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2001 Toyota Prius Sedan

4dr Sdn (Natl)

Starting at | Starting at 52 MPG City - 45 MPG Highway

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2001 Toyota Prius Sedan

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2001 Toyota Prius Sedan

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2001 Toyota Prius

Source: The Car Connection

A real, frugal city car-not a green-geek novelty.

by Bengt Halvorson

I probably have more "green" friends than most automotive writers, and my planet-conscious pals constantly pose questions about "those new hybrids" as if they're the next big thing since frozen yogurt or TofuRella - cars that you can use without the guilt of contributing to global warming and the depletion of fossil-fuel resources, cars that set a trend for others to follow.

Until recently, my only experience with the $19,995 Prius was when Toyota brought a few Japanese-market cars to the U.S. more than a year in advance of its U.S. introduction. Although Honda's Insight (which went on sale in the U.S. before the Prius) was still in the development stages at that time, the Prius had already been on sale in Japan for nearly two years (it made its debut there in 1997). In a short drive then of a right-hand-drive Prius, my colleagues and I were impressed with the seamlessness of the hybrid drivetrain but critical of the car's lack of power at higher speeds.

Since then, Toyota has tweaked the Prius for the American market with a slightly more powerful engine, new battery packs, and revised hybrid system behavior. Naturally, I considered it my duty to you and to my tree-hugging buds alike to revisit this benchmark. Mainly, I was interested in two main things: is the Prius a car that I could live with as well as any other small car from day to day, and does this tech powerhouse actually return the lofty gas-mileage figures that it promises (52 city and 45 highway, according to the EPA)?

I found my answers - both yes and no.

Good news for granolas

The good news for Toyota and for granolas everywhere is that driving the Prius is not the work-in-progress, techno-geek experience you might think. In fact, most of the time the hybrid system does its job so unobtrusively that you don't even know what's going on, unless you're looking at the special feature screen on the onboard computer that shows you, with arrow diagrams, whether the electric motor, gas engine, or both are providing power, and when the battery packs are regenerating. The column shifter and center-mounted LED gauge cluster are a bit different from other small cars, but otherwise you just shift into Drive and go. The Prius feels and drives much like a normal small car.

How does it work? The Prius has a true hybrid system. It can run independently on either electric or gas power as needed, and it doesn't rely on the combination of both at all times. A planetary gear setup manages the flow of power from and between the engine, motor, and generator. The motor operates from a standing start and whenever very little power is needed to keep the car moving. Once the gasoline engine starts up, the continuously variable automatic transmission brings the revs in the most efficient range. A regenerative braking system captures some of the torque used in braking and converts it back to electricity to help recharge the batteries. The rest of the batteries' recharging is handled through normal engine power. The gasoline engine, with VVT-i variable valve timing, a high 13:1 max compression ratio, and a design that emphasizes efficiency over everything else, makes its peak 70 horsepower at its redline of a leisurely 4500 rpm (up from 4000 in earlier versions), with peak torque of 82 lb-ft at 4200 rpm. On the other hand, the electric motor makes 44 horsepower from 1040 to 5600 rpm and a surprising 258 lb-ft of torque available at 0 rpm (not a misprint: electric motors are just that way). With near-opposite power curves, the two power mills seem ideal partners in a hybrid.

All of the elements of the so-called Toyota Hybrid System are computer-controlled and monitored to make the transition between power sources as seamless and efficient as possible. In most situations, the gasoline engine will shut itself off in drive at a stoplight. Lifting off the brake, the car will 'creep' forward just as a gas-powered car and have plenty of power from a start. While accelerating, usually between 5 and 20 mph, the gas engine will silently start, build revs, and join the electric motor in propelling the car forward. At just about any speed, if you coast for more than a few seconds the gas engine will automatically shut off to save gas and cut emissions. You really can't feel most of these power changeovers, except for when the gas engine shuts off at stoplights-which is a disconcerting feeling at first.

City natural, highway novice

The hybrid system actually gives the Prius enough oomph at full throttle to rip the front tires loose from a stoplight-a ridiculous image, but an image nonetheless that proves the Prius is no slug in city driving. Even under full throttle, the hybrid system keeps its composure as the electric motor helps the gasoline engine get the car quickly underway.

If we could wish for one thing about Prius to be changed, it would be the twitchy, overboosted steering. At low speeds, the quick ratio and high power-steering boost is nice for parking and maneuvering between lanes, but at higher speeds it leads to an unsettled feeling, it tends to wander, and it needs frequent little adjustments. The Prius also tends to tramline severely on the snow-chain rutted highways of the Northwest, and the slab-sided car feels quite susceptible to sidewinds.

