Toyota's Newest Boosts Prospects for Hybrid Cars

2nd generation sheds 'econobox' character. Detroit still years behind matching the technology.

Published: 25-Aug-2003

A BARBARA, Calif. — Halfway through a 250-mile drive in the 2004 Prius, I pulled into a gas station here — not because the hybrid gasoline-electric car was low on fuel, but because I was eager to top off the tank and make some mileage calculations. The new Prius quickly caught the eye of Dennis Reed, who was filling the tank of his wife's Mercedes-Benz ML430 sport utility.

As he looked over my test car, Reed said that although he had little interest in the previous, smaller Prius, he liked the larger size and sophisticated look of the second-generation hybrid sedan. "I could spring for this one," he said.

Toyota executives are hoping to hear a lot of similar reactions when the redesigned Prius goes on sale in mid-October at $19,995 (U.S)— a price that has not changed, in the United States, since the first version was introduced there in 2000. (Toyota Canada hasn't yet released the new model's price here. The current model is listed at $30,000 on its Web site).

The early Prius was obviously an economy car, with eccentric styling, mediocre driving dynamics and a tighter cabin than the less expensive Corolla. Yet while it was impractical for many one-car families, it became a cult car in Hollywood, earning places in the driveways of Cameron Diaz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Ed Begley Jr. — it even has a regular role on HBO as Larry David's daily driver in "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

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