- Gas mileage leadership, again
- Mid-size interior space
- Hatchback practicality
- Many technology options
- Subcompact, wagon, plug-in models
- Far from pleasant to drive
- Console design impractical
- Materials harsh, downmarket
- Love-it-or-hate-it design; some hate it
- 11 miles of electric range for plug-in
The 2014 Toyota Prius remains the iconic, highest-mileage gasoline car on the market; it's a practical and spacious hatchback that can seat five while returning jaw-dropping fuel economy
The shape of the 2014 Toyota Prius hybrid is now instantly recognizable; the car has looked pretty much the same since way back in 2004. The current car is now in its fifth year, and there's now a whole family of Prius models: a subcompact, a wagon, and a plug-in hybrid. But the bulk of the model's sales are still delivered by the classic five-door Liftback model, and there will be an all-new generation coming within a year or two. It's the quintessential hybrid car, recognizable from 100 feet away.
The high-tailed hatchback shape of the Prius is now in its eleventh year, across two generations, and from a South Park parody to increasing numbers of Priuses sold in red states, it's become a staple on U.S. roads. Its shape lowers aerodynamic drag to squeeze every last mile out of each gallon of gasoline, and the result includes a domed profile and a two-part split rear window.
The Plug-In Prius is almost indistinguishable from the hybrid-only model. It carries a larger battery pack that can be recharged on wall current to give it up to 11 miles of all-electric running. The only visible differences are a handful of trim items and a charge-port door on the right rear fender. (The other two Prius models--which have their own reviews--differ considerably more. They are the smaller Prius C subcompact and the larger Prius V wagon. All except the wagon are rated at 50 mpg combined; the wagon comes in at 42 mpg combined.)
Inside both the Liftback and plug-in Prius, the dashboard layout--in a variety of hard-plastic moldings and surfaces--is beginning to look more and more like a 1980s video game, with various graphs, numbers, and icons strewn across both an Information Center high up and close to the base of the windshield, and a cluster of more conventional gauges and displays behind the steering wheel.
A characteristic "flying buttress" console that sweeps down from the top of the dash is the first thing that catches the eye. It's striking, but the storage space under it is awkward to reach. The cabin is spacious enough to hold four adults comfortably, five in a pinch, and qualify as a mid-size car under EPA definitions. The front seat padding is thin, though, and the hard plastic center console will punish taller drivers' kneecaps.
With a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and a pair of electric motor-generators, the Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain maxes out at 134 horsepower. The motors power the car solely on electricity (at speeds up to 30 mph), provide electric torque to supplement torque from the engine, and recharge the battery during regenerative braking or engine overrun. Acceleration from 0 to 60 mph is quoted at slightly less than 10 seconds, but you'll hear the engine howling up front to get there. With more experience building hybrids than any other maker, Toyota's ability to blend the regenerative braking with the conventional friction brakes is excellent.
The Prius Plug-In Hybrid uses the same running gear, but the standard car's 1.3-kilowatt-hour nickel-metal-hydride battery pack is replaced by a 4.3-kWh lithium-ion pack that gives it 11 miles of electric range on the EPA test cycles. However, a footnote points out that only 6 miles of that range is continuous, because even under the relatively gentle EPA testing, the engine has to switch on at least once to power the car even though there's energy left in the pack. One real-world example would be foot-to-the-floor acceleration into fast-moving traffic from an uphill freeway on-ramp.
Novices may be startled when they drive a Prius for the first time. Engine speed rises and falls separately from anything the driver's foot does on the accelerator, as the hybrid system continuously adjusts its power sources to maximize efficiency and reuse the maximum amount of energy that would otherwise have been wasted. The handling is also largely numb; the Prius drives ponderously, with zero feel through its electric power steering. It corners fine and responds to inputs, there's just very little feedback provided to the driver.
Seven airbags and a variety of electronic safety systems are no longer as advanced as they were for 2010, when this generation of Prius was launched. But the car remains competitive on safety, including available adaptive cruise control, rear-view camera, and lane-departure warning, along with an Intelligent Parking Assist function (though Ford's similar system is better). There's also the "Safety Connect" system to notify first responders in case of an accident. The 2014 Prius is an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ vehicle, however--unlike the larger Prius V wagon.
