2009 Toyota Prius Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
February 8, 2009

The 2009 Toyota Prius is not a driver’s car, but it delivers excellent fuel economy in a versatile package.

In writing this definitive review, TheCarConnection.com's editors researched a wide range of road tests covering the 2009 Toyota Prius. TheCarConnection.com's resident experts also have extensive experience driving the Toyota Prius and added their observations and comments to help you make sense where other reviews might differ.

Even though the 2009 Toyota Prius has a design that's anything but fresh (a new Prius is due for 2010), the Prius has continued to gain popularity because of its combination of excellent fuel economy, five-passenger seating, and versatile hatchback design. The fact that fuel prices have gone through the roof over the past several years hasn’t hurt either.

The current Prius looks more mainstream than the original, but inside, the dashboard and instruments communicate that this is not an ordinary hatchback. The speedometer and other gauges are at the top of the dash, and a large information display resides in the center stack, displaying fuel economy, climate control, radio settings and if so equipped, the optional navigation system. To start the vehicle, you push a button—there is no key slot—and the transmission lever might as well come from a video game.

The 2009 Toyota Prius is powered by Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy drive—a fancy name for the company's gasoline-electric powertrain that can operate in pure electric mode at low speeds and while the vehicle is at a full stop. The gas engine is an economical 1.5-liter four-cylinder that runs on regular unleaded and works in synergy with the electric motor when extra boost is needed.  Power transferred to the front wheels through a continuously variable automatic transmission keeps the Prius humming in its ideal operating range and helps it achieve 48 mpg city, 45 mpg highway. The battery pack is under the cargo floor and recharges via the engine and by regenerative braking.

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Performance isn't the primary reason consumers choose the Prius, but the instant torque from the electric motor allows for good power in city driving. On the highway, the 2009 Toyota Prius can cruise and pass safely. Steering feel is artificial, the regenerative brakes are only average, and the ride can get bumpy and noisy. Blame the low rolling resistance tires and the lack of sound deadening to save weight.

The interior of the 2009 Toyota Prius is well laid out, and it offers exceptional roominess compared with other cars in its class. The hatchback design has good room for four adults and a versatile rear hatch 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 2009 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.

7

2009 Toyota Prius

Styling

Styling on the 2009 Toyota Prius was once deemed radical but has become mundane.

When the Toyota Prius launched its current iteration in 2004, it looked like a futuristic vehicle and stood out in a crowd. Like many Japanese designs, it hasn’t aged well, and most automotive journalists agree that it is in dire need of a makeover. The editors of TheCarConnection.com concur based on our firsthand impressions of the vehicle, including ownership of a 2004 model.

The 2009 Toyota Prius sports a slab-sided exterior and an almost egg-shaped profile. Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com generally grouse that the styling has grown old for Toyota's 2009 Prius, but Toyota says a new look won't arrive until the 2010 model year.

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' 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 addition to the 2009 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 2009 edition of the Prius as "a new lower-priced Standard model," while the midrange Base version completes the trim trio.

A clean, futuristic dashboard serves a simple contrast to the complicated displays aboard the Prius, and large windows provide great visibility in all directions. Looking forward, the driver will find the 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' "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

2009 Toyota Prius

Performance

Numbers don’t lie. The 2009 Toyota Prius is the most fuel-efficient car in America, and it does so with little compromise in daily driving.

One doesn’t purchase a Prius for its prowess in acceleration or at the drag strip. It is designed for excellent fuel economy in practical package, and it does both exceptionally.

Acceleration and engine performance in the 2009 Toyota Prius are a mixed bag, thanks to the hybrid powertain of the car. Edmunds notes that the unusual powertrain on the 2009 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, the Toyota Prius can "accelerate up to about 25 mph,” says Edmunds. The added boost of the gasoline engine provides decent, if not glorious, power for the Toyota 2009 Prius. ConsumerGuide observes "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 2009 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 reporting that the 2009 Toyota Prius returns "excellent fuel economy" with an EPA-estimated 48 mpg city and 45 mpg highway.

