2008 Toyota Prius
2008 Toyota Prius. Click image to enlarge

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By Chris Chase; photos by Jil McIntosh

The Toyota Prius may not have been the first mass-market gas-electric hybrid car (that title goes to the original Honda Insight), but it has become something of an icon for the green movement since being introduced to North America in 2001.

That first-generation car only lasted three years here, as it had already been on sale in Japan since 1997. The second-gen car arrived for the 2004 model year and was a vast improvement over the original in many ways.

The second-generation Prius is powered by a 1.5-litre gas engine that works in concert with an electric motor; they put their power to the road through a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The drivetrain is managed by Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system, which, among other things, harnesses braking energy and uses it to recharge the car’s high-capacity battery.

The result, naturally, is the potential for terrific fuel economy. The Prius earned Natural Resources Canada EnerGuide ratings of 4.0/4.2 L/100 km (city/highway). Note the lower city rating, which is the result of the car’s ability to shut off the gas motor at idle and accelerate gently from a stop on electric power alone. Achieving those impressive numbers in real-world driving, particularly in cold winter weather, is difficult and requires both some discipline and a method for driving economically without going so slowly as to upset drivers accustomed to full-throttle acceleration in stoplight drag races.

2008 Toyota Prius
2008 Toyota Prius
2008 Toyota Prius. Click image to enlarge

The Prius suffers from a few reliability issues, but only a couple appear to be serious enough to affect the car’s operation.

This thread at PriusChat.com talks about navigation system troubles (check out the price the original poster was quoted to replace the unit in his car!). I suspect this issue might be the source of the one black dot the Prius earns in Consumer Reports’ reliability information (in the “audio system” category). A number of Lexus models – which apparently use the same navi system as the Prius’ – also get lackluster ratings in CR’s “audio system” category. A poster in our forums tells us he was quoted $5,461 plus labour and taxes(!) to replace the faulty DVD player that was causing the problem in his Prius.

There’s also an issue with the multi-function display (MFD), the screen in the dash that relays info about fuel consumption and controls some radio and climate control functions. Our forum friend says screen failures are more common in colder climates.

A sticky shifter that doesn’t want to move back to the neutral position as it’s designed to do can be blamed on a broken spring in the shifter assembly.

This thread at PriusChat.com indicates that the inverter coolant pump (part of the hybrid system) might be an issue in the long term. It appears that this component is the subject of a Technical Service Bulletin in the U.S.

The Prius’ hybrid battery appears to be quite robust, if the lack of talk of it on Prius forums is any indication. In fact, the smaller 12-volt battery used to start the gas engine and run accessories is more prone to failure. The same forum contributor says the car will usually exhibit strange behaviour before the battery fails outright; symptoms include poor audio system performance and a steep increase in fuel consumption.

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