More problematic is its open-road behavior. While the Prius feels like a natural in town, the hybrid drivetrain also feels remarkably out of its element in high-speed highway driving. The gasoline engine occasionally buzzes coarsely, revving up and down with the slightest inclines, with the transmission sometimes indecisive for no apparent reason. Keeping a steady speed is difficult. Mix that with the wandering, twitchy steering and you have a difficult long-distance driver.

The brakes have a unique, drive-by-wire setup in which regenerative braking handles light braking applications, followed by good ol' front discs and rear drums for the real stopping power. The process makes them hitch up in a non-progressive, but predictable way that's reminiscent of power brakes from twenty years ago. Press the pedal just a little and you can feel the regenerative braking. Press a little more, and not much happens. Then you get to a level where the boost kicks in and the brakes grip with more stopping power than you want. After a few stops we got used to it.

Real space

Aside from the hybrid powertrain and less-than certain handling attributes, the Prius really feels like an ordinary small car, with a reasonably large trunk and decent space in the back seat, at least for shorter trips. It really is remarkably roomy, considering its diminutive exterior. The front seats are typical economy-car issue, with very little support and no adjustment for cushion height or tilt.

Toyota otherwise has done an elegant job with the inside. The silver-toned buttons, though slightly out of place, add a nice touch. I didn't, however, get used to the center-mounted LED gauge cluster and the touch screen. The combination of both seemed a bit distracting at times at night.

That touch screen has several useful features, though. A consumption mode follows instantaneous fuel consumption with a bar graph, and then a graph plots five-minute average fuel economy figures for the last thirty minutes, indicating major power-regeneration points. An energy mode shows, with blinking arrows, the direction of power between components of the hybrid drivetrain. You can follow in real time when the power is coming from the engine, motor, or both, when braking regeneration is charging the batteries, or when engine power is charging the batteries. A display on the interface, much like that of a laptop computer, shows approximately how full the battery is. I never saw it fall below half full.

Prius rides on a wheelbase that's stretched about seven inches longer than the Echo, but otherwise the two cars have similar dimensions. Despite the two cars' obvious similarities, including similar styling and the same weird, gauges-in-the-middle layout, Toyota says that the cars have little in common and aren't even on the same platform. At 2765 pounds, Prius is more than 700 pounds heavier than a four-door Echo, which in five-speed manual form is rated at 34 city, 41 highway.

The all-electric heating and air-conditioning system is instantaneous and more than adequate. There's no wait for the engine to heat up in the winter before heat is available. It gets hot fast, so the automatic setting is useful for comfort.

What about fuel economy?

Now for the part you've been waiting for: does Prius live up to its fuel economy claims? I did pay extra attention to the fuel consumption. Each fuel fill was made with the same pump, carefully trickling the fuel in to the same point in the filler neck, because when you have a vehicle that uses as little fuel as the Prius, every little bit counts. To validate-or at least back up-my results, I let the onboard computer compute my mileage as well, and it was always within one mpg of my pump-and-odometer calculated results.

To figure out how to get the best mileage, I divided my time behind the wheel into three different driving styles. First was nearly 120 miles of daily errands and commuting, driving with the flow of traffic and pretending that I was behind the wheel of a normal car. I averaged a frugal 48 miles per gallon.

Next, a 36-mile, "fuel economy" loop, made up of about two miles of dense stop-and-go city driving (averaging no more than 10 mph), 10 miles of suburban stoplight-every half-mile driving in which I averaged 30-40 mph, and then 24 miles of highway driving, ranging from 50 to 65 mph. During this loop, I was gentle on the throttle and drove as I would a gas engine for best fuel economy. My efforts were rewarded with a good, but meager, 44 mpg.

Finally, I decided to test my ideas that had formed about what factors into Prius's consumption. I topped off the tank carefully again, and over the next 40 miles of urban and suburban driving I drove the Prius in a spirited manner from stoplights, not paying special attention to how easy I was on the throttle. This driving method returned 47 miles per gallon.

Toyota's Ming-Jou Chen confirms that the driving pattern for getting the best mileage from the Prius is quite different than for an ordinary car, and that fuel consumption depends on the use of accessories like the climate control, which cause the gas engine to start more often to keep the battery charged. Unusually cold or hot weather will cause the Prius to get worse mileage. Conditions during my drive were mild, in the 50s. I still think, after my time with the car, that the EPA's figure of 52 city is maybe a bit optimistic.