Most reviewers find the Toyota Prius to handle just fine in city driving, but none of them report pushing it too hard on a demanding, twisty road. 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 2009 Toyota Prius' "soft suspension and fairly skinny, economy-based tires," which contribute to "marked cornering lean and noseplow." Cars.com sides with ConsumerGuide, 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.

7

2009 Toyota Prius

Comfort & Quality

The 2009 Toyota Prius is screwed together well, but there's evidence of skimpiness in the materials.

The 2009 Toyota Prius is screwed together like a Toyota, but some of the materials used aren’t up to the standards set by its sister vehicles.

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 its 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 2009 Toyota Prius' score in this category, however, is the unfortunate use of 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' price tag.

Passenger comfort is respectable on the 2009 Toyota Prius. Cars.com contends 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 noting that "the seats are nothing special for shape or support." The rear seats on Toyota's 2009 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 concurs, 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 2009 Toyota Prius 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," and Cars.com provides hard numbers, stating 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.

Driving comfort on the Toyota 2009 Prius is aided by the car's noise characteristics. Edmunds reports that the "Prius features minimal cabin noise," while ConsumerGuide deems "road and wind noise are modest for the class." That runs counter to the lack of insulation and noise on coarse surfaces that TheCarConnection.com editors have experienced. Helping reduce road noise at low speeds is the hybrid powerplant, which is virtually silent until the gasoline engine kicks in.

Ride quality is a bright spot. Edmunds finds that while the soft suspension hurts turning, it does "provide an acceptably smooth ride."

7

2009 Toyota Prius

Safety

The 2009 Prius protects you almost as well as it protects the environment.



Toyota has skimped on standard safety features in some of its small cars in recent years, but the Prius comes with most features that shoppers will expect—side airbags, full-length side-curtain bags, and anti-lock brakes. Electronic stability control is optional on most Prius models, but in a glaring omission, it's not available on the new low-priced base model.

TheCarConnection.com research shows that in independent crash tests, the 2009 Toyota Prius performs admirably, especially for a car of its size. The body holds up well, receiving four stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for front impacts and four- and five-star ratings for side impacts. The 2009 Toyota Prius also scores four out of five stars in NHTSA's rollover test. In testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Toyota Prius receives the highest rating of "good' in both frontal offset and side-impact tests.

On the road, Toyota Prius drivers will appreciate what Edmunds calls the Prius' "excellent visibility." While running errands around town, the "available rearview camera [makes] it easy to park and maneuver through traffic," says Edmunds. However, some reviewers disagree, with ConsumerGuide warning 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 2009 Prius.

Edmunds points out that "every 2009 Toyota Prius comes standard with antilock brakes with brake assist, traction control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags." MotherProof also appreciates the two child seat LATCH connectors and the "hands-free operation" of the Toyota Prius' navigation system.

9

2009 Toyota Prius

Features

With a laundry list of available high-tech options, the 2009 Toyota Prius allows you to save the planet in style.

For 2009 Toyota has broadened the Prius’ appeal with models that start out spartan but can be equipped up to the levels of a luxury car.

ForbesAutos reports that the 2009 Toyota Prius "comes well-equipped, with options only offered in packages." Edmunds asserts 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 2009 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.

When it comes to standard features, the 2009 Toyota Prius doesn't disappoint. Kelley Blue Book notes 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 2009 "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 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. If buyers still want cruise control, they can add it as an option.

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July 25, 2015
2009 Toyota Prius 5-Door HB (GS)

Great comfort and fuel economy

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This is a great car that's a joy to drive. It has great fuel economy only about 0.5 liter/10 km. Really reliable and good looking too.
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April 20, 2015
For 2009 Toyota Prius

Generally satisfied Very

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Very good on fuel. The low chassis is a problem for countries like Sri Lanka where roads are bumpy and uneven. There was a problem with the ABS which many Toyota technicians could not identify.
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April 20, 2015
For 2009 Toyota Prius

i will buy again

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great car 52 mpg. Prius is the first hybrid car I owned.
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7.8
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Styling 7.0
Performance 9.0
Comfort & Quality 7.0
Safety 7.0
Features 9.0
Fuel Economy N/A
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