Review: The $37,000 Honda Accord Hybrid perfectly blends a trusty reputation with go-anywhere fuel economy

The 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid.
The 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid.

  • The 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid marks 16 years since the debut of the original hybrid Accord.
  • It gets between 43 and 48 mpg combined depending on trim, and it doesn’t need to be plugged in.
  • The hybrid starts at $26,570. My innocuous $37,435 loaner taught me blending in isn’t so bad.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

It’s an age-old question: Would you rather fly or be invisible?

You could choose invisibility, letting you be wherever you want whenever you want without the awkward task of explaining why you belong. You’d be unperceived. Unassuming. You’d simply exist and observe things you wouldn’t have otherwise. Or you could fly! You could soar wherever you wanted, wind in your face and airline fares in your rearview forever. You could see the world from a perspective few, if any, ever do. Constant catharsis.

It seems like an impossible choice. But driving a silver 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid for a week taught me that in some ways, a lot of people have already chosen. And I guess I don’t blame them.

The 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid: Electrification for the masses

Much like the Toyota Camry, the Honda Accord is a mainstay on the car market. Everyone knows what it is; everyone’s connotation of it is generally “practical and reliable.” It’s a Honda, after all. It might just outlive you.

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid
The 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid.

That reputation translates to sales: Even as SUVs squash sedans and small cars on the US market, American Honda managed to sell just under 200,000 Accords last year (that was down from 267,000 in 2019). Honda sold about 1.2 million vehicles overall in the region in 2020, meaning the Accord accounted for about a sixth of the total tally.

The Accord’s popularity isn’t new, and neither is the existence of a hybrid. The first Accord Hybrid debuted for the 2005 model year, with Motor Trend describing it as a car that “does not flaunt its hybrid status” despite its enticing features and powertrain.

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid
The 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid.

“Instead, it blends into traffic with little more than a diminutive badge to announce its ‘greener than thou’ presence,” Motor Trend wrote. Sixteen years later, that part hasn’t changed.

Details and safety ratings: High value for an average price

The 2021 Accord Hybrid comes with 212 horsepower, 232 pound-feet of torque, a continuously variable transmission, and four trims. For most car buyers, the difference between a CVT and an automatic is negligible.

The base trim, merely called the “Accord Hybrid,” starts at $26,570 and features Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, automatic on-off headlights, and 17-inch alloy wheels. The next step up is the $30,520 Hybrid EX, which adds a power moonroof, heated front seats, and a 12-way power-adjusted driver’s seat.

Trim levels for the 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid
Trim levels for the 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid. Each has 212 horsepower, 232 pound-feet of torque, and a continuously variable transmission. The base trim starts at $26,570, the EX at $30,520, the EX-L at $32,890, and the Touring at $36,440.

The $32,890 EX-L gets you all of that plus leather seats, a four-way power passenger seat, and 10 speakers instead of eight. Move all the way up to the $36,440 Hybrid Touring – which this review loaner was, plus $995 in fees to total $37,435 – and you’ll add 19-inch alloy wheels (because bigger wheels are fancier), active dampers to make the ride and suspension smoother, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and parking sensors, among other things.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the Accord Hybrid five stars in all three of its crash tests and a five-star rollover rating, while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave all versions of the 2021 Accord sedan, including the hybrid, its top crash rating in every test.

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid
The 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid.

While the LED headlights on the top three hybrid trims received IIHS’ highest of four safety ratings, the base model got the IIHS’ second-highest rating for minor visibility and glare concerns.

What stands out: The practicality you know and love

If someone in your family had a road trip car when you were a kid – the one where all of the seats were deeply broken in, where you could spend 12 hours you needed to – the Accord Hybrid feels like that car. It might be new, but it feels familiar.

But for those used to cars that rely entirely on gas, that familiarity won’t extend to its driving style. The Accord is a conventional hybrid, meaning its fuel-economy-boosting battery gets charged while driving rather than with a plug.

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid
The 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid.

The Accord Hybrid operates in EV mode on starts and at low speeds, meaning its acceleration pedal has the elastic feel of an electric car before the gas engine kicks in.

Basically, rather than the slight resistance of a typical gas pedal, you feel more like you’re pressing against a stretchy piece of gum. That makes it feel fun! And new! And fancy!

Congratulations. Welcome to our electrified future.

honda accord hybrid engine modes
A chart showing the Accord Hybrid’s engine operation, which is EV mode on starts and at low speeds.

The Hybrid’s Touring trim is also peaceful. Everything inside of it communicates a sense of relaxation: the large seats, the soft color transitions from black paneling to dark wood-look accents, the minimalist design that still features all the buttons you instinctively reach for instead of one big touchscreen from Hell, doors that close with a loud but solid thump, an interior that feels closed off from the outside world.

