Fifteen years ago, the redesigned Toyota Prius was the hit of the subcompact-car market. But it was a one-size-fits-all vehicle — a nice-looking 4-door hatchback that seated five and delivered incredibly high fuel economy, but wasn’t much fun to drive. Moreover, Toyota used lightweight materials to maximize fuel economy, and these plastics, fabrics and interior panels felt cheap.
Most of those deficiencies were ironed out long ago; meanwhile, Toyota now offers a Prius for almost every possible taste. While none of today’s numerous incarnations of the Prius is performance-oriented, qualities such as near-luxury, expanded cargo-carrying capacity, superior fuel economy and bargain price all can be found within the Prius line.
We got a taste of the near-luxury end of the spectrum behind the wheel of a 2018 Prius Three Touring. Priced at $31,340 and ineligible for Connecticut or federal government subsidies for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, the hybrid Prius is rated at a staggering 54 mpg in the city, 50 highway. Unlike the Prius Prime we drove earlier this year, it did not have a plug-in feature that enables some versions of the Prius to run up to 25 miles on electricity alone.
In addition to great fuel economy, our Prius had 17-inch alloy wheels, blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic climate control, imitation leather upholstery, premium Entune audio system, satellite radio, navigation system, backup camera, heated front seats, push-button start, power moonroof and rain-sensing windshield wipers.
While few would consider the Prius Three fun to drive, neither is it a discouraging partner in travel. It’s small enough to thread comfortably through urban traffic, and its response to the throttle and steering wheel is consistent. The Prius’ continuously variable transmission may not transmit as much power to the front wheels as a conventional or dual-clutch gearbox, but it does its job with workmanlike efficiency. There’s plenty of legroom for tall drivers. And the seats are more comfortable than those used in previous Priuses.
Unlike many subcompacts and minicars, the Prius has a spacious rear compartment capable of taking on 24.6 cubic feet of cargo, and a maximum of more than 40 cubic feet with the rear seat lowered. For people who require more cargo-carrying capacity to go along with Prius fuel-efficiency and reliability, Toyota offered the Prius V wagon through the 2017 model year, providing up to 67.3 cubic feet of space with the back seat lowered. A crossover-style version of the Prius V reportedly is coming, possibly as early as the 2019 model year.
The Prius line includes the One, Two, Three and Four; the fuel-economy-oriented Eco; the diminutive Prius C, and the plug-in-hybrid Prime. Prices range from $21,530 for the Prius C to $33,300 for the Prius Prime Advanced. Prius models have been given Top Safety Pick status by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Despite the multiple improvements to driveability, fuel economy and interior accommodations over the years, Prius sales have declined since reaching a high of 236,665 in 2012. By 2017, annual sales had declined by more than half, and the trend has continued for 2018 despite rising fuel prices during the past year.
2018 Toyota Prius Three Touring
Engine: 1.8-liter inline Four with electric assist, 121 horsepower, 105 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: continuously variable automatic
Weight: 3,080 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Wheels: 17×7 in. alloy
Tires: P215/45R17 all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 24.6 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 46.2 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 11.3 gal.
Fuel economy: 54 mpg city, 50 mpg highway
Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline
Steven Macoy (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.