Review: 2004 Toyota Prius
This 2004 Prius is another in my current stable of available transportation. Please overlook the fact that it now has a significant dent in the hood and substantial hail damage. My wife and I will both claim that neither of these are technically our fault. Despite the damage, it is still well-loved.
Background: 2004 was the first year of the second generation Prius. It was made from 2004 through 2010, although there was a minor refresh in 2006. The first generation started in 2001, but isn’t immediately recognizable as a Prius, looking more like the Echo than the 2nd and 3rd generation Prii.
My Experience: I purchased this car in 2007, amidst rising gas prices (approaching $3!!!) and for the price of $12k. It had 128k miles on it already, but was in otherwise excellent condition.
Exterior: Designed by SCIENCE! People often complain that the design of the Prius isn’t particularly… let’s say… good? I know… the last time you saw something with 14″ wheels was your 1989 Honda Accord LX. And the overall cheeze wedge shape is Gouda for aerodynamics, but is a strong departure from what we here in the U S of A think of as a car. But, this car isn’t the hot girl you try to pick up at a bar; this car is the girl with glasses in your math class who shares all of your interests and will actually call you back. Let me reiterate. You probably won’t buy this car for its style – you’ll buy it because it’s the most functional, reliable, efficient vehicle you’ve ever used.
Drivetrain: There was only one option for the Prii – the 1.5L atkinson cycle 4 cylinder cranking out an impressive (by RC car standards) 76HP combined with a 500v electric motor rated at 67HP. The combined rating being 143HP. If you’re wondering what an atkinson cycle motor is; it doesn’t require you to feed the car a low carb, high protein diet. Instead, it is a cycle designed to maximize efficiency rather than power density. It does this by clever valve timing that leaves the intake port open longer than in normal (otto cycle) engines at the expense of losing compression ratio vs. the theoretical maximum ratio of the specific cylinder/bore layout. This really is a lot easier to explain if you can see my hand motions. Not as impressive as this guy, though.
The transmission is a Constantly Variable Trasnmsission (CVT), meaning it doesn’t have “gears” with set speed ratios, but instead has magic trolls that hand off pounds and foots to eachother like moving a pallet of grain/feed as shown in the pre-dance montage in Footloose. OK, so it’s not quite like that, but it probably doesn’t matter – it’s more efficient and that’s why they chose it. The main advantage being that instead of the motor revving up and down to match your speed, the vehicle control system can vary the ratio of the transmission to change speed while leaving the engine at an optimal RPM.
The other interesting thing that the Prius can do is drive entirely on electric power at speeds below 41MPH, and at accelerator depression levels of less than or equal to “feather”.
Sufficiently bored yet? Well all the above tech works out to a system that works quite well together. It’s rated at 60mpg in the city and 51 on the hwy. It’s not particularly invasive or jarring, although under high load, it can tend to drone a bit (a common complain of many CVT cars). Toyota addressed this issue with the 3rd generation by installing a larger engine, which allows for fewer causes to wrap the engine up to max output.
Despite the high level of complexity, the Prius has proven quite reliable. Ours now has about 3k miles shy of 200,000 on it, and it has consistently been lauded in the media for said reliability: See link: http://www.autoguide.com/auto-news/2011/12/toyota-prius-porsche-911-are-germanys-most-reliable-cars.html
Interior: Roomy! Oh So Roomy! Because of the low ride height and tall-ish roofline, there is plenty of person space inside this fuel sipper. Also, it’s a hatchback, which means it will fit a zebra head, or any other large item you wish to move efficiently (adult human?). Sitting behind the wheel might be a particularly jarring experience for those of you who have yet to experience a Prius – because Toyota took a billion years (ish) of auto culture that tells us where the gauge cluster should go, and tossed it out the power windows. Gauges are minimal, digital, and far away; resulting in a dash landscape that seems like it deserves some book ends and perhaps a few leather-bound classics.
If you’re buying a second generation like mine, you’ll want to ask what “package” level equipment it has. Toyota introduced 5 packages. The base price is set based on package 1, which is pretty much a stripper (not that kind), and most of what got delivered to dealerships was package 2 – cloth, cruise control, etc. In order to get leather and navigation, you had to check the box package 5 using a number two pencil, which pushed the price north of 30k. Mine is a package 4 that someone later installed aftermarket leather into. We’ve got the 6 disc JBL CD changer and premium stereo – it’s plenty good (better than most). The one gripe being that it doesn’t have an auxiliary input. Other miscellaneous gadgetry include an auto dimming rear mirror, homelink garage door opener, and an early implementation of Smart Key. I think most everyone knows what a smart key is by now, but basically it’s a near field wireless key that only requires you to have the key on your person in order to unlock and drive the vehicle. Placing your hand on the door handle unlocks the doors lickety split! I’ll refrain from trying to deduce the origins of the term “lickety split”… tempting as it might be. ONE more thing about Smart Key before I move on: The person holding the key can determine which doors auto-unlock based on which door they approach the car from. If the key is at the driver door, it only unlocks that one door. If it’s at the passenger door, it unlocks them all. THIS IS SO DUMB! My passenger gets a front seat (albeit frustrated) view of my slick smart key entry because they are clumsily tugging on the door handle while I effortlessly enter the car then fumble for a button on the door panel. Regular keyless entry:1 Smart Key:0. It’s plausible this can be re-programmed by a dealer, but I’ve not investigated.
Impressions: I didn’t think I would… but I love my Prius. If you give a Prius enough time, it will impress you as well. If you’re someone who values good build quality, a nice feature set, a reasonable purchase price, excellent fuel economy, and functional interior space… you might be a Prius owner. Speaking of whom, Prius owners are a rather involved bunch. The community is well represented on sites like http://priuschat.com/, and http://www.priusonline.com/. Forums are a great way to get answers to questions and a good place to collect general knowledge. Two of my uses of said forms involve:
1) Turning off the annoying backup beep when in reverse (user programmable option)
2) Replacing the HID headlight bulbs without paying a dealership $500
Value: I bought this one for around 12k about 4 years ago. Since then, I’ve put nearly 80k miles on it bringing the total within spitting distance of 200k. Total maintenance cost – one set of tires, and driveway oil changes. (Oil change fun fact: You can actually get to the oil filter and drain without jacking the car up. Or so I’ve observed, beer in hand, watching Aaron do it. – Dustin) Average lifetime ownership fuel economy is probably around 40-41 mpg. VS a car that gets 25mpg average – I’ve saved $4,200 on gas alone during my ownership of this vehicle.
1) Tree Hugger
2) College Professor