2006 Toyota Prius
Click image to enlarge


By Grant Yoxon
Photos: Bill Petro, Toyota Canada

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Ottawa, Ontario – When the 2006 Toyota Prius arrived in January, reactions from family members were mixed. “What a strange looking car, I hate the colour,” said my wife. “What a cool car. I love the colour,” said my daughter.

My wife’s initial reaction concurred with the views of many people we encountered during the four months we drove the gasoline electric hybrid – many people thought the Prius’ distinctive triangular shape to be odd and the “silver pine mica” colour was definitely love it our hate it – but her opinion changed the first time we filled up – 487 kilometres later and a full week after picking up the car. Litres: 35.6. Cost: $30.48. Fuel consumption: 7.3 litres per 100 kilometres.

2006 Toyota Prius
Click image to enlarge

Now 7.3 L/100 km is no where near the Natural Resources Canada rating for the Prius in city driving, an unrealistically low 4.0 L/100 km, but the weather in early January was cold. We had expected better, but we weren’t all that disappointed. 7.3 L/100 km was, after all, a lot better than the SUV we had driven a few weeks earlier, that had averaged an astounding 16.8 L/100 km in combined city and highway driving.

Fuel consumption on the Prius improved over the next few weeks and, on a trip to Toronto in February, registered 5.6 L/100 km at speeds ranging from 90 to 110 km/h.

2006 Toyota Prius
Click image to enlarge

As the weeks passed and Winter turned into Spring, we piled on 10,615 kilometres and averaged, over four months, 6.4 L/100 km. During our last month, April, we averaged 5.7 L/100 km, suggesting that the Prius would be more economical in warmer weather.

As well, the Prius came equipped with Toyo Observe G-O2 plus winter tires, which may have had some impact on fuel consumption.

In the colder months, the Prius achieved better fuel economy on the highway than in the city – the reverse of the Natural Resources Canada rating (4.2 L/100 km highway; 4.9 L/100 km city), but during April we didn’t see any real difference in highway vs. city driving.

It should be noted that we didn’t go out of our way to save fuel. We’re not lead foots, but we’re not slow pokes either. We tend to observe speed limits in urban areas and drive 10 km/h over the speed limit on highways. We keep up with the traffic and accelerate hard off freeway on-ramps into traffic. In all respects, the fuel consumption we observed is what average drivers can expect to achieve.

Fuel economy is only one part of the rationale for buying a hybrid vehicle. The Toyota hybrid system, termed Hybrid Synergy Drive, produces nearly 90 per cent fewer smog-forming emissions than a conventional internal combustion engine vehicle. The Prius has been certified to Environment Canada’s Tier 2 Bin 3 tailpipe emissions standard.

2006 Toyota Prius

2006 Toyota Prius

2006 Toyota Prius

2006 Toyota Prius

2006 Toyota Prius
Click image to enlarge

In addition, the Prius is certified in California as an Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV). PZEV certification requires the Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV) exhaust criterion, together with the ability to meet a zero-fuel-evaporative standard, a 240,000 km (150,000 mile) durability demonstration, an extended emissions system warranty, and technology deemed by the California Air Resources Board to advance future fuel cell vehicles.

Although filling up once every eight days or so for $30 to $35 was a real treat, it wasn’t the only reason the Prius became the vehicle of choice during the past four months. Driving the Prius involved few, if any, compromises for our family of five adults.

The Prius is a hatchback. It has a large, easily accessible, storage area in the back. There is 456 litres of cargo space (16.1 cu. ft) behind the rear seat and much more when the 60/40 rear seat is folded flat. With one side folded, you can carry a lot of stuff and still have room for four passengers. And long stuff fits just fine as well, as the front passenger seat folds flat too.

In this respect, the Prius is more practical than the Honda Civic Hybrid, which has a trunk, but no rear folding seats or pass-through. Cargo carrying capacity is significantly better. Rear leg room is also better in the Prius.

Although sharing similar exterior dimensions, the Prius has more interior volume than the Civic. As a result, Natural Resources Canada rates the Prius as a mid-size vehicle, whereas the Civic is rated as a compact.

2006 Toyota Prius
Click image to enlarge

My adult children never complained about riding in the Prius’ back seat, except when all three came along for the ride. Even my 6-foot, 4-inch son found enough room for his long legs. Head room was sufficient too. For 2006, the Prius’s rear seat has been re-designed to provide 50 mm more width. It’s still a bit narrow for three, but two can sit very comfortably.

