Many car shoppers have adopted the perspective “bigger is not better.” Even my college-age daughter, not always the most practical shopper, has decided her first car should be a hybrid or a very gas-efficient model.
As a consumer and parent who usually who pays my daughter’s gas bill, her thinking is applauded and appreciated. Even with gas taking a much needed downward turn, prices are still high enough that gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles are no longer the rage. In fact, auto manufacturers are beginning stray from SUVs.
With gas price still an over-riding theme and shoppers seeking value, here are two gas-conscious vehicles offered by Toyota in 2009.
* Prius — A good friend owns a Prius and swears by its considerable merits. The gas mileage (he claims close to 50 mpg) is fabulous, even if you don’t drive the car like my buddy, whose road habits resemble a cautious 70-year-old woman. But even the I-need-to-get-there-now driver should average around 45 mpg in this quintessential gas-electric hybrid that doesn’t require plug-in recharging.
The mid-size hatchback has other solid qualities: generous interior space, intriguing high-tech gadgets and surprisingly enough power that in everyday situations the 1.8-liter, 4-cylinder, with 132 horsepower provides acceptable performance,
The Prius delivers its best gas mileage in stop-and-go driving because it’s running in full electric mode. That’s not the case in all freeway situations.
The enviable gas mileage means Prius buyers will pay more (the 2009 model goes for $22,325), so it takes years to offset fuel savings. Yet, also feel good that hybrids are a step toward eliminating the need for gas-powered vehicles.
The Prius also has generous interior space for passengers and storage. The hatchback’s cargo space is plenty for a trip to the grocery store, even with the golf clubs aboard.
The Prius rides comfortably and steering isn’t cumbersome, giving the driver a confident road feel. The wide and flat dash allows for terrific visibility, a quality not always available in an economy car.
* Corolla — Due to the great success of the Prius, Toyota apparently is planning a gas-electric Corolla that could arrive within two years. It certainly may be an option to ponder, but the current Corolla still provides the reliability and value it always has. The compact sedan has a stylish appearance, gets good gas mileage (27-35 mpg), and is reasonably price ($17,550).
In an underwhelming redesign for 2009, the Corolla’s styling doesn’t look much different than the ‘08. The major highlight for some car buyers is equipping the optional XRS model with a 2.4-liter that offers more power (158 horsepower) than the standard version, a 1.8-liter, 4-cylinder with 132 horsepower.
Where the redesign should be more noticeably is the interior room, thanks to a wider track that provides more hip and shoulder room. Yet no lumber adjustment in the front seat could be a problem for some, and the available head room in the backseat is inadequate for taller passengers. Trunk space is less than many rivals, but the 60/40 split rear seatbacks can easily make up for the inefficiency.
The Corolla continues to deliver a smooth ride, which has always been one of its major assets. It absorbs bumps well and hugs the road effectively there should be no concern taking corners a little faster than normal. The Corolla also offers solid braking for added assurance.
FAST FACTS: 2009 Toyota Prius
Power — 1.5-liter, 4-cylinder, 76-110 horsepower; Mileage Estimates — 45 mpg (city) 48 mpg (hwy.); Standard Features — antilock brakes with brake assist, traction control, keyless entry, tilt steering wheel, touch screen and steering-wheel controls, hybrid system display, six-speaker stereo with a CD player; Warranty — Powertrain, 5 years/60,000 miles, (8 years/100,000-miles on hybrid components), Bumper-to-bumper 3 years/36,000 miles; Corrosion, 5 years, unlimited miles
FAST FACTS: 2009 Toyota Corolla
Power — 1.8-liter, 4-cylinder, 132 horsepower; Mileage Estimates — 27 mpg (city) 35 mpg (hwy); Standard Features — antilock brakes, brake assist, daytime running lights, tire-pressure monitor, tilt steering wheel, center console, power mirrors, CD/MP3 player, digital-media player connection, outside-temperature indicator; Warranty — Powertrain, 5 years/60,000 miles; Bumper-to-bumper, 3 years/36,000 miles; Corrosion 5 years/unlimited mileage.