Toyota Prius Review

Cult cars can be a lot of fun. For one thing, they're instant conversation starters.

And no matter what you say, the 2010 Toyota Prius is a cult car. A big cult, to be sure, but a cult nonetheless...with the faithful believing everyone should drive them and an equally passionate resistance trying to set the English-language record for the number of times the word "smug" can be used in a single sentence.

But back to the conversation starter thing...having just handed the Prius back to Toyota yesterday following a week at the wheel...there are a handful of core questions everyone asks:

How many miles per gallon does it get?

How much money does it cost?

Is it nicer than the last one?

The answers:

51 in the city, 48 on the highway (according to the EPA).

$25,800 base...$30,709 the way the tester came (with moonroof, solar powered air conditioning, voice activated navigation, upgraded audio system, Bluetooth, backup camera, floor mats and security system).

Yes. In fact, here...have a look inside:

Much more upscale than last time around...in fact, Toyota's channeling its Lexus side here.

Oh, yeah...the other big question is "How does it drive?"

Heck with that...I wanna know why it stops.

As in without warning.

20 years ago, Audi suffered through a non-phenomenon called "unintended acceleration"...where owners claimed their sedans were roaring off at full speed while they stood on the brakes (evidence later showed they were, every last one of them, standing on the accelerator).

Well, let's call this "unintended de-celeration". You're driving along when suddenly, the Prius is coasting...the gas pedal does nothing...and you eventually crawl to a stop.

I'll solve the mystery. You probably just made an adjustment to the climate control system (while keeping your eyes on the road like a good driver should) and accidentally pressed the "Park" button.

That's right...for the uninitiated, Priuses (Priii?) don't put Park on the gear shift...it's a separate button...marked with a big "P", above and to the left of the gear shift...and for 2010, it's directly below the climate controls.

From online research, it appears a handful of last-gen Prius owners found this flaw the hard way (at first, you think the car has simply died on you) back around 2005...and Toyota whipped up a software solution so that pressing the Park button in motion above 7 miles per hour would have no effect.

I don't know whether it got overlooked in the new Prius, or if the tester malfunctioned, or what...but after figuring out why it happened by accident, I was able to make it happen multiple times...at 25 miles per hour.

Hey, look...they fixed it once and if it needs fixing again, Toyota will do it. But it does point up the issues raised by gimmicks and complexity. Does the Prius really need a giant function key instead of a legitimate parking gear on the shift lever? The answer, in my view, is no...which is why hybrids that resist the urge to re-invent everything and focus purely on the economy and emissions appeal to me more.