2015 Toyota Prius

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The 2015 Prius is “new” – in the sense that it’s not  a 2014 Prius. But it is pretty much the same Prius as last year’s Prius.'15 Prius lead

Meanwhile, there will soon be a new Prius. Not just another calendar year newer – but a new model, a total overhaul. It’s coming next calendar year (2015) as a 2016 model.

The question is, thus: To buy the “new” 2015… or wait for the new 2016?

There are good reasons to consider either option.

The ’16 will almost certainly deliver even better fuel efficiency than the ’15. It may – based on credible intel – feature lithium ion rather than nickel metal hydride (NiMh) batteries  – which would let it travel farther (and faster) on battery power alone.

On the other hand, it is certain to cost more – being “all new.” And not just MSRP-wise. It’s known that it’s hard to haggle down the price of a current Prius, due to the car’s popularity. Which is perfectly understandable. Why sell for less what you know someone else will buy for more? Now imagine the effect a steady stream of eager buyers will have on your ability to haggle down the price of the “all new” 2016 Prius.

Even if it – the 2016 – delivers say 5 MPG better and can travel 20 MPH faster and for twice as long as the 2015, the former may still be the better deal than the latter.

There’s also the familiarity factor to consider. We know what the current car is like – and if you like it as is, you may want to snatch one up before the “all new” model arrives.

WHAT IT IS'15 Prius dash

The Prius, of course, is the archetype hybrid – synonymous with the term. It was the first mass-market hybrid car – and has been the most successful hybrid car. While there are now many other hybrid vehicles on the market, the Prius is still the one most people think about when they think about hybrids – and (by the numbers) by far the one most people thinking about hybrids end up actually buying.

It’s available in mid-sized hatchback sedan and wagon versions – and also a smaller (and lower-cost) “C” version.

This review will cover the hatchback sedan – which begins at $24,200 for the base 2 trim and runs to $30,005 for the luxury-trimmed Prius 5.

WHAT’S NEW'15 Prius Persona

For the final year of the current generation Prius, Toyota has added a Persona Series package to the lineup. It includes special leatherette trim, footwell lighting, a unique 17 inch wheel tire package and some exterior styling enhancements. All trims come standard with back-up cameras, in anticipation of the federal mandate that will make them a required standard feature in all cars by 2016.

WHAT’S GOOD

The safe bet.

Unbeatable mileage  (50-plus MPG) when used for mostly city-type driving.

Not slow. Don’t believe the haters. Try one yourself and see.

Lots of room inside – for people and cargo.

Ultra-smooth CVT transmission.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD'15 Prius green

Current Prius will soon be yesterday’s news.

Mileage at highway speeds around 70-ish MPH not so spectacular (high 30s/low 40s). Many current non-hybrid cars do almost as well.

Disconnected-feeling toggle shifter.

Obnoxious back-up buzzer.

Brakes sometimes feel a bit grabby.

Also: Gas is getting cheap again. If it stays cheap, paying more for a hybrid – any hybrid – is going to be a harder sell.

UNDER THE HOOD'15 Prius engine 1

In the Prius, primary propulsion is provided by a 1.8 liter Atkinson Cycle gas engine – a type of gas engine optimized to be extremely fuel efficient. Supplemental propulsion is provided by two electric motors that are fed electricity from a lithium-ion battery pack, which boosts the total power of the system to 134 hp.

The gas engine, in addition to propelling the Prius, also serves as an on-board generator – feeding back electricity to the battery, which powers accessories such as the air conditioner, power steering and even the engine’s water pump. This reduces parasitic drag on the engine (which increases its efficiency) and also reduces maintenance – since there are no drive belts to change, ever.

If the battery pack is fully charged, the Prius can travel for about 1 mile or so at speeds up to about 25 MPH – in “EV” or electric vehicle mode – during which time, the car burns no gas at all. When the battery pack’s charge gets low – or the driver asks the Prius to go faster – the gas engine will automatically kick back on and provide the necessary thrust, as well as the necessary charge.  Another means of boosting the batteries is via regenerative braking, which transmutes the energy of momentum into electricity. It works through the brakes, when slowing down – or descending a grade. Instead of the gas engine powering a dynamo, the rotational energy of the wheels does.'15 Prius regenerative braking

A freebie.

