The Toyota Prius got its start in Japan at the end of the '90s before eventually being released in the US for the 2001 model year. Honda's Insight takes credit as being the first hybrid vehicle offered to American drivers, but the Prius makes an argument for being just as influential. It slotted right between the subcompact Echo and the perennial Toyota favorite, the Corolla. The first-generation Prius combines power from a 1.5L four-cylinder engine with an electric drive motor. The gas-powered part of the equation was good for 70 horsepower while the electric drive motor kicked in with an additional 44 hp. Fuel mileage between city and highway averaged out to 41 miles-per-gallon, and the car was classified as a "Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle" by the California Air Resources Board. Come 2002, side airbags, cruise control, and navigation made their way into the lineup as options.
2004 welcomed in the second generation of the Toyota Prius. It premiered as a four-door hatchback that could fit five passengers. As for the powertrain, it kept a 1.5 four-cylinder engine, but it was given a boost up to 76 horsepower and 82 pounds-per-foot of torque. The electric motor contributed another 10 hp. The cockpit was re-configured, as the audio system, navigation, and climate control settings were accessed using a touchscreen interface. Steering-wheel mounted controls were introduced in the model, as well. In 2006, the Prius received a bevy of options that were made available, with leather upholstery and a backup camera as the main attractions. A year later, the Toyota Prius Touring model was brought into the lineup. The Prius Touring was outfitted with a sport suspension, 16" alloy wheels, and a rear spoiler. Also in 2007, all Prius models were given standard side and side-curtain airbags.
The latest Toyota Prius debuted at the 2009 North American International Auto Show. It is equipped with a 1.8L engine that kicks out up to 98 horsepower (with the electric motor the hp rating shoots up to 134). EPA fuel economy using the Prius's hybrid system is 50 miles-per-gallon. Once again, the model is a four-door hatchback that seats up to five, but the exterior parts have been redesigned, showing off a more aerodynamic shape. The interior was also restyled, as the touchscreen interface is no longer standard (it only comes with navigation). This allows for the instrument panel and buttons to be presented more traditionally compared to the previous generation. Since the Prius first made its way onto the scene, it has received a litany of awards and recognition. In 2001, the model was nominated as AutoWeek's 2001 North American Car of the Year as well as being dubbed "Best for Going Green" by AMI Auto World (2002). The Toyota Prius was also given the prestigious Car of the Year award by Motor Trend magazine (2004) and it was also named to Car and Driver's Ten Best List (2004). It has been an IntelliChoice Best Overall Value (2008, 2009), a Consumer Digest Best Buy (2009), and a Consumer Guide Recommended Buy (2009).
Sometimes, a vehicle becomes a hit quickly after it arrives. It's the rare kind of thing where everyone agrees that this is one model that is certainly going to be remembered. Such is the case with the Toyota Prius. A torch-carrier if there ever was one, the Toyota Prius not only demonstrates the next generation of automotive efficiency, but also showcases a heaping spoonful of style to go along with it. Is there any wonder why this ride is so popular? The Toyota Prius delivers quality, comfort, and control like no other in its class.
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