2004 Toyota Prius: Wrap-up
Prius Release Me: Our long-term Toyota lets us go - and lets us down.
Published Date: 11/7/05
MILES DRIVEN (QUARTER/YEAR): 2399/16,056
FUEL MILEAGE (QUARTER/YEAR): 35.41 mpg/41.20 mpg
FUEL COST (QUARTER/YEAR): $126.98/$757.83
DAYS OUT OF SERVICE (QUARTER/YEAR): None/five
MAINTENANCE: Replaced torn visor (warranty); replaced burned-out headlamp (warranty); recalibrate ECU (warranty);
reinstall hood seal (warranty); replaced intermittent center display (warranty); three scheduled service visits ($425.93,
including 5000-mile service $76.80, 10,000-mile service $148.02, 15,000-mile service $201.11); fender flaps and
bumper repair ($334.59)
ORIGINAL STICKER PRICE: $22,949
TRADE-IN VALUE: $20,400
For most of us, the end couldn’t come quickly enough. 16,056 miles and 12 months proved a bit too much and a little too long
with the Toyota Prius.
We don’t hate the little hybrid, mind you. But as we’ve said time and again, compromise requires some give and take,
and with the Prius we simply didn’t feel it gave quite enough.
As anyone can infer from the numbers, the Prius’ last three months in our long-term fleet saw life spent in the green lane drop
precipitously, with fewer than half the road miles clocked compared to the previous quarter (at 5269 miles).
Blame can fall in part to the addition near the end of the Prius’ stay of more practical and desirable—if less environmentally conscious—long-term cars such as the Volkswagen Phaeton and Dodge Magnum R/T.
But in reality, most of us simply tired of the Toyota.
During the year we realized just 41.2 mpg with the Prius, far below the 52.61 mpg we managed in our previous hybrid long-termer,
the Honda Insight, and significantly off its reported EPA combined 55.6 mpg.
Now 41 mpg may sound like a nice, fat figure, but considering the premium one pays for all that fancy fuel-saving technology,
it would take years to recoup the difference over a standard small car of “normal” fuel efficiency.
For instance, our long-term 2001 Ford Focus ZX3 carried a sticker of just $14,290; today a comparable car would cost roughly
$15,600, or $4,910 less than a base Prius and $7,349 less than the one we specified. At $2 per gallon, the fuel costs saved
during a 15,000-mile year (we racked up just 14,401 on the Focus) would total $375.42; at $3 per gallon that figure jumps to $564.13.
Even if gas prices stay that high and you opt for the strippo Prius, it would take 8.7 years to recoup the difference.
And during those years, you would have to do without the Focus’ superior power (0 to 60 mph in 8.52 seconds) and sprightlier handling (45.1-mph slalom, 0.81-g skidpad).
Did we mention the Focus is also available with a PZEV motor (in green states, at no extra cost)?
That means it meets California’s tough Super Ultra Low Emission vehicle standards—just like the Prius.
But enough negativity; we found owners have little to complain about with their hybrid Toyotas and are, in fact, quite defensive
about their cars. Owners we heard from seem overwhelmingly happy with the economy delivered by the Prius, which, on average,
looks to be not far off from our own experience.
More so, owners feel the Prius’ over-the-road performance is fine—or better—than many other vehicles they might have considered.
One went so far as to compare it to some pretty big hitters: “I have a 2004 Toyota Prius, and it is the best, most interesting, innovative
automobile I have ever owned,” he said. “And I have owned Ferraris, Porsches and Lamborghinis.”
Most echoed that sentiment: “It’s a real car, with real applicability, adaptability, and offers just too many solutions to be ignored.
I’d buy another in a heartbeat.”
Our own experience with the Prius wasn’t without its positives. In fact, maintaining the Prius cost very little, and the problems we
encountered over the year were on par with most vehicles we churn through. The fourth quarter delivered only one problem of note
when the center display unit went belly up. Toyota had it replaced under warranty, which did not even cost us one day without the car.
Then, at 15,000 miles, we had scheduled maintenance performed, which included an oil change and tire rotation, for $201.11.
All told, routine maintenance ran just $497.97.
In terms of enjoyment, the car was almost completely bankrupt.