2008 Toyota Prius Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
June 13, 2008

The 2008 Toyota Prius isn’t that entertaining a car to drive, but it delivers exceptional fuel economy and a roomy interior.

TheCarConnection.com's editors researched a wide range of road tests of the 2008 Toyota Prius to write this definitive review. TheCarConnection.com's resident experts also drove the 2008 Toyota Prius to help you decide which reviews to trust where opinions differ, to add more impressions and details, and to provide you with the best information.

The 2008 Toyota Prius is the most successful hybrid vehicle to date. It's become popular largely based on its great fuel economy of up to 48 mpg, its five-passenger capability, and of course, the stunning rise in gas prices in the last five years.

The 2008 Toyota Prius looks like an anonymous hatchback on the outside. Inside, the layout of the dash indicates this is no ordinary vehicle. The dash behind the steering wheel is empty; the speedo and other gauges are relegated to strip at the top of the dash, while a large centered information display reads out fuel economy and climate-control settings, as well as controlling the radio. (It also houses the available navigation system).

Push the Start button--there's no ignition slot--and shift the stubby electronic lever into drive, and you're off. The front-drive Prius gets its juice from a gas-electric powertrain that can operate in pure electric mode at low speeds and while the vehicle is idling. The gas engine is a 1.5-liter four-cylinder that can run on regular unleaded; the batteries lie under the cargo floor and recharges via the engine and by power otherwise lost during braking. The continuously variable automatic transmission keeps the Prius humming in its ideal operating range and helps it achieve 48 mpg city, 45 mpg highway.

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Performance isn't the Prius's main concern, but city power is plenty strong, and on the highway, the 2008 Toyota Prius can pass with a safe measure of speed. Steering feel is artificial, the brakes are only average, and the ride can get bumpy and noisy, since the tires are skinny, and there's not as much sound deadening as in a more luxurious car.

The 2008 Toyota Prius is an almost mid-size vehicle that offers exceptional roominess compared with other cars in its class. The 2008 Toyota Prius has good room for four adults and a useful hatchback for cargo. Seating is comfortable, but the seats themselves and much of the interior are finished in lightweight, inexpensive plastics.

Front, side, and curtain airbags are now standard on the 2008 Toyota Prius, and crash-test scores of mostly four stars are pretty good. The Prius also earns "good" ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

6

2008 Toyota Prius

Styling

The 2008 Toyota Prius seemed cutting-edge in 2004; today it’s a little long in the tooth.

The Toyota Prius bowed in its current body style in 2004, and reviewers from across the Web note that at first, the Prius looked like a completely unorthodox and futuristic car. Now it’s 2008, and the novelty has worn off. The 2008 Toyota Prius is in need of a makeover, according to sources reviewed by TheCarConnection.com—and the editors’ firsthand impressions of the vehicle, including ownership of a 2004 model.

The 2008 Toyota Prius sports a slab-sided exterior and an almost egg-shaped profile. Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com generally agree that the styling has grown old for Toyota's 2008 Prius, but Toyota says a new look won't arrive until 2010. While exterior styling on the Toyota Prius may not be the most aesthetically pleasing on the market, Cars.com points out that the "styling has driven the car's success" by improving aerodynamics and fuel economy, and "like it or not...you're likely to see more of this silhouette" as automakers try to cut fuel consumption wherever possible. One of the leading positive reviews of the Toyota Prius's exterior styling comes from Kelley Blue Book, where the reviewers feel that the "design is still unconventional, but somehow palatable to the everyday consumer." A noteworthy new addition to the 2008 Toyota Prius lineup is the Prius Touring Edition, which ForbesAutos notes is "distinguished from the rest of the line by high-intensity headlamps...as well as a larger aerodynamic spoiler." ConsumerGuide lists the other new model option for Toyota's 2008 edition of the Prius as "a new lower-priced Standard model," while the midrange Base version completes the trim trio.

Inside, the 2008 Toyota Prius sports a clean, futuristic dashboard, and the large windows provide great visibility in all directions. Looking forward, the driver will find a dashboard conspicuously devoid of instruments. Instead, Kelley Blue Book points out that "the center dash houses a large LCD screen that shows the power transfer map between the gasoline engine and electric motor, as well as the display for the climate, rear backup camera and navigation systems." Other interior styling elements winning high praise are the steering wheel buttons (all 11 of them), which manage to seem uncrowded and contribute to what ConsumerGuide calls the Prius's "own hi-tech look" inside. Edmunds finds the interior of the Prius to be "upscale, if not a little oddball," thanks largely to "flat and wide" dash and "centrally located instrument clusters."

9

2008 Toyota Prius

Performance

You can't argue with the test results--the 2008 Toyota Prius is the most fuel-efficient car in America, and when the gasoline engine kicks in, it is capable of passing with ease.