Consumers can choose from four trim levels, known as Two, Three, Four, and Five. (A stripped-down Prius One is only sold to fleets.) The steering-wheel Touch Tracer controls let drivers navigate through menus on the information display without removing their hands from the wheel, with options shown in the cluster between two large gauges. The highest-priced Prius Four and Five models now cost more than $30,000 for buyers with a heavy hand on the options sheet. Choices include LED headlamps, remote air conditioning, Bluetooth, and a navigation system. Packages include the feature-rich Technology Package, or the Solar Moonroof option that includes a photovoltaic solar panel to cool the cockpit by powering a ventilation fan that switches on when the Prius is parking.
The smaller Prius C subcompact is sportier and more lithe--compared to the mid-size Liftback, anyhow. The smaller engine and battery, plus a simpler and more conventional interior, give it a base price under $20,000 along with that all-important 50-mpg combined gas mileage rating. The Prius V offers far more load space, all the traditional Prius virtues, and a combined EPA gas-mileage rating of 42 mpg--though it can feel underpowered when heavily loaded.
2014 Toyota Prius
The shape of the 2014 Toyota Prius is now iconic, like it or not, but the interior appears harsh and the graphic displays incoherent.
By now the iconic design of the 2014 Toyota Prius hybrid is well established in the public eye. The wedge shape, high tail, almost horizontal tailgate with a second window in the vertical part are elements that instantly define "Prius" and have done since the launch of the second-generation car for 2004. The current third-generation car is now in its fifth year, and Toyota has started to talk in general terms about the next generation, expected to be launched during 2015.
The unusual shape of the Prius is all to reduce air drag, squeezing every last mile out of every drop of gasoline. With a drag coefficient of 0.25, it remains one of the most aerodynamic cars on the market--and that helps to deliver that prized 50-mpg EPA combined rating for fuel economy. And at this point, either you like the shape of the car or you don't. Either way, it's now accepted as a part of the vehicular landscape on U.S. roads.
Except for mild tweaks to the front end, including the addition of LED daytime running lights, little has changed on the current Prius since its 2010 launch. The distinctive high-mounted, central Multiple Information Display defines the layout of the wide, flat dash, with more information on a small screen in the center of the instrument cluster behind the steering wheel. But the display of information now looks scattered and chaotic, with an array of icons, numbers, and graphs that's simply outclassed by other, newer hybrids, including those from Ford.
Both the joystick-like "shift" knob and the "flying buttress" center console that sweeps down from the dash are unique Prius features. The console is more showy than practical; it's hard to reach items stored in the floor bin underneath it, a major consideration for those owners who fill their cars with assorted digital devices, sunglasses, bills and change, toll tickets, and more.
The patterned and grained interior surfaces are all hard plastic, which worked half a decade ago but now appears slightly low-budget. But despite its spacious cabin, the interior of the Prius is starting to look more and more like that of an inexpensive economy car. For a car with a base price of $25,000 in its lowest trim level, that's less acceptable now that even some subcompacts have soft-touch surfaces.
As well as Touch Tracer controls on the steering wheel for the driver to move through menu options without removing hands from the wheel, Prius technology options include a Remote Touch controller--essentially a computer mouse fixed to the console. It feels intuitive to use, but to control icons on the central navigation screen, drivers must take their eyes off the road for long periods of time to watch the display.
2014 Toyota Prius
The 2014 Toyota Prius exacts a price for extreme fuel efficiency: the handling is leaden and the engine howls at full power.
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.
2014 Toyota Prius
Comfort & Quality
The 2014 Toyota Prius has mid-size space and hatchback versatility, though interior materials are crude.
The 2014 Toyota Prius has the interior space of a mid-size car, according to the Federal definition, and it can comfortably accommodate four adults. Three will fit in the back seat, but they'll have to stagger their shoulders--and no one will be entirely comfortable.
But as a five-door hatchback, the Prius is practical, versatile, and offers plenty of space up front for personal items, from storage cubbies and bins to trays and cup holders. The one qualification there is that the tray under the distinctive "flying buttress" console is awkward to get to without stretching around the console itself. The load bay is large enough that you won't register the battery pack sited under its floor, just behind the rear seat.
