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2006 Toyota Prius

by Martha Hindes

Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius Interior

As if terrific mileage, low emissions and handsome good looks weren't enough! Ladle on the latest in safety, comfort and conscience items and it totals Toyota's Prius for 2006. As a two-year-old and one of the original hybrids ever to cruise American roads, Prius has firmly established the fundamentals of driving green, while offering the only vehicle we drove for '06 that was visibly earth friendly enough to garner some curiosity stares. If any new technology system had knocks or noise it undoubtedly would spoil the concept in a hurry. Not to worry. Prius adheres to the Lexus/Toyota mandate that quiet beats clunks any time, and expectedly delivers a seamlessly smooth ride, although there was a learning curve with the whisper quiet "by wire" connections and large center-mounted "Consumption" screen.

Prius is what's known in the industry as a "full" hybrid, one that can chug along on electricity or gasoline independently or with the two systems working in concert. For those wondering if this means plugging into a house outlet overnight, it doesn't. As with most hybrids, the gasoline engine recharges the system's high tech battery system during normal driving and braking. Safety comes from an array of airbags, including head-protecting side curtain ones, plus anti-skid systems, tire monitors and solid crash test numbers. Conscience has to come from knowing one is driving a vehicle with both SULEV and PZEV ratings. For the uninitiated, that's car biz lingo for "Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle" and "Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle." (The industry does tend to cut hairs when measuring infinitely small levels of ozone- and earth-damaging pollutants.)

On the coddling side, Prius delivers. Beyond the basic comfortable ride for four (five for short trips), and truly usable hatchback deck, there's a load of high tech and smart gadgetry that ranges from push button start to an optional backup camera, new for '06. Also newly available is leather seating in two shades, plus a new audio upgrade with MP3 capability plus more. Prius's 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine, mated to a 50 kW motor, delivers a combined net horsepower rating of 110. That's unlikely to blow the doors off a cop car when blasting away from a standstill. But pickup and control are more than adequate for the kind of environmentally conscious driving one would expect from a hybrid owner. When you can eke out a combined 55 MPG in city/highway miles to the gallon of gas (we squeezed out 45 with somewhat aggressive driving), and paying about a $22K base for the privilege of owning a vehicle that can do it, who can complain.