This Is Why Toyota Sells so Many Prii

2012 Prius v

As with any good carnival, there were rides aplenty at the 2012 Chicago auto show … and Toyota had a huge section of floorspace reserved for guests to hop into the passenger seat of a 3rd-gen Prius, Prius v, or a Camry hybrid and experience the hybrid magic at work. Fellow Gas2 writer Jo Borras and I took advantage of some “massive” announcement that had nothing to do with hybrid or electric anything (it was a new Shelby Mustang – Ed.) to hop into Toyota’s hybrids for a quick spin.

The Camry

The all-new-for-2013 Camry looks like a Camry. Which is quite handy, since that’s exactly what it’s supposed to look like. They’re all over, and the new one will blend right in (Jo had to tell me we were in a new one, that’s how much it retains the “Camry” flavor). The hybrid has a 2.5 liter 4-cylinder gasoline-powered engine (156 HP) and a 105 kW AC electric motor, that work together to give a combined EPA rating of 41 mpg.

Once we got into the Camry, the brightly lit display in the center of the dash proudly showed off the gas engine, the electric motor, and the batteries, along with little arrows connecting all three elements. As the (politely informative) Toyota employee took us around the very short track, the display showed how the electric motor drives the car at slow speeds, the gas engine kicks in at high speeds, and regenerative braking recharges the batteries. It is entirely possible that were I to actually drive one of these, I would crash it because I was watching the display instead of the road. (I’m easily distracted, please don’t take that as a comment on the drivability of the car!!)

The other main difference between the hybrid and standard Camry is of course the trunk space playing host to the batteries. One seat folds down and there’s a pass-through, so if you buy something in a narrow box at IKEA you’re good to go. The 2012 was supposedly redesigned for more space than the 2011, though, so that’s another point in its favor.

Final impression of the Camry hybrid? I liked it!

The Prius v

We also hopped into a Prius v, with another perky and informative Toyota employee in the driver’s seat. It’s easy to see why the Prius outsells every other hybrid in the United States (even if you’re not thinking about how reliable it is, which is very). It’s not necessarily a pretty car (it looks kind of buggy to me), but it was really comfortable to ride in. A very short list of cars stood out as something I would be happy to climb into for five minutes or five straight hours, and the Prius was one of them.

We had the same display in the Prius v as in the Camry, which – as I failed to mention above – also had nifty little back-up cameras. Both cars will tell you as your back end approaches an obstacle. I approve of this wholeheartedly. We didn’t engage the gasoline engine in the Prius, either, but we did note that despite having been driven around the track (admittedly, at super low speeds) all day, the batteries were still in pretty good shape.

No trunk space is sacrificed in the Prius v either – the back seats fold down completely and the entire contents of a college kid’s dorm room minus furniture could be crammed into the back (probably). Toyota has gotten it right. Full points on correctly placing the batteries, Toyota, really well done there. The back seats on the third generation Prius also fold down, so that actual things can be fit into the trunk. The plug-in hybrid, though, has the same issue as many other hybrids – just a narrow pass-through. Check out the v (seriously, I love this):

One final (not specifically green but pretty awesome) option available on every Prius is the hands-free parallel parking feature. Engage option, drive past parking place, tap icon on screen – and the car will parallel park for you. I am the worst parallel parker I know. I want this.

We did not get a chance to ride in the Prius c, as it was not part of the ride-along experience. We were told that the floor model was driven into the building, so it’s fully functional. And actually rather cute.

Final impression of the Prius? All of the other automakers trying to dislodge it from the market definitely have their work cut out for them … and the v version is even more “real-life” friendly than the vanilla version.

Questions or opinions? Heading to the show yourself? Let us know in the comments below the gallery.  PS – note the shiny sticker on the plug-in hybrid. Sadly, it does come off.

Source | Images: Chicago Auto Show.

Charis Michelsen

spent 7 years living in Germany and Japan, studying both languages extensively, doing translation and education with companies like Bosch, Nissan, Fuji Heavy, and others. Charis has a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and currently lives in Chicago, Illinois. She also believes that Janeway was the best Star Trek Captain.