Over the past few years, escalating energy costs have moved the Toyota Prius from the automotive fringe into the alternative energy mainstream.
The 2008 Prius is a carryover design from the 2007 shown here. It's equipped with the "hybrid synergy drive" consisting of a 1.5-liter, 76-horsepower gasoline engine with 82 pound-feet of torque mated to two battery-driven electric motor/generators producing the equivalent of 67 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. Under full acceleration, both power sources combine to move the Prius forward, reaching 60 miles per hour from a dead stop in about 10 seconds.
The result is a car that gets 48 MPG city, 45 highway, and has earned both super ultra-low emission vehicle and partial zero emissions vehicle ratings.
There is only one transmission available on the Prius, Toyota's ECVT or electronically controlled continuously variable transmission, which requires nothing more than the driver placing the transmission in gear and stepping on the accelerator.
The Prius is available as a four-door hatchback only. Interior materials are first-rate. The cabin of the Prius is roomy and a bit quirky, but head room, leg room, and shoulder room are more than sufficient for five adults. The rear seat has a 60/40 split and the rear hatchback greatly eases loading and unloading of cargo.
The touring model added last year provides a tuned suspension and 16" alloy wheels rather than the standard 15". There are six option packages that include such items as power windows, locks and mirrors, automatic climate control, a tilt steering wheel with audio and climate controls, a nine-speaker CD audio system, cruise control trip computer and hands-free phone via Bluetooth. The in-dash LCD display gives drivers a full complement of system readouts and there's even a rear-mounted backup camera for added safety.
Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes with brake assist and traction control are standard on the 2008 Prius. Electronic stability control and side impact/side curtain airbags are optional.
The suggested base sticker price of the 2008 Toyota Prius is $20,950. The Touring model starts at $23,220. Either model should provide an energy efficient ride with enough standard equipment to keep most buyers satisfied.
The 2008 Toyota Prius is a tough act to beat in features, fuel economy and price in the continually evolving hybrid vehicle marketplace.