Review of: 2014 Toyota Prius 5dr HB
2014 Toyota Prius: Does the original hybrid still measure up?
By Jil McIntosh
Mar. 24, 2014
While it was the world’s first mass-produced hybrid when it initially went on sale in Japan, and is still possibly the most recognizable, the Toyota Prius now faces competition from several other manufacturers that also offer gasoline-electric propulsion. So should you still consider the tried-and-true original?
The Prius family now includes a wagon, plug-in version, and smaller Prius C, but my tester was the hatchback, the model that traces its lineage and its overall technology to that first Prius hybrid sedan. It comes in a single trim line at $26,105, which was the price on mine. Three option packages are also available, adding such features as navigation, LED headlamps, adaptive cruise control, and heated seats, which can take it as high as $34,190.
Pros & Cons
- + Folding seats difficult to adjust
- + City fuel economy
- + Value for money
- - Interior design
- - Styling
- - Steering feel
I’ve never considered the Prius to be good-looking, but it’s certainly unmistakable. The wedge shape is all about cheating the wind, while the two glass panels in the hatchback give you better visibility out the rear. (That said, while there’s a windshield wiper on the top panel, it’s the bottom glass panel that gets dirty, and it quickly turns opaque in winter weather.)
Weight is the mortal economy of fuel economy, and the Prius feels slimmed-down when you’re driving it. That’s fine, but while I understand the reasoning, I still don’t like that the doors feel cheap and tinny when they’re opened and closed.
While it has improved over previous generations, the interior is still a little odd-looking. I don’t like that the instrument cluster is in the middle of the upper dash, instead of in front of me, but the cascading centre console puts most of its controls within easy reach. It takes a little while to get used to the tap-style gearshift selector, but I do like that I can quickly reach down and pop it into engine brake mode (more on that later) and then tap it back into Drive just as easily.
The Prius’ cabin has always been a hodgepodge of different plastic textures and colours, and while it has also been tweaked over the years, it’s still a bit busy, since none of the texture designs match each other. But the seats are comfortable, there’s good legroom for the car’s size, and the rear seats fold completely flat for extra storage. There’s also a hidden compartment under the cargo floor. That extra capacity is a nice bonus; because of their battery placement, some hybrid models don’t offer as much flat cargo space.
But after all these years, the Prius retains its incredibly annoying habit of a continuous beeping sound, inside the car, any time it’s in Reverse. I suppose it’s intended to be a safety feature for people who somehow have a license but apparently can’t figure out that the vehicle is moving backwards. For the rest of us, I’m told that it can be disabled by a dealer. Frankly, I was ready to take a pair of wire cutters to it.
Most of the goodies are available through the option packages, such as satellite radio, navigation, email-to-speech capability, and premium stereo. The base package includes a touch-screen stereo with USB port, Bluetooth, and a backup camera—that last item a nice touch as standard equipment.
The steering wheel controls are the “tracer” variety, consisting of rubberized rings meant to mimic the motions used on an iPod. They are effective but very sensitive, and it takes a little bit of adjustment before you figure out exactly how and where to touch them.
This is, of course, what the Prius is all about. Under the hood is a 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine, mated to an electric motor, a continuously-variable transmission (CVT), and a nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) storage battery. By itself, the engine makes 98 horsepower and 105 lb-ft of torque, but combined with the electric motor, the whole system produces 134 horsepower.
The system switches automatically and seamlessly between electricity alone, gasoline, or a combination of the two, depending on factors such as speed, acceleration, and ambient temperature. The battery recharges via the engine and by regenerative braking, using the electric motor like a generator when slowing down. There’s an engine brake setting on the gearshift lever that increases the regeneration, and I got into the habit of tapping over into it when red lights were up ahead. It slows the car considerably, and if you plan your driving, you can save considerable wear-and-tear on the brakes.
It goes without saying that this isn’t a sports car. Acceleration is tepid (there’s a “power mode” button that picks it up a bit, but it can only do so much), and the light steering offers virtually no feedback. But that’s not why you buy this car, of course. The published fuel figures are 3.7 L/100 km in the city and 4.0 L/100 km on the highway (hybrids are the opposite to conventional cars, which get better highway mileage), but I only managed 5.7 L/100 km.
That’s primarily because I had to make a couple of out-of-town trips in bitterly cold weather on hilly rural roads, where the system really didn’t have much chance to go into electric-only mode. And that’s the main point behind hybrids: your commute and your driving habits need to match the vehicle if you’re going to get the full benefit. A 5.7 rating is still very good for a vehicle this size, but if you can’t maximize the battery-only mode, you may be better off looking at a fuel-efficient conventional model that’s less expensive.
All of that leads up to value. Hybrids have come down in price, thanks to increased volume and improved technologies, but they’re still pricier overall when compared to gasoline-only vehicles. If you want a hybrid just because you want one, the base Prius feels like you’re getting your money’s worth. But if you’re looking at the bottom line, you need to sharpen your pencil and figure out if a hybrid’s higher purchase price will make up the cost of the fuel that you save.
That “money’s worth” becomes even more evident when you look at the competition; you’ll pay more for such competitors as the Ford Fusion Hybrid, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, and Toyota sibling Camry Hybrid, which starts at $1,655 more than the Prius.
The Prius has been in Canada since 2000, and while it’s been updated considerably since then, it’s showing its age, thanks mostly to its hard plastic interior and “hey-I’m-a-hybrid!” styling. But if you want a hybrid and it fits into your plans, the Prius does what it’s supposed to do and works very well, and possibly most importantly, and it’s very hard to beat the price.