Hi, I'm Jason and developer of GreenHybrid.com. The following is my in-depth review of the 2004 Toyota Prius. My model is a package #9 BC (the works) with a silver exterior and gray two-tone interior.
Recieving a Prius was actually a surprise. I was extremely interested in the car but had yet to see one or drive it. When I walked into the garage and saw the amazing gift, for one split second I actually thought it a very large picture of a Prius. Since I had yet to see the actual automobile on the road, it took a minute for reality to hit me. Once it did, I was ecstatic. I named her Midori, Japanese for "green".
The exterior of the car has a futuristic aura. Some people dislike its design simply because they would rather a more traditional look. Immediately manifest is its aerodynamic shape. The vehicle is perfectly symmetrical and curved. The front hood bevels outwards -- imagine pinching a latex balloon lightly and pulling it outwards. This is the effect produced around the Toyota logo.
The headlights assume a vertical position that climbs halfway up the front. The blinkers, when on, radiate a glistening spiderweb-type effect that can clearly be seen on a garage wall. The car is equipped with a rear window spray and a front winshield mist as well as both front and rear wipers.
The rear includes an impressive display of brake lights composed of a series of individual red illuminations. A hatchback allows for a more aerodynamic back and adds to the futuristic aura previously mentioned. As hatchbacks aren't typical in midsize cars, it kind of reminds me of the automatic rising doors shown in many high-tech movies.
The rear window is actually split, meaning that a portion of the tail (in essence, a small spoiler) sits about 6 inches from the bottom of the window. The bottom portion is tinted. While driving, this is a small problem because often headlights and parts of cars disappear behind the spoiler, though with a little practice it becomes barely an issue.
The trunk provides adequate space and can take advantage of 60/40 split seats to expand the horizontal storage area.
This view towards the back of the car shows the split window, however the rearview mirror actually sits a bit higher allowing the driver to see more towards the ground and of the lower portion.
Seats are moderately comfortable and often said to be too narrow for a long ride. I, at a huge 150 lb. often find the seats too small as well as ill-positioned headrests, but again it just takes some getting used to. Also, one should note that the Prius headrests are optimized for safety rather than comfort. The back seats do not allow for much headroom and can brush the hair of anyone around 6ft tall. If you are in this range, it would be smart to test-drive before purchasing.
The driver view allows quite a bit of control over the cabin. The steering wheel is equipped with controls of the following: volume, audio modes (CD/Tape/AM/FM1/FM2/Satellite), audio presets, climate control temperature, front and rear defoggers, air circulation, Bluetooth telephone activation, map screen, and info screen buttons.
A by-wire electric shift replaces the mechanical gear shifts on every car to date. It can be "flicked" into position and then snaps back into place. A reverse beeper [that can be disabled] warns the driver in case it is accidentally triggered. There are no actual gears in the Prius' so-called continuously variable transmission, so acceleration is extremely smooth. A Park button (directly above the shift) can be activated when not moving.
The front dash illumnates with digital readouts for the speedometer, gear settings, the gas gauge, and more. The gauge is notorius to cry wolf and notify the driver to fill up the tank a full 1-2 gallons before empty. For a hybrid like the Prius, that's a good 75-100 miles to go. Many drivers have reverted to multiplying their MPG by 10, the approximate usable fuel area in gallons of the tank. Toyota claims 11.9, but that has yet to be supported.
The well-known Power button is located near the top. With the Smart Entry & Start option, the driver may simply leave the electronic fob in his pocket and hold the brake while pushing the Power button. Without the option, the fob must be inserted into a small slot beside the steering wheel. Neglecting to hold the brake results in battery-only mode with access to only the touch screen and audio system. The car illuminates silently.
Entering the car is just as simple; one has only to approach with the fob on their person and reach for the handle. The door will unlock to grant access. Door unlock settings are configurable.
The LCD touch screen has four color choices: gray, blue, blue, and tan. Available modes include the navigation system, gas consumption graph, energy use diagram with real-time information and MPG, telephone commands, air conditioning, and audio controls.
Below the screen is a 6-disk CD changer, a tape deck, radio, and satellite [radio] controls. Note that a satellite kit must be purchased and installed to work.
Below the audio deck is a push-to-release storage area suitable also for third-party electronics. It is one of 12 places to store items: audio deck storage, two rear cupholders, two exclusive front cupholders, an armrest comparment, a "hidden" floor drawer, double gloveboxes, two map/canholder door compartments, and sunglass holder.
Climate control utilizes humidity samples in addition to engine coolant, outside, and inside temperatures to obtain a comfortable environment. For a reason unknown to me, the middle air outlets do not provide heat.
The engine looks impressively organized. A silver box contains an energy converter, showing the Hybrid Synergy Drive logo. The actual hybrid battery is in the rear underside.
The rear of the vehicle tends to become filthy as dirt tends to slip over the surface of the car and dispense itself on the tail. A simple hose-down clears up this mess.
The gasoline engine and electric motor work in harmony to produce the most energy efficient combination while driving. Often, the engine shuts off and either the motor silently cruises the car along or regenerative technology charges the battery. Because of the aerodynamic shape of the automobile, it is usually most efficient to use climate control rather than open the windows -- especially at highway speeds.
MPG values are highly variable and depend on outside temperature, driving style, and warmup period among others. One can expect consistant values between 40-50 MPG in Florida weather, though other areas of the country may be slightly lower or higher. An acceptable range is anywhere from 35 to 60 MPG.
On regular occasion, people are bemused by the moving car that sounds like it's off, the unique styling of an unheard-of car, or the possibility of the most technologically sophisticated automobile available today with a base MSRP little more than $20k. Then again, I've had the car since November of 2003 and I'm still just as floored as they.