NEW FOR 2008:

– Decrease in base price from $31,280 to $29,500
– New standard equipment: seat side and curtain airbags, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, garage door opener, anti-theft system, coloured rear spoiler, fog lamps
– 16-inch alloy wheels replace 15-inch wheels
– Back-up camera added to "D" Special Edition Premium Package

For 2008, the Toyota Prius hybrid receives several additional features as standard equipment, including side and curtain airbags, although the base price drops from $31,280 to $29,500.

The Prius, now the longest-running hybrid in the North American market, uses Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive: a 1.5-litre four-cylinder gasoline engine combined with an electric motor, electronic controller, and battery pack, along with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The system uses regenerative braking to recharge the battery, and does not need to be plugged in. The electric motor boosts the gasoline engine’s power when needed; the car is also able to run on its battery for short periods, and features an idle-stop that shuts the gasoline engine off when the vehicle is stopped, such as at lights. The electric motor starts it again, so there’s no danger of a conventional starter wearing out.

The Prius comes in a single trim line and features 16-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control, CD stereo, cloth seats, power locks with keyless entry, auto-dimming rearview mirror, power windows, tonneau cover, cargo net, tilt wheel, floor mats, pushbutton start, cruise control, garage door opener, heated mirrors, variable intermittent wipers, rear washer/wiper, and fog lamps.

Two option packages are available: the Special Edition Premium Package adds stability control, six-CD/MP3 stereo, Bluetooth hands-free system, Smart Key system and back-up camera, while a second package builds on that with a navigation system.

The Prius was Toyota’s first hybrid and was designed from the ground up to use the system. Unlike most competitors, which are adapted to existing conventional models and are almost indistinguishable from them, the Prius features more offbeat styling and tech-heavy interior. The horsepower numbers look miniscule on paper, but the low-end torque of the electric motor provides the acceleration of most comparable gasoline-powered cars.

On the downside, the variable power-assist steering feels numb. The styling is love-or-hate: it’s too extreme for some buyers, while others appreciate that it makes an immediate statement about its hybrid technology that most other models do not. Like all hybrids, the Prius returns its best mileage in urban travel, and its higher purchase price will take longer to recoup at the gas pumps – we recommend doing the math and assessing your driving habits before taking the plunge.

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