When Takeshi Uchiyamada, a top Toyota manager, was presented in 1995 with the task of developing a new hybrid automobile within two years, he was shocked and in need of inspiration. He found it by reading, among other things, the accounts of America’s landing of a man on the moon during the 1960’s – both his boss, Toyota president Hiroshi Okuda, and U.S. president John F. Kennedy, had set forth a goal and a timetable for a project for which the technology to complete it did not exist.
Both goals were met, and the Toyota Prius was born in Japan on October 14th, 1997. In America, the time came to take Prius orders in June of 2000 with a website that immediately lit up with orders, pleasing anxious Toyota executives. Now global sales of the Prius family of vehicles have reached 5.7 million.
The 2016 Toyota Prius is the first year of the fourth generation of Prii, and I recently tested one for a week. Keeping up with an industry trend, Toyota has managed to effect fuel economy improvements with each successive generation of the Prius. The original Prius’ 40 mpg combined mileage rating was increased in to 45 mpg in 2004 by installing all-electric air conditioning and in 2009 an electric water pump and larger engine were incorporated. Each successive model featured more aerodynamic styling, reducing the drag coefficient to the 2016’s .24 Cd. My test Prius had the larger, 1.8 liter, four cylinder gasoline engine and two electric motor/generators incorporated in the power train, bringing the total hybrid system net horsepower to 166, with a 50 mpg combined EPA mileage rating. I was thoroughly satisfied with the driveability, performance, and economy (I observed 51 mpg) of this sedan during my time with it.
The front-wheel drive Prius is surprisingly roomy (it seats five) and comfortable, with two-tone SofTex seats, and 21.6 cubic feet of luggage space. This Prius was base-priced at $30,005.00, and freight and technology package brought the total to $35,704.00. That tech package provided hard-disk navigation with 6.1” screen, JBL sound system with MP3 connection, Entune (with smartphone integration), HD/satellite radio, Bluetooth, back-up camera, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, proximity keyless entry, and head-up windshield speedometer display. The exterior of the car included blue-accent car badges, rear spoiler, LED headlamps, front fog lamps, 17” alloy wheels, and P215/45R17 all-season radials.
I recommend the 2014 Prius sedan as a solid performer and investment. Nonetheless, I will be looking forward to next year’s 2015, fourth generation Prius that will reportedly deliver a ten percent increase in fuel economy, to 55 mpg. It will be completely restyled with a reduction in drag, and all-wheel drive is rumored to be an option.