Adding to that sense of relaxation is a lack of wind noise. If you turn the radio off, you can hear a tiny whistle just above your head. Otherwise, it’s nonexistent.

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid
The 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid.

The steering wheel isn’t too thin or thick, and it has just enough weight when you turn it that it doesn’t feel hollow. There’s enough legroom in the front and back to haul around a few planets in the floorboard, and the sheer amount of trunk space means you’ll never really need a truck, no matter how much you tell yourself you do.

Then there’s the fuel mileage! The EPA rates the Hybrid Touring trim at 44 mpg in the city, 41 on the highway, and 43 combined. It takes a lot of driving to make a dent in the fuel gauge, which is better for both wallets and climates.

What falls short: Confusing controls

The Accord Hybrid might be a familiar car, but it comes with a lot of confusing controls.

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid
The 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid.

There’s an “EV mode” button that seems promising – why not be all EV all the time? – but when I tried to turn it on, a message told me it wasn’t available while the cabin was being heated. It didn’t tell me whether that meant seat heaters or my 79-degree climate control, so I cut both off. (Listen, we all have our preferences.)

EV mode lasted about 45 seconds before the message said battery charge was too low, which felt like more of a letdown than the button was worth. Honda describes EV mode as “electric up to a mile depending on charge, throttle input” in its press materials, but the car itself didn’t tell me that.

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid
The 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid.

The car’s messages didn’t direct me to further information or reading about what EV mode actually consisted of, which was mildly inconvenient for me since I was going to do my research on the car anyway. But it could easily discourage a normal driver from using the controls at all.

If you’re building hybrids, you want people using the more efficient modes – not ignoring them because they can’t figure out how.

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid
The 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid.

The Accord also has regenerative braking to help recharge the battery, and paddle shifters on the wheel let drivers choose just how intense they want the braking (thus charging) to be. But that setting, too, disappears after a few seconds without any explanation.

While the Hybrid Touring trim has barely any wind noise, that isn’t the case with road noise. Drive on a smooth section of pavement and you’re numb to the world around you, but hit rougher stretches and a rugged drone will bring you back to reality. The radio can cover most of the noise at a modest volume, but not get rid of it entirely.

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid
The 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid.

Fingerprints don’t mix well with the Accord’s shiny infotainment screen, which is fine if you’re like me and only use the physical controls. Its visors, visor mirrors, light gray headliner, and orange-yellow interior lights that could’ve been swapped for clean LEDs also don’t fit the classy vibe of the rest of the car; they feel pulled from something cheaper. Keep your eyes down, though, and you might not notice.

Rear passengers get seat heaters and good radio quality, but they don’t have their own climate controls – only two vents blowing the temperature preference of the people up front. And while two average-sized people can ride back there like royalty, three would be a squeeze.

center armrest in the back seat of the 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid
The center armrest in the back seat of the 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid.

The back seat also features a problem that plagued the $25,000 Honda Civic Si: a rear armrest that flops down and bounces off the seats instead of descending in a controlled movement, making it feel like a cheap afterthought.

Look, these folks already lost out on shotgun. We don’t need to make it worse with a floppy armrest.

The Accord Hybrid versus its competitors: The cheapest, but not by a lot

The Accord and Camry are longtime frontrunners in the American sedan market, but there’s also a stunning new Sonata Hybrid.

Honda accord, toyota camry, hyundai sonata hybrid
The 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid (left), 2021 Toyota Camry Hybrid (middle), and 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid (right).

The Accord Hybrid has the lowest starting price of them all at $26,570, but not by a lot – a hybrid Camry starts at $27,270, while the base hybrid Sonata runs $27,750. They’re all front-wheel drive, and the Sonata features a six-speed automatic compared to the CVTs in the Accord and Camry. The Accord leads in terms of horsepower with 212, while the Camry has 208 and the Sonata 192.

Crash ratings from the IIHS are consistent across all of the cars, but headlight ratings aren’t. While all of the Accord and Camry hybrid trims have one of IIHS’ top two ratings – “good” or “acceptable” – for their headlights, the Sonata is an iffier bet. Its $35,300 top-tier Limited trim has a “good” rating from IIHS, while its bottom two trims got the second-worst rating of “marginal.”

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid
The 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid.

Fuel economy for each varies based on trim, with the EPA rating the base Accord Hybrid at 48 mpg combined, the top-level Hybrid Touring at 43 mpg, the base Camry at 52 mpg compared to 46 mpg for the rest of the trims, and the base Sonata Hybrid at 52 mpg compared to 47 mpg elsewhere in the lineup.

