2008 Toyota Prius Review

Mike Solowiow
by Mike Solowiow
2008 toyota prius review

To my eyes, the Toyota Prius looks like an Area 51 reject: an ungainly sci fi fantasy devoid of charm or beauty. To its admirers’ eyes, the Prius is the latter day equivalent of a Model T or a VW Bug: an automobile whose virtues– and virtuousness– transcend the normal dictates of style. And THEN there’s the debate about propulsion, premiums and politics. It’s hard to think of another car that’s been this polarizing– for both manufacturer (Maximum Bob) and the end user (a.k.a. car buyer). And yet, just as sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, sometimes a car is just a car. Ah, but is the Prius a good car?

The current Toyota Prius (NHW20) hit American showrooms in 2004. The exterior shape hides the black skirts, integrated (vision robbing) rear spoiler and aero wipers that give the Synergy-driven sedan a slippery .26Cd. Clean, smooth and strangely attractive in Spectra Blue Mica, the Prius is still unique enough to stand out. “The” Prius has become “a Prius” without losing its identity.

And yet, for observers who know that “Dino” isn’t just the name of an annoying cartoon house pet, the word “ungainly” springs to mind. For others, “Toyota” is beginning to resonate; the Prius' shape is slowly fading into the masses of Yarii, Fits, and Versas. A refresh is overdue.

The Prius’ interior reeks of cost savings. Toyota hid all the really nasty plastic where fingers rarely dwell (lost parking tickets and french fries excepted). Strangely rippled soft touch materials resembling burnt Ruffles potato chips cover half of the dash, steering wheel and door panels. While it looks “interesting,” a close encounter of the third kind is like caressing a hairless cat. And the lack of beauty was more than skin deep; the center console shook more violently than a crack addict at the Western Casino and Bingo Hall.

The Prius places all the important driving info at the base of the windshield. After a few days, it was no biggie– unlike the gigantic ode to geekdom rising out of the dash like an electronic Kilimanjaro. The LCD information display that controls the car’s auxiliary functions is not so functional (Mr. Bond). The combination of buttons and touch-screen interface makes every adjustment– from the air-conditioner to changing radio stations– a tiresome two or three press affair. [Note: I fly AWACS for a living.]

At least the Prius gives drivers a choice between green and orange tones on the display, depending on whether you’ve got spring or autumn skin tones.

The Prius is motivated by a 76bhp 1.5-liter gas engine married to a 67bhp electric motor, a battery-powered powerplant that stumps-up an astounding 295ft-lbs of torque at 0 rpm. Around town, the Prius could not be easier to drive. It’s quick on its feet, nimble and almost tossable. In Las Vegas traffic, the Prius returned a laudable, affordable 40.5mpg. In stop-and-go traffic, the family-sized golf cart is in its natural element. Magic.

It’s an entirely different story on the open road. Find a slightly hilly/curvaceous piece of interstate and the Prius is more out of place than a gay pride parade at a West Texas football game. On level ground, the Prius easily attains 80, even 90mph (as the Clark County Police pointed out). Introduce a small incline, let alone a mountainous circuit, and the Prius huffs, and puffs, and gets blown off the road by any other vehicle, down to and including a Smart ForTwo.

Climbing the road to the summit of Mt. Charleston, the Prius quickly drained its batteries. It could groan no faster than a pathetic 57mph. Once the battery boost ceased to exist, the CVT transmission buzzed louder, and louder, reducing fuel consumption to 17.5mpg. Throttle response ceased to exist, and momentum became the name of the game.

If the Prius handled like a Honda Civic, you could dismiss its Pinto-like performance with the old “a slow car driven fast can be fun" argument. Nope. The Prius washed out into drastic understeer on every curve. In fact, the battery pack in the rear caused the back end to sway outwards when I lifted off the throttle. Who knew you could have a ‘moment’ in a Prius?

The more I pushed the Prius– and I mean that in the “I want to get home in time for dinner” sense of the word– the more it resembled a four-wheeled Lean Pocket. (“Remove from box, place directly in InSinkErator.”)

As a driving enthusiast, I’d describe the Prius as a funky Corolla with a big battery and bad handling. As an observer of the automotive scene, I’d call the Prius the uber-Toyota: inexpensive, efficient, reliable transportation that makes you feel good about not driving anything else. I’m not damning the car with faint praise; it’s what makes the Prius the people’s car of our time.

