With a bevy of new high-tech features for 2012, the Toyota Prius enhances its appeal and status as the quintessential hybrid.
The 2012 Toyota Prius is to hybrids what Kleenex is to tissues. Other brands may offer something similar, but the Prius is what people think of when they think hybrid. But is this perception still warranted now that more competitors seem to pop up every year?
To keep things fresh for 2012, the current, third-generation Prius receives its first minor refresh. The subtle styling tweaks are barely discernible, while its other updates are more substantial. Even the base model Prius Two (the Prius One is for fleet sales only) now comes with Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, dedicated iPod control and a touchscreen electronics interface. All trims but the Two get Toyota's new Entune system, which bundles satellite radio-sourced real-time information with a suite of apps that connect the Prius to the Internet via your smartphone. It's now possible to wirelessly stream Pandora or iHeart Radio through the car's sound system.
Beyond this increase of electronic toys, the 2012 Toyota Prius maintains the practical advantages that have made it so successful. With an EPA combined rating of 50 mpg, the Prius is topped only by the new Prius C subcompact, or more expensive plug-in models like the 2012 Chevrolet Volt and upcoming plug-in Prius. The Prius also stands out from the crowd because of the generous dimensions of its backseat and the versatility of the hatchback-style cargo area. In fact, the Prius is so practical that it's used as a taxi in many cities.
There are downsides, however. Interior quality leaves much to be desired, with more hard, unpleasantly grained plastics than other brands offer. While the Prius is easy and intuitive to drive, there's zero enjoyment behind the wheel. Other hybrids (including the new Prius C) are better in this regard, while the more composed ride quality and quieter cabins of the 2012 Ford Fusion Hybrid and 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid represent a much greater degree of refinement.
Another aspect to consider is price. Regular compact cars (either gasoline- or diesel-powered) get excellent fuel economy nowadays while costing much less, meaning the Prius might not produce the savings in fuel costs that you think it will. Still, the 2012 Toyota Prius continues to warrant its position as the quintessential hybrid. Its blend of fuel efficiency, practicality and now technology make it an easy choice among hybrids.