The shape of the 2014 Toyota Prius hybrid is now instantly recognizable; the car has looked pretty much the same since way back in 2004. The current car is now in its fifth year, and there’s now a whole family of Prius models: a subcompact, a wagon, and a plug-in hybrid. But the bulk of the model’s sales are still delivered by the classic five-door Liftback model, and there will be an all-new generation coming within a year or two. It’s the quintessential hybrid car, recognizable from 100 feet away.
The high-tailed hatchback shape of the Prius is now in its eleventh year, across two generations, and from a South Park parody to increasing numbers of Priuses sold in red states, it’s become a staple on U.S. roads. Its shape lowers aerodynamic drag to squeeze every last mile out of each gallon of gasoline, and the result includes a domed profile and a two-part split rear window.
The Plug-In Prius is almost indistinguishable from the hybrid-only model. It carries a larger battery pack that can be recharged on wall current to give it up to 11 miles of all-electric running. The only visible differences are a handful of trim items and a charge-port door on the right rear fender. (The other two Prius models–which have their own reviews–differ considerably more. They are the smaller Prius C subcompact and the larger Prius V wagon. All except the wagon are rated at 50 mpg combined; the wagon comes in at 42 mpg combined.)
Inside both the Liftback and plug-in Prius, the dashboard layout–in a variety of hard-plastic moldings and surfaces–is beginning to look more and more like a 1980s video game, with various graphs, numbers, and icons strewn across both an Information Center high up and close to the base of the windshield, and a cluster of more conventional gauges and displays behind the steering wheel.
A characteristic “flying buttress” console that sweeps down from the top of the dash is the first thing that catches the eye. It’s striking, but the storage space under it is awkward to reach. The cabin is spacious enough to hold four adults comfortably, five in a pinch, and qualify as a mid-size car under EPA definitions. The front seat padding is thin, though, and the hard plastic center console will punish taller drivers’ kneecaps.
With a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and a pair of electric motor-generators, the Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain maxes out at 134 horsepower. The motors power the car solely on electricity (at speeds up to 30 mph), provide electric torque to supplement torque from the engine, and recharge the battery during regenerative braking or engine overrun. Acceleration from 0 to 60 mph is quoted at slightly less than 10 seconds, but you’ll hear the engine howling up front to get there. With more experience building hybrids than any other maker, Toyota’s ability to blend the regenerative braking with the conventional friction brakes is excellent.