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  • Artmaltman Artmaltman on Apr 14, 2009

    You review mirrors my experience. I rented one for a weekend after putting a down payment on the wait list last summer. Returned it within 8 hours and got deposit back. Dangerously slow on long highway upgrades. Life is already too short.... Art

  • Reparent Reparent on Nov 10, 2012

    I just test drove a 2006 Prius (it only had 53000 km on it)for the first time yesterday, did mostly highway and some city driving (total 188 km). Set to cruise control at 100 km/h to go and 105 km/h to come back. I avg 48 MPG for total trip. Outside temp was between 1 and 4 degrees celcius, I was alone in the car (I'm a small guy). Although that is very good I would have really liked to go 50+ MPG due to my very conservative driving. I get 36 MPG with my Pontiac Vibe driving the same way. There was a few hills, not too steep but good hills enough still and had no problems at all with them. I wasn't trying to go uphill at 140 km/h either and thats not the purpose at all in the fist place.. Overall I liked the car, I didn't notice the handling issue too much like some talks about, but I didn't "race" the car either nor do I do it with my vibe. I have to agree to a certain point though that if you would need to make a quick turn to avoid an object it doesn't seem as reponsive and quick to act. Only once I can remember in the last 10 years of driving where I really needed to apply very quick movement to avoid a bad driver, it was an extremely close call and I will admit that if I would have had the prius I'm not so sure i would have missed the other car (I may have briefly touched it thats all, compared to my vibe).. But the handling issue alone wouldn't really have an impact on buying the car. I'm not an expert with cars but it seems just normal due the size of the car that it would not be as quick for fast turns to as compared to a smaller car thats just common sense to me, try doing a quick turn with a big boat in the water and then do the same thing with a smaller boat to see which one will be easier to turn.. As far as cargo room goes there is nothing to complain about here. With my pontiac vibe I find I have LOTS of cargo room and its one of the reason why I bought it (MPG and cargo room combined with excellent reliability). And the Prius interest me for all the same reasons (cargo room, MPG and excellent reliability). I find I have just a little more cargo room with the vibe, the trunk is about the same size but deeper. The Prius has the battery underneath hense the not so deep trunk. I haven't read all comments here but quite a few and couldn't help but notice the comparision with the Jetta TDI, although the Jetta seems to do excellent MPG I can't agree with the reliability. When I talk to friends about their TDI they all say how tough it is yet they tell me about the "only" parts they had to replace (car with less then 250 000 km). I dont consider that "normal regular maintnance". Dont believe me? Go on www.kijiji.ca and lookup for used 2006 jetta TDI (or other years) and you will notice a LOT of adds include things such "New transmission, new clutch, new waterpump, new engine" ect ect.. That my friends is NOT GOOD RELIABILITY!! Now go back and make a search for a 2006 Pontiac vibe or matrix (or other years, I use 2006 because thats the one I checked more). Most of the adds you will never see any parts changed. The Prius also seems the same by what I have seen, I don't see any mentions of major parts that has been changed). As far as my vibe goes, I bought it at 170000 km and now have 287 000 km and to date have not had to replace ANY parts on it yet. The only big expense to date (last week) was repainting the top of the car due to some starting rust (started bubbling) ($700 total cost). Other then that oil change and tires thats it! All this to say that I'm still undecided to go with the Prius only because the vibe is so dependable and cheap to operate and I'm hesitant to make the move. The only reason why I'd get the Prius would be so that in the long run (within the next 5 to 6 years) I save more money vs owning my vibe and It doesnt seem that would do it.. My car is paid for now but high milleage enough so I wouldn't get much money for it, a used 2008 that I am interested in is $10 000 (170 000 km on it). So at the end of all this, I calculated it would cost me around $9000 total for the trade. And that I'd be saving $85 - $110 per month in gas. The most common complaints I've heard about the prius is about their failing headlights. Anyway if your looking for a Prius and the reasons behind it is to save on gas and you don't buy it for "performance" I think its a great choice. If your looking to drive a car that will be cheap to operate in the long term and give you lots of cargo room I have to recommend the pontiac vibe (used). The matrix is the same car but you will get a better price on the vibe just because of the pontiac crest even though its the exact same car.

  • Redapple2 My dad s buddy got a tire thru the windshield. DRT -dead right there.
  • Redapple2 Hope they fix the:1 ride. worse than a corvette2 seating position. ankles at the height of my butt is UNCOMFORTABLE .As is. Horrible truck
  • Redapple2 One time; doing time; for a long time.
  • Robert Good! Those things are hideous.
  • ScarecrowRepair Road trips by myself -- cherry tomatoes or seedless grapes. Gotcher nutrition, gotcher water, bite-sized, no sticky fingers. Light lunch, maybe; normal dinner.