Well, mostly. The regenerative braking system’s pedal feel is a little different than in a conventional car. The brakes sometimes feel as though they are dragging (which they kind of are) and engagement can be a little abrupt/grabby sometimes.

Toyota also offers a “plug-in” version of the Prius that can be recharged externally – by plugging it in to a 115V household outlet. This makes it possible to burn even less gas – and this version of the Prius (reviewed separately; see here) has a different (larger and more powerful) battery pack that allows it to be driven faster – and much longer – in “EV” or electric vehicle mode. However, it is much more expensive ($29,990 to start) and has not sold nearly as well as the regular Prius.

Even without the plug-in option, the Prius is parsimonious: 51 MPG city driving and 48 on the highway. Like Elliot Ness, this is untouchable.'15 Prius battery

Nothing – other than another Prius – comes close.

Well, in city (lower speed, stop-and-go) driving. Because it’s possible to schlepp around without using the gas engine nearly as much. And when the gas engine is off, you’re not burning any gas at all. I’ve exceeded the EPA’s city number in several Priuii (plural?) I’ve tested over the years.

But on the highway, in contrast, the gas engine is almost always on. The batteries simply don’t have the power to maintain 70-something MPH. So the gas engine is working to keep the car moving – and to keep the batteries charged up. Doing double duty uses energy. Also, a 1.8 liter engine is a fairly small engine relative to the size of the car, so it’s got to work harder to maintain 70-ish MPH than a 2.5 liter engine would.

So, expect real-world mileage on the highway to be lower than the EPA’s figures – unless you drive your Prius 55 in a 70.

Though the primary appeal of the Prius is its stomach-stapled appetite, its performance is actually pretty good, too.

In Power mode (the other two modes are Eco and EV) it’ll get to 60 in about 10 seconds flat – in the same range as non-hybrid economy cars and perfectly adequate for dealing with the ebb and flow of modern traffic.

ON THE ROAD'15 Prius road 1

The Prius is one of the very few new cars with a distinct driving personality.

You know you’re not behind the wheel of a conventional car as soon as you climb in. For one thing, there’s silence. You push the “on” button – and the Prius comes alive more like a laptop than a car. A light background whirring, that’s all – accompanied by the glow-to-life of the various digital/LCD readouts.

Using a toggle shifter mounted high up on a floating center console (underneath of which lies a storage shelf) one engages “D” and this puts the car in motion. If you are light on the pedal, the car will accelerate whisper quiet on the batteries and electric motors, the gas engine subtly engaging as your speed increases. If you watch the LCD display that shows the transfer of power from engine to battery pack to electric motors, you’ll be able to keep track of what’s doing what at any given time. You will notice, for instance, that the gas engine will cut off when you’re coasting or back off the accelerator. This on-off cycling is part of the Prius’ gas-sipping strategy. The less pressure you put on the accelerator, the less gas you’ll use. Experienced hybrid drivers call this practice hypermiling. The car’s readouts will help coach you. In short order, you’ll learn the art. How to anticipate traffic signals changing and drive in such a way as to maintain momentum – a key to maximum MPGs.'15 Prius road 2

Straight-line acceleration is quicker than you might expect. A Prius also tops out close to 120 MPH, if you’ve got the wind at your back. It has no trouble keeping up with traffic – and that’s probably the biggest consideration. The drivetrain can get a little noisy when you floor it – and keep it floored. But this is just as true in other small-engined/economy-minded cars. At three-quarters or less throttle, the Prius is perfectly civilized.

The one time it’s not civilized is when you put the CVT automatic into Reverse. When you do, an absurd (and extremely irritating) DING! DING! DING! commences – and continues – as long as you remain in Reverse. Toyota is perhaps the most peremptorily “safety” minded major automaker – and the idea here is that because the Prius’ drivetrain is so quiet, it needs to make make noise some other way when backing up – in order to alert pedestrians to the fact that car is backing up. But it’s very annoying to those inside the car – and, arguably, very distracting to the driver. Instead of annoying him – or assuming he’s an idiot – why not assume he’s looked to make sure there’s no one behind the car before he backs out of a parking space and so on?

