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Eric's Autos: Reviewing the 2012 Toyota Prius

Eric Peters on

Last week, I reviewed the Prius C - and for the first time, found myself praising a hybrid car's design and economics. Or at least, not condemning them.

The C is reasonably light (about 2,500 lbs.) great on gas - and most relevant of all, price-competitive with non-hybrid economy-minded cars. I'd have liked to see Toyota make it even lighter - which would have made it even easier on gas. And available without price-padding power equipment - which would make it even more price-competitive with non-hybrid economy-minded cars. But still, a change for the smarter - as I see it.

This week, they sent me the regular Prius. And while it's certainly praiseworthy in several respects (more on this below) I'm still a bit ambivalent about its economics - both short term and long-haul. I'll get into that now.

WHAT IT IS

The Prius, like Elvis, needs no introduction. Love it or hate it, it's the rock star of hybrids - the first one to be mass-produced - and the only one to be sold in massive numbers. More than 1 million have been sold since 2000.

It is mid-sized, size-wise - so, slightly larger overall than the Prius C - with a hatchback rear and "tall roof" profile to maximize interior space - also like the Prius C.

It starts at $24,000 for the base "Two" trim and tops out at $29,805 for a "Five" with all the bells and whistles. A plug-in version of the Prius is also available. It has an MSRP of $32,000.

One important point of order about the Prius: Unlike competitor model hybrids - such as the Ford Fusion hybrid, the Hyundai Sonata hybrid, the Honda Civic hybrid and the soon-to-be-here (2013) Honda Accord hybrid - the Prius is not a hybridized version of a conventional car. It is what's called in the car business a "dedicated platform" - meaning, it was designed from the wheels up as a hybrid. This gives it a leg up over conversion hybrids like the Fusion, Sonata and the others - which are inherently compromised as a result of their dual-role design.

The Prius, for example, delivers by far the best fuel economy of any current hybrid that's not another Prius: 51 city, 48 highway. The much more expensive Ford Fusion hybrid ($28,775 to start) only manages 41 city and 36 highway. The comparably priced ($24,200) Civic hybrid only gives you 44 city and 44 highway.

WHAT'S NEW

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