Blending Drivability and Efficiency: Part 2

So I bought a Lexus CT 200h, a veritable Prius on steroids. It came closest to meeting the objectives I set for my next car: It was as enjoyable to drive as my BMW 335i and almost as frugal as my wife’s 2010 Prius. It provided a comfortable ride with low NVH (noise, vibration, and harshness) levels.


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Blending Drivability and Efficiency: Part 1

I enjoy cars that press me into the seatback when I press the accelerator. But I also have such a passion for practicality and efficiency that most of my cars have been station wagons or hatchbacks. And, with the exception of my first car—a supercharged 1941 Graham Hollywood that could blow off Oldsmobile Rocket 88s at the Pomona drag strip—I have never owned a car that delivered fewer than 20 miles from a gallon of gas. Even my ’92 Twin Turbo Nissan 300ZX, with 300 horsepower, could do it. So could my two most recent cars, an Audi A3, with its eager 2.0-liter turbo and marvelous dual shaft transmission, and a twin-turbo BMW 335i Convertible with the entertaining folding metal roof. Some, like my 1951 Renault 4CV did a lot better.

I’ve also owned all three Prii (Toyota's official term for more than one Prius, pronounced pre-eye): 2001, 2004, and 2010 (actually, my wife, a Prius enthusiast of the first order, has claimed each as her own). They have been the fuel economy champs in our garage, of course. The classic 2004 model with a shape that lent it record-breaking aerodynamic efficiency (with a CD of just 0.26) was the most innovative and the most beautiful (yes, beautiful). The 2010 model does even better (with a CD of 0.25) and is the most mechanically and ergonomically refined Prius.

But Toyota never has seen fit to offer a truly nimble Prius on steroids—more like the hypothetical “Green Meanie” Prius I described in the February 2004 issue of Motor Trend.

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2004 Prius: Potential Green Meanie

[A slightly abridged version of this article appeared in the February 2004 issue of Motor Trend Magazine] 

Photo enhancement: Misha Young

Practical, environmentally minded car buyers have a lot to like in Motor Trend's 2004 Car of the Year, the Toyota Prius: a roomy but compact five-door hatchback packed with high-tech goodies. Its sophisticated gas-electric hybrid powerplant qualifies it as a Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle. Aided by an aerodynamic shape with a standard-setting CD of 0.26, it delivers a combined EPA estimated city-highway fuel economy of 55 mpg. 

But what about its appeal to increasing number of car enthusiasts who expect their family-haulers to accelerate briskly, handle crisply, and deliver the substantial quotient of fun they’d find in a sport sedan?

Thanks to a weight below 3,000 pounds and more power than its predecessor had—from its gas engine, electric motor, and battery—it does get to 60 mph in about the same 10 seconds as a four-cylinder Camry. But I wonder: Could a tuner’s deft hands, fertile mind, and horsepower-driven desire turn this green machine into a meaner shade of green? Might the Prius spawn a new breed of tuners, the green meanies? I think it could.

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