NEW FOR 2009:

– Standard 15-inch alloy wheels replace 16-inch wheels
– Premium Packages add 16-inch wheels

For 2009, the Toyota Prius remains unchanged, save for new wheels.

The Prius, now the longest-running hybrid model on the North American market, uses a 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine combined with Toyota’s "Hybrid Synergy Drive", an electric motor and battery pack with 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 when necessary, depending on vehicle speed and acceleration requirements, or runs the car by itself. There’s also an idle-stop that shuts the gasoline engine off when the car is at idle, such as at lights (electrical accessories such as lights, climate control and stereo stay on). The electric motor starts the gasoline engine each time, so there is no conventional starter to wear out.

The Prius comes in a single trim line and includes 15-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control, CD stereo, fabric seats, 60/40 split-folding rear seat, power locks with keyless entry, auto-dimming rearview mirror, power windows with driver’s side auto up/down, tonneau cover, cargo net, tilt steering wheel, floor mats, cruise control, garage door opener, heated mirrors, spoiler, variable intermittent wipers, intermittent rear washer/wiper, light control system and fog lamps.

Two option packages are available. The Premium Package adds vehicle stability control, 16-inch alloy wheels, premium six-CD/MP3 stereo with JBL Audio and auxiliary input, Smart Key system, and backup camera; the Premium with Navigation Package builds on that with a DVD-based navigation system with backup camera.

The world’s first mass-produced hybrid, the Prius was designed from the ground up to use the system and has unique styling, unlike its competitors, which were adapted from existing conventional models and are almost indistinguishable from them.

The Prius’ horsepower numbers look miniscule on paper, but the system’s torque is produced immediately and provides the acceleration of most comparable gasoline-powered cars. Like all hybrids, the Prius returns its best mileage in urban travel, and buyers should do their homework to determine how long it will take for the purchase price to outweigh gasoline prices.

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