There's nothing like test driving the real thing. Toyota loaned me a practically brand new 2004 Prius for a couple of weeks and I proceeded to put the car through its paces (see the figure) . The results astonished even my skeptical self.
Viewing the car from the outside makes it look like it provides little inside room. But this small and lightweight car (2890-lb curb weight) has plenty of legroom for the driver and passengers. It features a futuristic-looking dashboard, a simple "push to start" button, and a very simple gear selector lever (see the figure) . When you shift gears, it's as simple as pointing the lever into the right gear position and letting go. There's no noise or mechanical force involved. It's like pointing your computer mouse onto an icon and clicking.
One surprise was the car's silence when starting and during driving. In fact, at traffic lights or stop signs, I thought many times that the car had turned off. But it was actually the gasoline engine that turned off while the battery was providing the power.
It's been said that hybrid gasoline-electric cars don't have much acceleration capability, because they have small gasoline engines. But that's not true for this car. You can very comfortably and safely pull out of a complete stop or pass another car on the highway with no trouble. While I'm no professional racecar driver, I managed to accelerate easily to 40 to 50 mph within two to three seconds.
But the biggest surprise was virtual non-movement of the gas tank's digital gauge. The Prius has an 11.9-gallon gas tank and can easily go at least 500 miles per tankful. I got a combined street/highway gasoline figure of 47.5 mpg (mostly highway driving). This may not be the figure advertised by Toyota, but it's by far the best any hybrid car can offer.
Other Prius features include a DVD-based navigation system, a high-quality sound system, steering-wheel operated air-conditioning, air-vent setting, cruise control, window defroster, and stereo settings, as well as a host of other features.
About the only negative thing I can say is that luggage space is adequate but not as much as some people might desire. The back of the Prius can comfortably hold two large suitcases as well as a few more smaller bags. Also, because the car is deceptively quiet, it takes some time to get used to driving it.