I’m sick unto death of over-the-top “safety” nannies that are premised on the least-common-denominator. Some of us actually pay attention to our driving – and to what’s going on around us.

How about treating us accordingly?

AT THE CURB'15 Prius curb 1

Another way the Prius stands apart is how it looks. Which is like nothing else. Everyone knows the Prius. Which is both good – and bad.

Good, because it’s cool to drive a car that’s so distinctive – so very different from the pack. Not so good, because there are people out there who really hate the Prius. Perhaps because of the politically correct baggage it carries; possibly because some Prius drivers are Clovers who “hypermile” at 54 MPH in the left lane when the speed limit is 70 and refuse to move over to the right. You may be a blameless driver – and a Ron Paul (and not Al Gore) supporter. Nonetheless, the Prius makes some see red rather than green. The haters will cut you off, or ride your bumper so close you’d swear docking maneuvers had commenced.Al Gore pic

It gets old.

But, the fact is Toyota made hay with the Prius in part because it is so obviously a hybrid. When Honda hybridized the Civic, it flopped – arguably, to some extent, because it looked like any other Civic. Prius owners tout their car’s hybridness everywhere they go. It’s a statement, a conversation-starter – and a big part of the car’s appeal.

Another appealing Prius quality is that it’s roomier than conventionally shaped mid-sized hybrid sedans like, for instance, the Ford Fusion hybrid.'15 Prius trunk area

The tall-roofed (and hatch-backed) Toyota has nearly 22 cubic feet of trunk space with its second row up vs. 11.8 cubic feet for the Ford. With the second row down, Prius opens up to almost 40 cubic feet of cargo capacity – more than three times as much usable cargo-carrying space as the Ford. This gives the Prius everyday versatility – in addition to excellent efficiency – that’s just not available in standard-layout hybrids like the Fusion(or the hybrid version of Toyota’s Camry sedan, for that matter).

Another competitor – the Hyundai Sonata hybrid – has even less cargo-carrying capacity (10.7 cubic feet, max – about four times less than Prius). The Hyundai has impressive front seat legroom – which at 45.5 inches is three full inches more than the Prius at 42.5 inches. But, there’s a catch. The Hyundai provides that front-seat legroom at the expense of backseat legroom. There’s just 34.6 inches vs. 36 inches in the Prius’ second row. The Hyundai hybrid’s gas mileage is also not even in the same ballpark as the Prius, at 35 city, 40 highway.'15 gauges 2

As a dedicated hybrid – as opposed to one based on a conventional car – the Prius has a unique dash layout and instrumentation – including multiple (and programmable) efficiency readouts you can toggle through using a steering wheel mounted button to track fuel consumption/energy use as well as help you adjust your driving to maximize efficiency. These displays (and controls) are futuristic – and though they can be a bit on the busy side, they’re not hard to understand or use.  The chief flaw is they can be distracting – and tempt you to take your eyes off the road.

THE REST'15 Prius vent pic

You may notice a little vent built into the area near the passenger side seatback. This is for the hybrid battery – and you may hear a slight whirring sound every once in awhile. This is the fan circulating air – and nothing to worry about.

Speaking of circulating air:  

I wish Toyota would make the fixed front quarter glass openable, like old-style wing vents. This would let you ventilate the car without having to turn on the AC. You could probably live without AC altogether, which would reduce the car’s weight – as well as its sticker price – while also increasing its mileage. 

Speaking of that:'15 Prius double glovebox

As I type this review in mid-November, the cost of gasoline has fallen back to almost-reasonable levels. It’s about $2.60 per gallon now in my area. They – the “experts” – say it might hold. Might even drop down more. If it does, look out. Because it will be a lot harder to justify a hybrid car’s typically several-thousand-bucks-higher-than-an-otherwise-equivalent-not-hybrid-car’s price tag.

People – rightly – worry less about MPGs when the PPG (price per gallon) is low.