In the front compartment, the driver's seat adjusts for height--not the case in every car. But taller drivers will find the "flying buttress" center console limits knee room, and the front seats are thinly padded. Legroom in the rear is good because the front seat backs are hollowed out, and there's actually more headroom in the rear than in the front--chalk it up to the curved, domed roofline.
At steady highway speeds, the traveling experience in a Prius is pleasant--the engine is relaxed. That ends abruptly when the driver demands maximum power, though. Hard acceleration produces frequent howling as the engine runs up to its maximum speed and stays there, aided by electric power. The tradeoff of having a smaller, harder-working engine for maximum efficiency is that on hard acceleration, that engine has to work at maximum speed to provide the needed power--and you hear it. While the Prius will keep up with fast-moving traffic if you run it hard, it's much more pleasant when driven gently.
As for the materials inside the car, five years has made the textured hard-plastic surfaces less appealing. Today, even some inexpensive subcompacts offer soft-touch materials on surfaces passengers touch repeatedly. Combined with the jumble of icons, numbers, and graphs on the information displays, the Prius interior--which appeared Space Age and striking for 2010--is now starting to look dated and downmarket.
2014 Toyota Prius
The 2014 Toyota Prius earns top safety ratings and offers optional electronic safety features that keep it up to date.
The 2014 Toyota Prius continues to receive good safety ratings, including a Top Safety Pick+ from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). On that organization's crash tests, it received the top rating of "Good" for moderate-overlap front crash, side crash, roof strength, and seats and head restraints (formerly "rear crash"). And it's received an 'Acceptable' rating in the new IIHS small overlap category.
From the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Prius gets a mix of four- and five-star results, but a five-star overall rating. Neither agency specifically rates outward vision, but while the front end drops away sharply, rear vision is adequate if not laudable. New drivers will have to get used to the horizontal line that appears in the rear-view mirror due to the two-pane rear window--which is why we recommend opting for the available rearview camera.
Like most Toyotas, the Prius comes with a strong body structure and a full set of safety features that were advanced when it was launched in 2010 and remain competitive five years later. Those include seven airbags (the seventh is a driver's knee bag), along with the now-standard stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes, and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
The Prius hybrid offers quite a number of optional electronic safety systems, more even than you may find on other compact and mid-size volume cars. They include radar-based adaptive cruise control, a lane-departure warning system, and the Toyota "Safety Connect" system that alerts emergency responders in the event of an accident that triggers one or more airbags. Toyota's Intelligent Parking Assist system steers the car into a parallel-parking space, with the system automatically steering the car while the driver provides the acceleration and braking. Ford's similar system is somewhat better, but the Toyota system remains a rarity on a volume car and a useful aid for nervous city drivers regardless.
2014 Toyota Prius
The 2014 Toyota Prius is a technology showcase, but it's less advanced now that competitors match many of its features.
Unchanged from previous years, the 2014 Toyota Prius has four different trim levels. Confusingly, they're called by numbers, but they don't start with One. They're known as Two, Three, Four, and Five. There is actually a lower trim level, a super-stripped-down model known as Prius One, but it's limited to fleet buyers only--so retail buyers can start at Two and go to Five. Got that?
Prius prices remain unchanged for 2014: The Prius Two starts at $24,200, the Prius Three at $26,765, the Prius Four at $28,435, and the top-of-the-line Prius Five at $30,005. A mandatory delivery fee of $810 has to be added to all of those prices. For fleet buyers, the stripped-down Prius One model starts at $23,215 but, again, retail customers aren't eligible to buy it.
Those prices have risen since the 2012 launch of the subcompact Prius C, which took over the cheapest-Prius title and remains at an entry price of just under $20,000. You can easily spend into the mid-$30,000 range if you have a heavy hand on the options list and you start with a high-level Prius.
Regardless of trim level, all 2014 Prius models come standard with power windows, cruise control, and an AM/FM/XM/CD player audio system as standard. In last year's slight update, Toyota added a standard Bluetooth connection and a 6.1-inch display radio with iPod and USB connectivity to even the base Prius Two model.