Only on rare occasions, when we needed to carry more than five people, or when we were moving furniture, did it become necessary to drive our minivan. The rest of the time, the Prius was more than adequate.

The driving experience was good too. The Prius is very quiet. If anything, one becomes more aware of wind noise because engine sounds are so distant. The ride is firmer than that found in the Camry and bumps and potholes are more noticeable.

2006 Toyota Prius

2006 Toyota Prius
Click image to enlarge

For the most part, the controls are easy to use, although the multi-information screen provides more information about the hybrid system and current fuel consumption than most people will want to know. It is a touch screen, with climate and radio controls adjustable with the touch of a finger. It adds a bit of class to the Prius, but one has to ask, are touch screen controls really necessary?

Both audio and climate controls can also be adjusted by buttons on the steering wheel. Add in steering wheel controls for Bluetooth connectivity and buttons to switch from information screen to navigation screen (even if the car is not equipped with navigation), and the steering wheel becomes very busy indeed. These buttons are meant to help drivers keep their eyes on the road, but I found they did quite the opposite.

The Prius is a full hybrid, meaning it will run on both electricity and gasoline or either. The car starts under electric power, then the engine starts up when more power is required.

2006 Toyota Prius
Click image to enlarge

This can be almost immediately when the car is cold on a cold day. Once warmed up though, the gasoline engine will shut off, even at speeds of 60 km/h, under low power demands. Because engine noise is minimal, it is almost imperceptible when the engine starts and stops. At low speed, coasting to stop light for example, we could feel a slight shudder when the engine stopped.

We found out how far the Prius will go on electricity alone when we ran out of fuel one day. The car continued for about two kilometres on electrical power, but came to a stop when electrical power wasn’t sufficient to make it to the top of a hill.

2006 Toyota Prius
Click image to enlarge

The gasoline engine produces only 76 horsepower at 5000 rpm. The electrical motor adds another 67 hp between 1,200 and 1,540 rpm. The Prius is no jackrabbit and those looking for rapid acceleration will want to look elsewhere, but in most circumstances – passing requires some planning – lack of power is not an issue.

Handling is okay too, although the Prius’ narrow tires and tall architecture detract. It won’t behave like a sports sedan, but neither will it leave you hanging on to your seat when you enter a corner a bit too fast. The car behaved well in some awful weather in February.

2006 Toyota Prius
Click image to enlarge

Our test vehicle was equipped with the optional “Package B”, which adds vehicle stability control. We never encountered its intervention on dry pavement, although it was a frequent visitor when roads were slush covered and slippery.

The “B package” takes the price of the Prius from $31,280 to $35,360 (a navigation package with back-up camera is also available for an additional $3,350). The B package includes an upgraded sound system with in-dash 6-CD changer and auxiliary input jack for an MP3 player or iPod, fog lamps, electrochromic rear view mirror, garage door opener and bluetooth capability and theft deterrent system. It also includes a smart key system, which we really enjoyed.

2006 Toyota Prius

2006 Toyota Prius
Click image to enlarge

With the smart key, the doors open when you touch the door handles and lock with the press of a button. The key stays in your pocket, the car starting with the press of an ignition button on the dash.

Also part of the package are front seat-mounted side impact airbags and side curtain airbags. All the rest of “package B” might be unnecessary luxuries, but the added safety features make ordering this package, in my opinion, required. Anti-lock brakes, though, are standard equipment.

These safety features are standard equipment on all Honda Civics, including the Civic Hybrid. Considering the difference in base prices – $25,950 for the Civic and $31,280 for the Prius – one could argue that the Prius offers a more substantial package and is worth an additional $5000. But when one must shell out nearly $10,000 more to get equivalent safety features, the argument wears a bit thin. If you want a hybrid, $10,000 can buy a lot of compromises.

2006 Toyota Prius
Photo: Grant Yoxon. Click image to enlarge

Despite the unnecessary complexity of its controls and the regrettable practice of packaging essential safety features with luxury options, we became very fond of the Prius during our four-month test. In fact, we were sad to see it go. It is a fine family vehicle, comfortable, practical and enjoyable to drive. We came to like its radical shape and gave it a big “thank you” every time we filled up. In 10,600 kilometres, we did not encounter any service issues.

But we never did agree on silver pine mica, a fancy way of saying “light green”, which come to think of it, seems completely appropriate for a machine as green as the Prius.


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