concerns about the life of the battery pack as well as the cost to replace it after the warranty expires. Others complained of the awkward brake pedal feel, a situation that occurs when the vehicle moves from regenerative braking, which uses the engine and motor/generator to slow the car, to conventional hydraulic braking.

 

Competitive Set

The 2004-09 Toyota Prius doesn't have many competitors, but in the hybrid field the Honda Civic Hybrid is the closest. Similar in size but using a slightly different hybrid setup, the Civic Hybrid earns equally good fuel economy ratings as the Prius yet costs a bit less. The Civic Hybrids conventional sedan design, however, is not as flexible as the five-door Prius, and its styling doesn't stand out from the other Civic models. You might also check out the Honda Insight, but only if you're looking for a two-passenger commuter car with a small cargo hold. If fuel economy is your primary consideration, then the diesel-powered VW Jetta TDI might also be of interest. Its highway mileage can often top that of the Prius and the diesel engine emits less greenhouse gas emissions than a similarly sized gasoline equivalent. Unfortunately, the Jetta TDI's reliability ratings are nowhere near as strong as the Prius, and diesel fuel can be difficult to locate in some parts of the country.

 

Auto Trader Recommendations

While there are not many changes between the 2004 and the 2009 models, we favor the 2007 and new Prius' for their standard airbag protection and improved suspensions in the Touring trim. There is also a high probability of finding a Prius that is still covered by the factory warranty, a nice thing to have when purchasing a used vehicle.

author photo

Joe Tralongo started in the industry writing competitive comparison books for a number of manufacturers, before moving on in 2000 to become a freelance automotive journalist. He's well regarded for his keen eye for detail, as well as his ability to communicate complex mechanical terminology into user-friendly explanations.

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