Reviewers are quick to point out that the 2011 Toyota Prius isn't nimble, and even though it qualifies as a mid-sized car, it's not all that comfortable. The regenerative braking (as opposed to traditional friction brakes) is spongy, and although the car will jump from zero to 60 mph in under 10 seconds, it does so with disturbing hesitations and surges. Yet 50 percent of the hybrids on the road in the United States today out of a selection of roughly 24 make and model combination are Prii. Why?
The answer, for the most part, starts and stops with fuel economy and price point. The 2011 Prius gets 51 mpg in town and 48 on the highway with the average price paid for the vehicle falling in a range of $23,225 to $30,700. (MSRP is $23,520 to $28,790.) How far behind is the competition? Well, go shopping for a 2011 Honda Insight hybrid and you will save money on the sticker price, which sits at $18,200. Once behind the wheel, however, the combined mileage for the Insight is just 41 mpg, not even as good at the 2010 Prius at 46 mpg.
Since 1997, Toyota has sold approximately a million Prii and plans to hybridize all its models by 2020. The Prius has increasingly picked up on trunk space and cabin room. Powered by a 1.8-liter inline-four cylinder engine and a 60 kw electric motor, the Prius has 134 hp and 105 lb.-ft. of torque. All four trims (II, III, IV, and V) have the same powertrain. Drivers can select from three modes - Eco, Normal, and Power - with decreasing levels of fuel economy. There is also an option to operate in EV, which turns the gasoline engine off entirely, but that's only available at speeds of 25 mph or less. Although complaints about the brakes have been fairly universal, the 2011 does get improved marks for its electrically-assisted steering. This model has larger wheels, which offer more grip and reduce road noise.
The Prius has a trademark wedge shape and peaked rear end that has become increasingly sculpted through the car's evolution. Inside, an unusually tall console sits between the driver and front passenger to house the climate and entertainment systems. At the base level you'll get an auxiliary audio jack, automatic locks and power windows, keyless remote, two auxiliary power outlets, and a telescoping / tilting steering wheel. Step up to the Prius II and you'll pick up satellite radio and Bluetooth with an option for a voice-activated-touchscreen DVD navigation unit. Overall, the feature list and upgrades are impressive, but interior cabin quality is not quite up to par for a car in this price range, mainly due to an over use of hard plastic. While the digital gauges provide a wealth of information about the car's fuel economy, they are hard to read in certain light.
Does any of this detract from the value of the Prius? Given the overwhelming popularity of the model the answer has to be a firm no. Anyone can nitpick any car to death. In the final analysis, any performance quirks that are present in the Prius are present in all hybrids. Drivers entering this genre for the first time will see and feel a marked difference over gasoline-powerd cars, which they will rapidly get used to as their pain at the pump lessens considerably. The Prius is the best-selling hybrid in America and although there are some real contenders for "most efficient" status, namely the Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf, consumers are comfortable with the Prius. It has become a known entity and buyers no longer fear its technology. The 2011 Prius is a winner, and a solid buy for the money - a stellar buy for the fuel economy. Highly recommended.