The Toyota (TM ) Prius is the head-turner among hybrids. It gets its sleek, futuristic look from its aerodynamic design, and that carries over into the inside. There's no instrument panel behind the wheel: The gauges are digital and compressed into a slim, horizontal slice just beneath the windshield. The shift lever takes a bit of getting used to. It's really a joystick that jumps back to the home position when you release it. There's no key, either. To start the car, you press the Power button. The Ready light comes on, but the gasoline engine doesn't kick in until you reach 10 or 15 mph. That means pedestrians in parking lots can't hear you coming.
The Good Lots of luxury options for a budget car
The Bad Wait lists and dealer markups push up the price
The Bottom Line Stylish silhouette says you are what you drive
It's surprisingly roomy, with more rear legroom than the Camry. The Prius is peppy enough, and the car's video game-like display encourages you to drive with a light foot, rewarding you with a green leaf symbol for every 50 watt-hours of electricity you regenerate during braking and coasting.
Many owners say they don't get the advertised fuel economy, but that's true of most cars. For the record, I drove it 332 miles, including a round trip from Los Angeles to Palm Springs, and got a respectable 51.7 mpg.
By Larry Armstrong