The 2008 Toyota Prius is no speed machine, but then again, it never pretends to be. Rather, when it comes to meeting the Toyota Prius's goal of excellent fuel economy and practical driving in a capable package, few cars do it better.

Acceleration and engine performance in the 2008 Toyota Prius are a mixed bag thanks to the combination powertrain found in the car. Edmunds notes that the unusual powertrain on the 2008 Toyota Prius, known as the Hybrid Synergy Drive, "consists of a 1.5-liter gasoline engine and two electric motors" whose combined "net peak horsepower is 110." With only the electric motor and batteries, Edmunds says the Toyota Prius can "accelerate up to about 25 mph.” The added boost of the gasoline engine provides decent, if not glorious, power for the Toyota 2008 Prius. ConsumerGuide notes "slow movement away from a stop accounts for a middling 10.5 sec 0-60 mph," but adds that once the gasoline engine kicks in, the "Prius picks up speed nicely...and copes reasonably well with traffic." ForbesAutos finds that, overall, "acceleration is roughly equivalent to that of a four-cylinder Toyota Camry."

Cars.com points out that the hybrid engine system "teams with a continuously variable automatic transmission" that replaces a more traditional automatic or manual transmission on the Toyota 2008 Prius. One of the benefits of this transmission is that it always keeps the engine in the proper rev range, which Edmunds says helps the Toyota Prius achieve "smooth and consistent" acceleration "from rest all the way to top speed." The transmission also improves efficiency, with ForbesAutos writing that the 2008 Toyota Prius returns "excellent fuel economy" with an EPA-estimated 48 mpg city and 45 mpg highway.

Most reviewers find that handling on the Toyota Prius is admirable for city driving, but none pushed it hard. Edmunds loves the Prius here, lauding the hybrid's "light electric steering, tight turning circle, [and] excellent visibility." However, ConsumerGuide thinks the electric steering feel is different from many other cars and has qualms with the 2008 Toyota Prius's "soft suspension and fairly skinny, economy-based tires," which contribute to "marked cornering lean and noseplow." Cars.com sides with Consumer Guide, saying that "Toyota isn't doing itself any favors with the Touring's sport tuning," since it would take much more than a suspension upgrade to make the Prius a sporty vehicle. Edmunds finds that while the soft suspension hurts turning, it does "provide an acceptably smooth ride."

7

2008 Toyota Prius

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Toyota Prius is built to last--just don't expect to be impressed by the base interior materials.

The 2008 Toyota Prius features high-quality construction and ample passenger room, but it suffers from a lack of high-end materials.

Passenger comfort is respectable on the 2008 Toyota Prius. Cars.com writes that "up to five people fit inside the Prius, and they're likely to enjoy more elbowroom than in the original model." ConsumerGuide agrees, saying that the Toyota Prius offers "generous headroom," but also noting that "the seats are nothing special for shape or support." The rear seats on Toyota's 2008 Prius provide just "economy-class" comfort, but there is "leg and toe space" that "rivals Toyota's roomy Camry sedan," according to ConsumerGuide. Mother Proof agrees, finding a "bigger-than-expected rear passenger area" waiting to accommodate additional passengers. The reviewers at Mother Proof also feel that it's easy to "find a comfortable seating position, as the manual controls for the seat are simple and innate."

The 2008 Toyota Prius also features a commendable amount of cargo room, thanks to its large cabin and the placement of the battery packs below the rear seats. Car and Driver feels that the interior is "roomy," with Cars.com providing hard numbers, saying that "cargo volume totals 16.1 cubic feet." Kelley Blue Book appreciates the space, finding that "with its rear 60/40-split bench seat folded down, the hatchback Prius can undoubtedly carry far more cargo than Toyota's bread-and-butter sedan," the Camry.

When it comes to build quality, the Toyota Prius is near the top of its class. Edmunds says that interior "fit and finish is very tight," and most reviews read by TheCarConnection.com agree. ConsumerGuide voices their opinion on Toyota Prius build quality by stating that "assembly quality on [their] test cars has been good," high praise from the typically reserved reviewers there.

Bringing down the 2008 Toyota Prius's score in this category, however, is the unfortunate use of some lower-grade materials inside the car. ConsumerGuide feels that the interior "materials are nothing special," and on the center LCD "screen legibility is diminished by fingerprints and direct sunlight." Edmunds agrees, claiming that "materials are pretty good, although some plastics are starting to seem a little cheap" for a car with the Prius's price tag.

Driving comfort on the Toyota 2008 Prius is aided by the car's noise characteristics. Edmunds writes that the "Prius features minimal cabin noise," while ConsumerGuide finds that "road and wind noise are modest for the class." Helping reduce road noise at low speeds is the hybrid powerplant, which is virtually silent until the gasoline engine kicks in.