I love the double glovebox – upper and lower boxes. I hope the 2016 has ’em, too.

Another neat – though extra-cost – feature is the solar roof package, which uses a solar-powered fan to ventilate the interior on hot days, so it’s not so hot when you get back inside – and take less energy to cool down, too.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Buy now – or buy later?

And: Buy a hybrid – any hybrid –  on the assumption that current lowball gas prices are a temporary reprieve? Or stick with a conventional car – and bet that gas will stay cheap for the next several years… ?

It’ll be interesting to see how it all pans out.

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30 COMMENTS

  1. I had never driven a Prius before our last trip to Tennessee from California and back this summer. We rented one from Hertz. The travel agent got us a screaming deal, it cost us $229 for two weeks. The gas mileage on the trip was 42, which was wonderful since gas was high then. I have since been thinking very hard about picking one up if I ever lay eyes on a dollar again. I particularly liked that you could fold down the rear seats and make a respectable bed, which could reduce the hotel cotton a coast to coast trip. We plan on buying a second house in Tennessee soon so we can spend more time with the TN grandkids. I read something you wrote a while back about buying the Prius as a used car, and found that inspirational. Thanks for the info.

  2. I doubt anybody would bother putting a regular gas only engine in a prius, but have you seen Bob Lutz recent project? Taking leftover Fisker Karma’s and putting Corvette engines in them? He believes he will have the worlds fastest sedan.

    • Hi Rich,

      The Prius’ body layout is actually pretty useful. Tall roof/hatchback. It’s like the Honda Fit – only it fits more. I could see it with just a gas engine and nix the hybrid stuff.

      On Fisker: Maybe I am getting grumpy in my dotage, but I increasingly look askance at the “speed” thing. What’s the point of a 3-4 second car anymore? Can anyone actually use it? Is it not like an armless man (alone on a desert island) taking a pill to get a raging 24 hour hard-on?

  3. As an owner of a Prius a couple of corrections.

    It doesn’t have a CVT, as a matter of fact it has no transmission at all but a transaxle; it operates as a Power Split Device.

    You got your descriptions of batteries backwards. The Prius currently has a NiMh battery pack. The 2016 will most likely offer a Lithium Ion battery pack to increase fuel efficiency. Some think Toyota may offer both; the NiMh being less expensive.

    I get mid 40s on the highway at 75 mph at altitude.

    A few thoughts.

    It does have plenty of power. Put it in Power Mode at a stoplight and watch everyone from your rear view mirror.

    The people that hate them do so because of political attitudes. There are just as many slow minivan drivers and old folks in Mercurys out there.

    I consider myself a Libertarian and the ONLY reason I bought one was to save money at the pump. When gas goes down I save even MORE; $25 gets me almost 500 miles nowadays.

    • Hi Kenny,

      You’re right about the battery pack (my dyslexia’s acting up again!) but the Prius does indeed use a CVT (see Toyota’s web page, if you doubt this: 2015_Toyota_Prius_Product_Information.pdf ).

      A transaxle is a combination of the transmission and axle – eliminating separate assemblies.

      On mileage: Mid-40s is decent on the highway, but no longer spectacular relative to what a growing number of non-hybrid cars are capable of delivering. I think it’s a problem for the Prius. I expect the 2016 to address this issue. It had better!

      I agree on the hate. It stems to some extent from the stereotype – and stereotypes usually have some basis in fact, if only generally.

    • @Kenny – Whenever I go to the Toyota dealer (I have a Corolla) I look at the new cars & prices/ value of getting a new one while I am there. Every time I have done the math of a Prius vs a Corolla, Camry etc. I come away with about a 70,000 mile break even point on cost. Am I wrong or missing something?

      • “Put it in Power Mode” – Pardon me, That’s funny.
        I wonder how that works in a couple of feet of snow (or next to a Fast and Furious)?

        [No offense intended, but it reminds me of my clueless Millennial nephew talking about how his friends car wouldn’t start because the, “Inertia Button” didn’t work.] ???