Our impressions: Going with the safe choice isn’t a bad thing

The Accord Hybrid is everything your stereotypes think it is. It’s familiar. It’s comfortable. It’s the easy choice that’ll leave you worried about anything other than the quality of your car. All the while, it gets great gas mileage.

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid
The 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid.

During my week with a silver Accord Hybrid, no one noticed me. Not a single person looked in my direction. Its styling was just as subdued as any Accord’s, and its hybrid badges were more like freckles than anything. It was rolling anonymity with the benefit of fewer trips to the gas station.

In the Accord Hybrid, you’re not choosing to fly. You’re choosing to be invisible, and that’s just fine.

♦♦♦

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid
The 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid.

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid
The 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid.

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid
The 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid.

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid
The 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid.

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid
The 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid.

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid
The 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid.

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid
The 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid.

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid
The 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid.

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid
The 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid.

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid
The 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid.

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid
The 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid.

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid
The 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The $397,000 Ferrari F8 Spider combines open-air driving with impressive power and supercar speed

Review banner
Ferrari F8 Spider
The Ferrari F8 Spider, in a smashing yellow.

  • I tested a $396,994 Ferrari F8 Spider, the convertible version of Ferrari’s extremely powerful F8 Tributo supercar.
  • The F8 Spider rocks a 710-horsepower, twin-turbocharged V8.
  • The engine comes from the track-oriented 488 Pista. It’s the most powerful motor Ferrari has ever dropped into a mid-engine production car.
  • Despite mountain-moving power and blistering speed, I found the F8 Spider to be oddly soothing to drive. It’s almost too good for its own good.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

This wasn’t my first go-round with a drop-top, mid-engine prancing horse supercar based on the stupendous Ferrari 488.

In 2018, I drove the convertible, or “Spider” version of the 488 up to Lime Rock Park in Connecticut to watch non-ragtop, racing-car versions of the car circle the famous track for an IMSA event.

Since then, Ferrari has updated the 488 and changed the name to “F8 Tributo,” a reference to the potent V8 that propels the machine. I haven’t yet had a crack at the hardtop, but Ferrari did let me borrow a $397,000 example of the Spider, in a dashing “Giallo Modena” paint job, for a mere day to make a run out to the eastern tip of Long Island.

I’ll spoil the ending and let you know right now that the Ferrari was almost too good for its own good. Here’s why:

The 2020 Ferrari F8 Spider, in all its beachfront, bright-yellow glory! My test car started at $297,250. But options, options, and more options took the sticker to a hair under $397,000.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

The F8 Spider is the convertible version of the F8 Tributo, which arrived in 2019 …

Ferrari F8 Tributo
Ferrari F8 Tributo.

… to replace the 488 in Ferrari’s lineup. The F8 Tributo sported a completely redesigned front end.

Ferrari 488GTB 40
Ferrari 488.

Read the review.

I borrowed the convertible version of the 488 to take a drive up to Lime Rock Park, a legendary track in the Connecticut countryside.

Ferrari 488 Spider
Ferrari 488 Spider.

Read the review.

It wasn’t all sand and sun for the F8 Spider on my drive, which covered about 400 miles, from the New Jersey suburbs to the Montauk, on Long Island. The F8 looked gorgeous in the golden light of an East Coast sunset.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

This Ferrari has a retractable hardtop that neatly stows in a compartment behind the cockpit. It disappears in about 20 seconds.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

The most prominent new feature for the F8 Spider, as with the F8 Tributo, is an “S-duct” in the front that pipes air through the hood and intensifies downward pressure on the front wheels. It amps up downforce by 15%.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

The arrangement is more Ferrari Enzo than 458 – the 488 predecessor was noted for its elegant fascia. But there’s no debating the engineering.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

The front splitter and ducting are all intended to shape the air around the F8 for performance, but it all adds up to a beautiful industrial design, even if it errs slightly on the side of aggression.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

The “SF” shields – Scuderia Ferrari, the origin of the Italian brand, Enzo Ferrari’s racing operation – on each fender are $1,856 extra. As it turns out one of the less expensive options.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

Pop that hood and you’ll find the F8 Spider’s front trunk, or “frunk,” which offered just enough stowage for an overnight bag and a large tote. Pack lightly!

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

The drive out to Montauk found me contemplating this Hiroshi Sugimoto-esque view of the Atlantic Ocean.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

The following day, I took the Ferrari F8 Spider to the beach.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

The rear louvers vent the engine – and evoke the Ferrari F40, an iconic late-80s-early-1990s Ferrari. Although they don’t evoke it as earnestly as the Tributo.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

Here’s the F40, just so you know what I’m talking about.

Ferrari F40
Ferrari F40.

