The most important performance statistic for the 2014 Toyota Prius is its gas mileage.The EPA rates this year's Prius Liftback at 51 mpg city and 48 mpg highway--giving a combined rating of the magic 50 mpg number. Just as important, the Prius will likely deliver on that rating--or within a 10-percent margin--for most drivers.
The Prius powertrain is made up of a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine tuned for peak efficiency and supplemented by a pair of electric motor-generators. There's also the nickel-metal-hydride battery pack under the rear load deck. The motors can add torque to supplement the engine power, run the car solely on electricity under light loads at low speeds, and recharge the battery during regenerative braking--thereby recapturing otherwise wasted energy and recycling it to move the car when needed.
Running the car can drop gas mileage into the high 30s from the mid or upper 40s, but there's another disincentive too: Noise and vibration from the engine are well suppressed under most circumstances, but if the driver demands maximum power, the engine will howl plaintively as it runs up to the top of its speed range and stays there.
The Prius electric power steering is lifeless, limp, and betrays no sign of road feel--just like most other Toyota products--though it works fine. The low-rolling-resistance tires squeal on anything but gentle cornering, but roadholding remains decent even if the car discourages hard cornering. When the four-wheel disc brakes take over from the regenerative braking, they work fine, and Toyota's blending of friction and regenerative braking is second to none in the field.
Toyota quotes acceleration of just under 10 seconds from 0 to 60 mph, but the car is the antithesis of performance driving in almost every way. Indeed, the electronic control of virtually every aspect of the Prius mechanical operations leads drivers to focus on boosting fuel economy numbers rather than beating others away from the stop light. In pursuit of efficiency, Toyota also provides both a lower-powered "Eco" mode--which is even less fun than the regular mode--and an "EV" mode that directs the Prius to run only on energy from the battery pack until its 1 mile or so of low-speed electric range is depleted.
As for the plug-in Prius, the larger lithium-ion battery pack gives much longer electric range (the EPA says 11 miles overall, though only 6 miles continuously before the engine has to switch on) and electric-only power at higher speeds. If you have a very light foot, you can keep the car running on electricity only up to almost 50 mph. Otherwise, the Prius Plug-In Hybrid performs just like a regular Prius, but feels heavier on the road (the weight difference is about 300 pounds). Unlike most other plug-ins, the charge-port door is on the right-rear fender. The 3.3-kilowatt onboard charger will fully recharge a fully-discharged battery in about 3 hours using conventional 110-volt household current. If you have access to a 240-volt Level 2 charging station, it's less than 2 hours.