Toyota Prius

The coolest tool I own is my Toyota Prius gas-electric hybrid car. In fact I just traded in my 2002 Toyota Prius for a new 2004 model. Some people buy these cars for the gas mileage (up to 50 mpg, depending on how and where you drive). Some buy them because they emit only 10% of the pollution of regular cars (rated as ULEV: ultra-low emissions vehicle in California). But honestly, I bought mine because I love gadgets, and the Prius is stuffed with cool gear.

The Prius has several onboard computers that regulate how the gasoline engine and electric motor work together and separately. When stopped, the car’s gasoline engine shuts down completely, leaving you in silence. When the light turns green, off you go silently until you pick up enough speed for the gasoline engine to cut in. With the right touch on the gas pedal, you can send the car into electric-only mode while driving and instantly view your MPG on the car’s centrally located “multi-display” screen.

The display screen also shows information about the climate and audio systems and, with the package that includes GPS navigation, shows a map of your location and where you’re going. The car can also talk to you, noting how far it is to the next turn on your route and reminding you with a “ding” when you’re there. The 2004 model comes with voice-activated controls for the navigation, climate controls, and audio.

The new Prius is also compatible with some Bluetooth phones, so that you can use the voice activation system to dial your cell phone without touching it, and use the car’s speakers and microphone for hands-free conversation. And the 2004 version comes with optional Smart Entry/Start system. Simply by carrying the car key in my pocket or purse, I can walk up to any car door and it unlocks when the key is near. Once inside, to start the car just press the large “Power” button on the dash, move the joystick to Drive (it’s all electronic drive-by-wire), and off you go. No keys need to be inserted.

A lot of this cool technology has been available in high end cars, but the Prius offers this magic at a bargain price. The most basic model is $20,510, a price that hasn’t changed since the 2000 models were introduced. My newest model is loaded. It’s Package #9, sometimes called “BC.” Total cost before taxes, doc fee, etc. was $25,939.

The problem is, you may not be able to get one of any variety any time soon. I ordered mine in October 2003 and it arrived in February 2004. Orders taken now will likely be filled with the 2005 model.

– Barbara Young

Toyota Prius