8

2008 Toyota Prius

Safety

While you're saving the environment in your Toyota 2008 Prius, you can take comfort in knowing that the car will do an admirable job of saving you during an accident.

Cars bearing the Toyota badge up front have long sported above-average safety ratings, and the 2008 Toyota Prius is no exception.

TheCarConnection.com research shows that in independent crash tests, the 2008 Toyota Prius performed admirably, especially for a car of its size. The body held up well in both front- and side-impact tests, receiving four stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for front impacts and four and five star ratings for side impacts. The 2008 Toyota Prius also scored 4 out of 5 stars in the NHTSA rollover test. In testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Toyota Prius received the highest rating of "good' in both frontal offset and side-impact tests.

Beginning with the standard features list, it's clear that Toyota's 2008 Prius was designed to keep its environmentally friendly occupants safe. Edmunds points out that "every 2008 Toyota Prius comes standard with antilock brakes with brake assist, traction control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags." Mother Proof also appreciates the two child seat LATCH connectors and the "hands-free operation" of the Toyota Prius's navigation system. Rounding out the safety features list is a convenient tire-pressure monitor that assists with both safety and fuel efficiency.

On the highway, Toyota Prius drivers will appreciate what Edmunds calls the Prius's "excellent visibility." While running errands around town, Edmunds also says that the "available rearview camera [makes] it easy to park and maneuver through traffic." However, some reviewers disagree, with ConsumerGuide saying that "front and rear roof pillars impede visibility to some angles," and Cars.com adding that "a solid bar across the back glass impairs rearward visibility" on Toyota's 2008 Prius.

9

2008 Toyota Prius

Features

The 2008 Toyota Prius is a true market leader when it comes to features, especially with such touches as the optional premium sound system and touch-screen navigation system.

TheCarConnection.com has found that with the 2008 Toyota Prius, Toyota offers many standard features and an options list that can take it from a base sedan all the way up to the lower levels of a luxury car.

When it comes to standard features, the 2008 Toyota Prius doesn't disappoint. Kelley Blue Book writes that "every Prius features...illuminated remote keyless entry, AM/FM stereo with CD," and a "tilt-wheel with touch controls." Moving up from the Standard to the Base models of the Toyota Prius, Edmunds finds that this Toyota 2008 "adds cruise control, different wheels and heated sideview mirrors," while the top-of-the-line Touring edition brings standard "16-inch wheels and Xenon headlights." However, Cars.com notes that some standard features "like cruise control and minor accessories have been deleted from the base trim level to lower the cost." While these features have been eliminated as standard fare, they have not been removed entirely from the Toyota Prius, so if buyers still want cruise control, they can add it as an option.

ForbesAutos writes that the 2008 Toyota Prius "comes well-equipped, with options only offered in packages." Edmunds feels that those optional features packages, of which there are five, are "capable of transforming this hybrid from an economy car to a near-luxury sedan." Edmunds adds that some of the more noteworthy optional features on Toyota's 2008 Prius include "a nine-speaker JBL premium sound system with an in-dash six-CD changer" and "leather upholstery and steering wheel" that replaces the standard cloth treatment on the seats. ConsumerGuide also notes that a "navigation system" and "antiskid system" are available as options on the Toyota Prius Touring edition.

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October 25, 2016
2008 Toyota Prius 5-Door HB Touring (SE)

Efficient Prius has lasted with minimum repairs.

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Highly reliable and very efficient, cost-effective, fun to drive, we have really enjoyed driving our 2008 Prius Touring. The only significant problem we had was having to replace three separate headlights... + More »
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March 10, 2016
For 2008 Toyota Prius

AMAZING car

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I am 80 years old and have had many cars, This is the most care free, reliable car I have ever owned.
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April 26, 2015
For 2008 Toyota Prius

Totally reliable with 50+ MPG

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Bought this car new and have had it 8 years and have 156,000 trouble free miles! It has a surprising amount of interior leg room in the back seats. Lower the back seats and you are amazed at the volume of... + More »
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April 20, 2015
For 2008 Toyota Prius

Reliable and good milage

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This month, I will have this car just seven yaers. It won't win a beauty contest. But, I must say that the following models did not come with better looks. In this model the multi-purpose screen is high on the... + More »
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April 20, 2015
For 2008 Toyota Prius

It's a Super Car!

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Enormous cargo area, 47 real world MPG, super reliability, smooth acceleration at freeway speeds. Storage areas are everywhere, from the tray above the spare tire to the double-level glovebox and a half-dozen... + More »
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December 18, 2014
For 2008 Toyota Prius

Steady, solid car with great MPG

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We've had this car for 6 years and its been exactly as advertised. Its reliable, gets great mileage, and has had zero issues. Note: its not sporty or slick or even close to fast, so if that's what you are... + More »
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