Moving up one notch to the Prius Three will get you the useful backup camera system, built-in navigation shown on an in-dash display, and a better audio system with Toyota’s Entune multimedia system built in. That gets you a suite of applications that--among other functions--connect to Internet services like the Bing search engine and Pandora streaming radio via a compatible smartphone paired to Entune via Bluetooth.
If you want niceties like heated front seats and leather upholstery, the Prius Four includes those. At the very top of the range, the Prius Five adds LED headlamps (all models have LED daytime running lights), plus larger 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic lights, an eight-way power adjustable drivers’ seat that includes power lumbar support, and the option of split-screen capability in the 7-inch navigation display.
Options offered on various trim levels include the Touch Tracer system of steering-wheel controls that let drivers operate a cursor on the dashboard Multi-Information Display panel while keeping their hands on the wheel. Among other functions, that lets them adjust the climate control or radio settings.
Then there's the solar-roof package, which uses photovoltaic cells set into a glass roof panel to generate electric current. It's only sufficient to power fans that pull hot air out of the Prius cabin while it's parked, but that reduces the air-conditioning load when the car powers up. There's also available remote starting for the air conditioner.
The most expensive model in the Prius lineup--although its price was cut by $2,000 to $4,600 for the 2014 model year--is the Prius Plug-In Hybrid. The standard plug-in Prius model is essentially a Prius Four with exterior trim changes (and the larger battery pack and charging port that let it recharge from the grid). Including the mandatory destination fee, the 2014 prices are $30,800 for the Prius Plug-In Hybrid and $35,715 for the Advanced trim level, which includes most of the available equipment found on a non-plug-in Prius Five.
2014 Toyota Prius
The 2014 Toyota Prius is the most fuel-efficient gasoline car sold, and now three Prius models are rated at 50 mpg.
The 2014 Toyota Prius gets the highest fuel-economy rating of any gasoline vehicle sold in the U.S.--just as it has since 2010, when the current model was launched. The EPA rates the Prius Liftback at the magical 50 mpg on the combined cycle (51 mpg city, 48 mpg highway). Granted, there are two other cars that equal that 50-mpg combined rating. But they are two of the three other members of the expanded Prius family: the Prius Plug-In Hybrid, and the Prius C subcompact hatchback.
For the vast majority of drivers who want the best fuel efficiency and don't drive like a "hypermiler"--a practice that can verge on the unsafe--the Prius is simply the easiest, quickest, most obvious choice to obtain 50 mpg, or close to it, in real-world driving. And drivers who do most of their miles at lower speeds, who accelerate gently, and plan ahead to coast down to stops, may even see 60 mpg in some circumstances. The "EV" mode that keeps a Prius in electric-only mode can help boost that number when used on the very last mile of a trip.
The norm is more likely 45 to 50 mpg in mixed use, and if you customarily load the car to capacity with people or cargo, travel in hilly terrain, or cover long stretches of highway at 75 mph (or more), that can drop in to the high 30s. Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive system has always been most effective in lower-speed stop-and-go urban and suburban traffic, where it can turn off the engine frequently and operate only on recaptured energy driving the electric motor. Taxi drivers all over the world will tell you they relish the low operating costs of their Prius cabs.
The calculus is tougher when we consider the Prius Plug-In Hybrid. It qualifies for single-occupant use in California's carpool lanes, and it likely offers an easy step into the world of plugging in for the more than 1 million U.S. Prius drivers--who now have a new and more advanced model to move up to. On the other hand, the plug-in Prius has the lowest rated all-electric range (11 miles) of any plug-in on the market. And even in the gentle EPA test cycles, its electric motor was not powerful enough to run the car through the entire test--so there's an asterisk that notes it has only 6 miles of continuous electric range, and then the engine had to switch on for a short while.
That 11 miles of range is significantly less than the 20-mile rating of Ford's C-Max and Fusion Energi plug-in models--let alone the 38-mile electric range of the Chevy Volt. As an electric car, the Prius Plug-In Hybrid is a minimalist statement that demonstrates Toyota's fervent belief that electric cars aren't ready for primetime.