A gridlocked green's dream

After all of this playing this mad fuel-economy game, the Prius' strengths and weaknesses had become more apparent. In the city, the electric motor can provide the short bursts of energy needed, while on the highway the electric motor can't keep it up and it just isn't efficient anyway. What backfires for the Pruis on the highway is its sheer mass (for such a small car), which the poor little gas engine just isn't up for the task of hauling. It does the job alright, but feels strained on the highway where it has more of the responsibility.

The fuel-economy graph confirms that it isn't exactly operating in its efficient zone at Interstate speeds. On a straight, level stretch of highway, the touch-screen computer's instantaneous fuel economy bar graph indicated nearly 50 mpg at 60 mph, but bringing the speed up to 70 mpg dropped the gas mileage into what appeared to be the low-to-mid thirties, and a steady 75 corresponded with not much more than 25 mpg. In short, the Prius gets great mileage if you can control that heavy throttle foot at highway speeds, if you do mostly low-speed urban commuting, or if you live in one of the New England states (or Hawaii) where the speed limit is still 55. In town, you can hot-dog it as much as you want and you won't be penalized much, but on the highway the Prius can suck more gas than you'd think.

If it's more highway driving you do, you might be happier with Honda's Civic HX, which gets an honest 40-something miles per gallon in real-world highway driving (EPA rated 36 city, 44 highway), and is available with either a five-speed manual or a CVT automatic. If you have your mind set on a hybrid, also check out the Honda Insight, which is, unfortunately, only a two-seater that looks and feels less like a normal car. The Insight gets a higher 61 city, 68 highway rating from the EPA, but the Prius beats it for emissions with a California SULEV rating. (Look for a full road-test review of the Insight in TCC in a few weeks.)

There's no doubt that Toyota invested a tremendous amount of money to bring the Prius to production. Toyota won't reveal exactly how much it has spent on its hybrid projects, what else is in the works (a hybrid HV-M4 minivan concept, rumored to be on the way to production, was shown at the '99 Tokyo show), or how much it is losing per vehicle (the base price is only $19,995). Prius has been much more of a sales success than anticipated: 6860 have been sold so far, and another 1200 orders are queued up.

The Prius is an excellent engineering showcase and hopefully a predecessor to a whole fleet of hybrid-drivetrain vehicles. Kudos to Toyota for getting it out to consumers, and for showing the car-buying public that hybrid drivetrains can be practical and reliable.

© 2001 The Car Connection

Printable Version

2001 Toyota Prius Sedan

Safety Ratings help

What do the Safety Ratings mean?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) performs independent crash testing of new vehicles and then assigns them a score based on their performance. The overall crash test rating is based on how a vehicle performs in the following tests:

Driver Crash Grade:

Measures the chance of a serious injury to a crash test dummy that is placed in a driver's seat and driven into a fixed barrier at 35 MPH. A five-star rating means there is 10 percent or less chance of injury.

Passenger Crash Grade:

Similar to the driver crash grade, only now the focus is on the passenger.

Rollover Resistance:

Simulates an emergency lane change to measure the likelihood of a vehicle rolling over. A five-star rating means there is 10 percent or less risk of rollover.

Side Impact Crash Test - Front:

Focuses on the front side of a vehicle. It simulates crashes that can occur in intersections by striking a 3,015-pound weight against the side of a vehicle at 38.5 MPH. A five-star rating means there is 5 percent or less chance of injury.

Side Impact Crash Test - Rear:

Similar to the front side impact test only now the focus is on the rear passenger.

Driver Crash Grade
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Passenger Crash Grade
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Side Impact Crash Test - Front n/a
Side Impact Crash Test - Rear n/a

Safety Features & Equipment

Braking & Traction

4-Wheel ABS Std

Passenger Restraint

Driver Air Bag Std
Passenger Air Bag Std

Road Visibility

Intermittent Wipers Std
Variable Inter. Wipers Std
Printable Version

2001 Toyota Prius Sedan

Original Warranty  help
Original Warranty
An original warranty is the warranty associated with a vehicle when it is brand new. In addition to the original warranty, select items, like tires, are typically covered by respective manufacturers. Also, an act of Federal law sometimes provides protection for certain components, like emissions equipment.
The original warranty is often broken down into multiple sections, including:
Basic Warranty:
Typically covers everything except for parts that wear out through normal use of the vehicle. Examples of non-covered items are brake pads, wiper blades and filters.
Drivetrain Warranty:
This warranty covers items the basic warranty does not protect. Wear and tear items such as hoses will not be covered, but key items like the engine, transmission, drive axles and driveshaft often will be.
Roadside Assistance:
The level of service differs greatly with this warranty, but many manufacturers offer a toll-free number that helps provide assistance in case you run out of gas, get a flat tire or lock your keys in the car.
Corrosion Warranty:
This warranty focuses on protecting you from holes caused by rust or corrosion in your vehicle's sheet metal.
Please check the owner's manual, visit a local dealership or look at the manufacturer's website to learn more about the specifics of the warranties that apply to a vehicle.

