If you think you see the Toyota Prius everywhere, that's because it is. Sales of Toyota's most popular hybrid are continually strong, undoubtedly propelled by the lure of high fuel economy. However, more automakers have joined the hybrid movement since the Prius' introduction in 2000. Toyota has even expanded the Prius family with the Mini-Me Prius c and puffed-up Prius v.
Is the traditional Prius still on top? We took it on a road trip, and in terms of fuel economy, the answer is a resounding yes.
The 2012 Toyota Prius is EPA-rated at 51/48/50 mpg city/highway/combined. The EPA lists "unofficial MPG estimates from vehicle owners" that are a smidge higher, with an average rating of 51.6 mpg. How did this overachiever perform for me? It surpassed all of the above.
During a 324-mile trip, I drove normally and averaged 53.6 mpg. I spent about 75% of those miles at highway speeds, and the air conditioning was on during the entire trip. The hatchback was also loaded with two adults, one child and lots of weekend gear.
The Prius features several driver-selectable operating modes, and I spent most of the time in Eco mode, which alters throttle response and limits air-conditioning power to save energy. EV mode lengthens the time that the Prius will run solely on electric juice. I found that this works only at very slow speeds and for a very short distance. It also did a good job of aggravating drivers behind me. Finally, Power Mode alters throttle response in the other direction, allowing for quicker acceleration.
Part of the appeal of the Prius family is choice. The tiny Prius c offers better city gas mileage (53/46/50 mpg) in a much smaller package, and the larger Prius v offers more space without sacrificing too many precious mpgs (44/40/42 mpg).
Up next is the Prius Plug-in, which offers a promising 95 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent). It will be available nationwide next year. But for now, the plain-old Prius is still hard to beat when it comes to gas mileage.