        Also, I don’t hate them. I just think they’re kind of funny. (And, a bit funny looking.) On a cool dry stretch of road I have no doubt they do great on gas. Hats off to you for saving money and putting that money towards something you want or need!!! But… snow. And, Ice, then in a ditch, whatchya gonna do now?
        I will ask for a fifty to pull you out with my high clearance 4×4. …Or, maybe I won’t?

        The one thing that does bother me about those cars, be they mini-vans or Mercury’s, same as any pop-can sized car, there’s just about no crumple zone between you and the two ton heavy thing. My Toyota pickup fits into that category, too. …Many a day, I think of trading for a full sized pickup.

        Anyway, this was a Great thing to read: Kenny F. Powers wrote, “I consider myself a Libertarian”. My hope is that someday you’ll make the jump to anarchist-capitalist, but you’re doing fine so far. Worlds away better than most, imho.

        Also, @GSco, “Every time I have done the math of a Prius vs a Corolla, Camry etc. I come away with about a 70,000 mile break even point on cost.”

        That’s good to know. Cause, the whole snob thing with a Prius works both ways. A Lot of Prius owners look down on those who do not own one. I know one fairly well. I wanna tell her: As if your tennis shoe is better than mine? Ha! Wanna race? …In the snow and across that median and still wind up ok? …OIf course that’s about the time I wreck. That’s what happens when you show off.
        Never show off. …Unless you’re absolutely sure. And, even then, watch out. …Crap, I sound like a momma. …There’s this fine line between mommaism and “race ready” I was talking about on the other thread. …
        Anyway, I’ve gone long and my articulation prolly ain’t perfect.

        • Hi Helot,

          The “power” mode is fairly common – and not just in hybrids. Most modern cars with automatics have such a mode. When activated, shift patterns become more aggressive. Gears are held longer and shifts are firmer, etc. Some also sharpen up throttle response (via the drive-by-wire, also becoming common).

          As far as snow: The Prius is probably no worse than any other FWD car, and may even be slightly better because of the weight of the batteries on the rear wheels. They’re not driven, of course – but the ass end is less light, which helps a little.

          • Eric

            I was surprised how good the Prius goes in the snow, better than I expected. I think your right, the batteries make it a little heavier.

            • Hi Kenny,

              Yup!

              It also has fairly skinny tires, which probably helps. It’s counter-intuitive, but skinny (and tall) cuts through snow – to pavement and traction – better than wide tires.

        • Back when my wife was employed (she still WORKS) at a biotech company, a lot of the SUV drivers would smirk when she drove in with her Caravan. She would just smile and say, “How many llamas have you had in your SUV?”

      • I’ve done the same, Gary.

        What I’ve concluded is that – for me – a Prius (or any hybrid) would not save me much, if any money. And might just cost me money – relative to a non-hybrid. But that’s because of where I drive – and how I drive. That being mostly rural/sustained high-speed/elevation gains.

        However, for people who live/drive in a very urban environment, mostly stop-and-go and who do not often drive faster than 70 – such a car can make economic sense.

        The critical thing is to be honest with yourself about how you drive – and where. Expecting a Prius to save gas at 80 MPH is kinda like expecting a Corvette to rock crawl…..

      • Garysco

        We test drove a Camry, Corolla and obviously the Prius. The Camry was more roomy, but the Prius had more room than the Corolla. The Prius is a hatchback, the Corolla isn’t.

        I got a pretty good deal on it and a tax rebate. The Federal tax rebates have now expired. I don’t know if I would buy one without the rebate.

  4. During a stint as a cabbie, the company had a fleet of Prius’s. I think they were the 2013 models. Couldn’t tell. But, they did hold a lot of luggage and they were pretty good on the gas mileage.

    What I didn’t like about them was the car couldn’t get out of its own way when trying to beat on-coming traffic in a turning situation. Also, it was not a comfortable vehicle to ride in. I didn’t like how low to the ground it was. And, being low to the ground, it would pick up all kinds of bumps while driving over the streets and negotiating potholes that our Tucson Central Committee didn’t budget to repair. I felt like I was constantly trying to look over the steering wheel to see where I was heading.

    Never was a huge Toyota fan-always had a Datsun (dating myself, eh?).

