Toyota Prius Review

Once strange, the shape of the second-generation Toyota Prius hybrid is now instantly familiar...the Beetle of the new milennium. Given how many have been sold and are on the street, it's hard to remember that Toyota was taking a big chance a few years ago with a radical design. In fact, they were. In 2004, they sold 54,000 of them. Last year, it was 181,000...with 190,000 expected to leave dealer lots in calendar 2008.

Sales figures aren't the only thing that has grown on the Prius...so have sales prices. The 2004 model was a loss leader at $20,000 base...and most buyers kept it simple. The Prius we drove recently started at $23,770 and got the $5,925 Touring package. That's leather-trimmed seats and steering wheel, voice activated DVD GPS navigation, a 9-speaker JBL audio system with AM, FM and a 6-CD changer with mp3 and WMA capability, satellite radio capability (though not an actual XM subscription), Bluetooth hands-free phone capability (again, it's prep, not the actual system), vehicle stability control, backup camera and more.

Bottom line: (insert drum roll here): $30,554. Now, that was helped by an Extra Value Package discount of $1,750...dropping the final price to $28,804, but there's still an element of sticker shock in knowing that this car can now break 30 grand.

Beyond that, it's the same as it ever was...roomy beyond its exterior dimensions, extremely safe (four-star frontal, rollover and rear seat side crash ratings, five stars for front-seat side crashes), and very economical. The EPA's new methodology for estimating fuel economy gets the Prius down from its original pie-in-the-sky 60 MPG to a much more achievable 48 city/45 highway.

If you like this Prius, now's the time to buy. The third-generation arrives sometime next year as a 2010 model. Early photos suggest it will look the same, but different...and price creep is inevitable.