- The Washington Times - Friday, November 30, 2001

According to Webster, the term hybrid means, "the combining of two different varieties."

Hybrid vehicles have taken on various meanings in recent years. However, I think the gasoline/electric-powered vehicles are best suited to have the term hybrid attached to them. They are, after all, the blending of two power attributes into one vehicle.

There are two vehicles available to the buying public that seem to be gaining popularity, the Honda Insight and the Toyota Prius. Both vehicles have found an acceptance with the buying public. Of course, it helps that the manufacturers are subsidizing the pricing so that we can afford to by this new technology.

One of the major advantages I see for the Toyota Prius is the fact that it has four doors and a rear seat, plus the roomy trunk. Wait, that's three advantages. Although the Insight makes a more dramatic statement with its unusual design, the Prius seems to be much less of a compromise in space. With both vehicles you sacrifice a bit in the power department, but the acceleration seems to satisfy the average driver.

Essentially, the Prius is powered by a four-cylinder gasoline engine coupled to an electric motor that runs into the transmission to propel the vehicle along the roadway. Entering its second year, the Prius receives a number of new optional features.

If you are not happy with having a plain Prius, Toyota now has made available an optional DVD-based navigation system, daytime running lights, cruise control or driver and passenger side air bags.

As I was programming the dash-mounted trip computer, so that I might truly see just how economical this vehicle could be with a gallon of gasoline, I noticed that this is the first vehicle I have ever seen with a higher mpg rating for city driving than it has on the highway. Officially, the Prius is rated at 52 city and 45 on the highway. The bottom line for my 1,500 miles was 42.1 mpg.

This was reduced from a high of 42.7 because I spent the last few days trying to see how fast I could get the Prius to accelerate from a standing start. Throughout this acceleration testing, I continually wanted to coax more power from the car. That said, we must take into account that this is a relatively new power source and the Prius is an economy car that preformed very well. Toyota freaks put your poison pens away.

The 1.5-liter gasoline engine produces 70 horsepower, while the electric motor adds an additional 44 horsepower for this 2,800-pound sedan. Where the Prius is even more unique is through a special power-split device that allows the vehicle to be powered by the gasoline engine, the electric motor or both. There were times when the engine powered the vehicle and the electric motor converted into a generator to charge the battery.

Concern over the battery pack and its replacement cost continues as these vehicles have not been in service long enough to see precisely how long the battery will last in the real world.

What we must remember about this whole fuel economy/environmentally conscientious situation, is that we are in the midst of change.

In the case of the Prius, it is a comfortable economy vehicle with four doors and plenty of room. Plus, it just might ease your conscience.

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