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Most cars go through their lives as transportation capsules. They’re painted boring colors like Dull Silver, Bright Gray, Silver Gray, Dull Gray, Bright Silver, or Tempe Taupe, sink into the sprawl quickly, say virtually nothing about the people who drive them and no one sheds a tear when they’re ultimately shredded and melted down.
Then there are cars that people buy to express themselves. You don’t buy a Hummer H2 because you want to blend it. A Rolls-Royce definitely says something about the person who drives it (mostly that they’re rich). And if you have a Ferrari, you likely have an ego to go along with it. It’s the same way with the Toyota Prius hybrid — you don’t buy one if you don’t want the world to know something about you. It’s just something completely different than what a Hummer, Rolls, or Ferrari says.
The second-generation Prius dumps the four-door body of the first generation car for a sleeker, pollywog-like, five-door design that further separates the car from mere economy cars and should make it even more fashionable among the environmentally conscious celebrity community. And the new, more powerful drivetrain ought to make it easier for those celebrities to stay ahead of the three Suburbans full of security and assorted entourage that follows them everywhere they go.
Exotic inside and out
Toyota calls its new third-generation gas/electric hybrid powertrain system “Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive” because… well… because it’s Toyota’s new gas/electric hybrid powertrain system.
The heart of the new system is a 50-kilowatt electric motor that’s about half-again as powerful as the previous Prius’ electric motor; the system allows this motor to run longer in electric-only mode than before. It maxes out at 67 horsepower between 1200 and 1540 rpm and the 1.5-liter DOHC gas-fueled four with which it’s partnered now includes Toyota’s VVT-i variable valve-timing system and peaks at 76 horsepower, up six ponies from before. An electronically controlled continuously variable transmission smoothes out the gasoline engine’s torque delivery so that it’s nearly as velvety as the electric motor’s. To scavenge as much power as possible, the Prius uses regenerative braking to further recharge its nickel-hydride battery.
2004 Toyota PriusEnlarge Photo