Five Toyota and Lexus Hybrids Not Sold Here...That Should Be

Hybrids don't have to be boring to drive. Toyota's overseas models show us this in excess.

By Jacob Brown | Photos By Jacob Brown | September 19, 2013

1997 Toyota Prius

If you're a hybrid devotee, you'll note that the 1997 Toyota Prius was never sold in the U.S. We sampled a Japanese-market righthand-drive model borrowed from the Toyota Museum in California. Down on power versus our 1999 car--its gas engine made 58 horsepower versus the 70 we got here, and its electric motor produced 40 horsepower versus the 44 in the U.S.--and a little less robust than the U.S. version that benefitted from two years of refinement, we found it to be an interesting juxtaposition with the Prius sold today.
While not as seamless as today's Prius, the first-generation model is surprisingly polished, even when compared to today's hybrids. Its brakes have a slight feel of awkward uncertainty when the energy recapture kicks in, but it's nowhere close to being as unrefined as the system in the current Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid, for instance. The car has a very 1990s compact car feel from its heavier, less assisted steering to its narrow dimensions. And yet, it's better to drive than many newer hybrid cars with more sophisticated electric power steering racks.
To get into this car is to get into the car that started it all. While it's a far different animal than today's hybrids, it's surprisingly uncluttered, simple, and in some ways more purpose-focused around delivering an overall good, fuel-efficient car than modern hybrids that make so many compromises for the sake of what the numbers will be on the EPA sticker.
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