Basic 3 Years/36,000 Miles
Drivetrain 5 Years/60,000 Miles
Corrosion 5 Years/Unlimited Miles

Toyota Certified Pre-Owned Warranty  help
Certified Pre-Owned Warranty
To be eligible for Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) status, vehicles generally must be recent models with relatively low mileage. CPO vehicles must also pass a detailed inspection, outlined by the manufacturer, which is measured by the number of inspected points.
Warranty coverage can vary from one manufacturer to the next. While most certified pre-owned programs transfer and extend the existing new car warranty terms, others offer a warranty that simply represents an additional year and mileage value. Always check with the manufacturer for the specific warranties they offer.
Common features and benefits of Certified Pre-Owned warranties include:
Age/Mileage Eligibility
To even be considered for certification, a car must be a recent model year and have limited mileage. The exact requirements are established by individual manufacturers.
Lease Term Certified
Some manufacturers offer certified pre-owned cars for lease. The length of the lease is often shorter than a new car lease, but it will cost you less.
Point Inspection
These inspections entail a comprehensive vehicle test to ensure that all parts are in excellent working order. The point inspection list is simply a numbered list of exactly what parts of the car are examined. While many inspections range from a 70- to 150-point checklist, most are very similar and are performed using strict guidelines. Ask your local dealer about specific details.
Return/Exchange Program
Some manufacturers offer a very limited return or exchange period. Find out if you will get the sales tax and licensing/registration fees back should you return or exchange the car.
Roadside Assistance
Most certified pre-owned programs offer free roadside service in case your car breaks down while still under warranty.
Special Financing
Reduced-rate loans are available through many certified pre-owned programs. Manufacturer-backed inspections and warranties help eliminate the risks involved with buying pre-owned, so buyers who qualify can take advantage of the great offers.
Transferable Warranty
When a new car warranty transfers with the certification of the car and remains eligible for the next owner, it is known as a transferable warranty. Once the original transferable warranty expires, an extended warranty takes effect.
Warranty Deductible
This is the amount for which you are responsible when repair work is performed under the warranty. Some manufacturers require a deductible while others don't, so always ask.

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12-month/12,000-mile Comprehensive Warranty*

7-year/100,000-mile Limited Powertrain Warranty**

1-year of Roadside Assistance***

160-Point Quality Assurance Inspection

CARFAX® Vehicle History ReportTM****

Certified customers are eligible for standard new car financing rates*****

*Whichever comes first from date of Toyota Certified Used Vehicle purchase. The Comprehensive Warranty covers any repair or replacement of components which fail under normal use due to defect in materials or workmanship. (Program not available in Puerto Rico and Hawaii.)

**Whichever comes first from original date of first use when sold as new. See your Toyota Certified Used Vehicles dealer for warranty details. Program not available in Puerto Rico and Hawaii. For AL, FL, GA, NC & SC, warranty coverage differs in the following ways: 7-year or 100,000-mile Toyota Certified Limited Powertrain Warranty coverage begins on January 1st of the vehicle's model year and zero (0) odometer miles and expires at the earlier of seven years or 100,000 odometer miles.

***From date of Toyota Certified Used Vehicle purchase. Covers most services, including flat tires, lockout service, jump starts, fuel delivery up to 3 gallons and towing for mechanical breakdown or collision recovery to the nearest Toyota dealership. Services provided exclude any parts required. Coverage not available in Mexico. See Certified Warranty Supplement for warranty details.

****Beginning December 1, 2005 CARFAX® Vehicle History ReportsTM are a required part of every Toyota Certified Used Vehicle. See your local dealer for details.

*****Rates mentioned are for standard new car rates, and do not include new car specials or subvented rates. Not all buyers will qualify. Financing available through Toyota Financial Services for qualified buyers only.
Age/Mileage Eligibility 7 years / 85,000
Lease Term Certified Yes
Point Inspection All TCUV vehicles must pass a comprehensive checklist that includes a 160-point inspection. This way you can rest assured that your pre-owned Toyota is in perfect condition. To see full inspection list visit http://www.toyotacertified.com/inspection.html
Return/Exchange Program No
Roadside Assistance 1-year of Roadside Assistance from date of TCUV purchase.
Transferrable Warranty Yes
Warranty Deductible $50

Learn more about certified pre-owned vehicles

Printable Version

2001 Toyota Prius Sedan

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