    Whenever I drove for the cab company I always tried to get the Crown Vic. Yeah it used gas, but it was comfortable to ride in, comfortable to drive and it could get out of its own way if needed. And, it was more armored than one of those little battery cars in case of an accident.

      • I do! I like Datsuns! Had a number of them way back when, among them a 510 station wagon that ran more than 200,000 miles and a B210 fastback we bought brand new in 1972. It was our first brand new car! Paid $2100 for it out the door. Drove it cross country from Arizona to North Carolina when gas was 75-cents-a gallon along the interstates. Had to trade it in when my wife’s great dane broke the passenger seat! Then had another station wagon model that I can’t remember before they went to the Nissan brand name, which is what they were called in Japan. Great cars!

  5. Eric,

    I loathe the look of these cars. I loathe the attitude of many who drive them.

    Some question’s I have are: how long do they estimate the battery life to be in these? I imagine that they are far shorter lived in cold weather area’s, just as regular batteries, or am I wrong? If you do drive 80-85 mph–like the our gracious overlords here out west allow us to do “legally”– will they beat a Camry, Accord, Fit, etc, for gas mileage? Will they maintain that type of speed, comfortably?

    I know a 4 banger Camry will get 31 consistently at those speeds. Just curious about the Prius. I won’t ever own one and you are the only person I would believe, who has actually driven one, Eric.

  6. To take a page from clovers book – Prius and old VW buses should have a federal mandated yellow with black stripes paint job to warn the rest of us as we approach.

    And where is my Star Trek stun gun to disable that damn eco mileage computer display? It must be a real competitive thing with its owners to see if they can burn .025 gallons less then their neighbors on the trip home.

          • LOL Come on Eric, they did not have a pretty display screen to stare at to boost ego and prove their self worth in a global warming world. No one used a PT cruiser or Geo Metro for finger waving bragging rights. This is after all trendy America.

          • About the minivans… yes, I must say like, BrentP I to have some sort of ‘scoring system’, when it comes to my commute. As I make my way home, I ultimately have to head South/East. Do not always have to take the same left and right turns each time, so, the pathway home is never the same. Nonetheless there are some places where it would be slightly better to get that ‘left’ out of the way that others. However, if I see a Honda Odyssey or Toyota Sienna occupying the left turn lane, and there more than 4 cars in queue I implicitly know it’s best to keep heading straight (or perhaps take a quick left at the side street before it that I know is a ‘thru street’) and even if said left lane additionally has an advance indicator. Countless times I’ve been burned by the minivan that seems to wait a full 8 seconds or more on the advance green.

            And… now to my horrors my wife is actually looking to buy either of said vehicles mentioned above because she wants a vehicle with 7 or more seats again — why did I ever let her convince me into selling my 2000 Ford Excursion Limited Diesel 4X4 ?

        • It’s not even close. I’ve seen too many of them doing 90mph or more on I-294 for it to even get remotely close to that honor.

          I have a scoring system based on observed behavior and make and model of vehicle that helps get me through traffic. I just mentally score what’s ahead and pick a lane based on the score. I sometimes ignore my scoring only to suffer, and sometimes I am wrong, but the scoring works better than probability. A Prius is a 50/50 vehicle. Could be a clover, might not be. It is a slower car, but I more rate the drivers attracted to cars than the cars themselves. If I can observe some driver behavior it could score as low (low is better/faster) as any other car.

          High scoring vehicles. Like Eric wrote, PT cruisers (and their Chevy counterpart), minivans, smartcars (also fiat 500), anything with D or R political decals except Rush Limbaugh stickers*, Maximas, Grand Marquis, Buicks not grand nationals or 80s Regals, anything bearing the MW dealership logo, most SUVs.

          *Rush Limbaugh stickers seem to be the exception to the rule. The most aggressive driver I’ve ever encountered frequently drove a Volvo Wagon with a “Rush is Right” bumper sticker. Total asshole, but I could count on him to accelerate *hard* when the light turned green. He would also drive about three inches off my bumper. The few others with Limbaugh stickers I’ve encountered have rarely shown themselves to be cloverish in driving.

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