And while the prancing horse takes up some modest real estate up front, the classic Ferrari script is rendered in chrome atop the engine compartment.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

The F8’s spoiler was actually pretty low-key compared to some of the airplane lifters I’ve had riding behind me on some recent cars. It’s a nod to the F40’s signature tall wing, with a more modest spoiler wrapping around the tail lights.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

A pair of titanium exhaust pipes is $2,531. The diffuser completes the airflow efforts that commence up front.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

The dynamically-spoked, “Glossy Silver” forged wheels added $6,243 to the price tag …

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

… front and rear.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

The blue brake calipers and ventilated discs, also front and rear, combined to deliver prodigious stopping power.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

The vane on this duct is a carryover from the 488.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

The F8’s headlights are relatively straightforward, though swept-back. They’re less jewel-like in the interior complexity than some of the LED rigs I’ve seen of late.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

But they’re effective!

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

The way they shape to the fender, forming a gentle angle, is hypnotic.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

The F8 Spider is a magnificent, flowing piece of automotive design, and you can decide for yourself if the silhouette benefits or suffers from having the roof retracted. I know what my choice would be!

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

Let’s slide inside and check out that “Blu Sterling” interior.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

Even the carpeting is “Blu,” by the way.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

Ferrari invites you to never forget what you’re sitting in.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

The F8 Spider might not look that roomy, and as a two-seater, it isn’t. But because the engine is in the middle, the cabin has an open, airy quality, even with the top down. Those “Corsa” carbon-fiber racing seats are … $9,112.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

The stripes were another $1,181. Honestly, I expected the seats to be unforgiving over a few hundred miles, but they were surprisingly easygoing.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

The F8’s cabin is organized around the car’s steering wheel.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

Carbon fiber, leather, and the prancing horse, all together, as well as turn signals and just about everything one needs to operate the car.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

The famous red stop-start button, alongside the “bumpy road” button that adjusts the suspension for uneven terrain.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

The manettino is totally Formula One and allows quick switches among three drive modes. You can deactivate the traction and stability control, but don’t.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

The yellow tachometer dominates the instrument cluster.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

This small screen to the right is where infotainment happens. Shockingly, everything from Bluetooth integration to navigation to media is available, controlled using a small dashboard interface. It isn’t modern, but it’s refreshingly un-distracting.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

Cruise control is to the left.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

These long, elegant, carbon-fiber paddle shifters are so, so good.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

Otherwise, the F8’s instrumentation and controls are exceptionally minimal.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

Gotta love the key-fob holder.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

The passenger also has a digital display panel, so two can play along.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

I wouldn’t call the F8’s interior over-the-top luxurious, but it does exude a premium, handcrafted vibe just about everywhere.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

Lots of space in the glove compartment!

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

The JBL premium audio system sounded excellent (it was a $6,200 upgrade).

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

OK, the moment we’ve all been waiting for! Let’s open the hatch and have a gander at the engine – the thrumming heart of the F8.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

Here we have a 710-horsepower, twin-turbocharged, 3.9-liter V8, making 568 pound-feet of torque.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

Sending the power to the rear wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, the F8 Spider blasts through the 0-to-60 mph run in three seconds and tops out north of 210 mph.

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider

Fuel economy? Not good, maybe 15 to 16 mpg in combined highway-city driving. But while in previous Ferrari road tests I’ve usually had to make a stop at a gas station, this time around I drove from the Jersey ‘burbs to the end of Long Island and back — and hadn’t run out of gas.

So what’s the verdict?

Ferrari F8 Spider
Ferrari F8 Spider.

The F8 Spider, like the F8 Tributo, has taken the spectacular twin-turbo V8 from the 488 and via the 488 Pista, jacked the horsepower up to an impressive level. You might think that would make for a more beastly machine than the 488, which produced an already stunning 661 hp.

Ironically, it doesn’t. If anything, driving the F8 Spider is a more … dare I say, “mellow,” experience than managing the 488 Spider. Mellow is the wrong word, of course. What Ferrari’s engineers have done, along with intensifying the power, is to tweak the F8 so that it’s aerodynamic stability encourages the driver to dig into the extra oomph. 

It’s a neat trick. A reality-distortion field, even. How can the car be smoothing out and settling down, even as I compress the throttle more and more and more and watch the tach move closer to that 8,000-rpm redline? Whistling turbos, screaming exhaust, that sacred wild Ferrari sound, and yet the speed and noise induce a focused trace rather than a fearful desire to rein in the car.

To be honest, in the context of a mid-engine Ferrari, the calm is unsettling, at least initially. One can ruffle it, often considerably, simply by flicking the manettino to the “Race” setting, breaking out the foot of lead, and unleashing hell. But the metaphor of an iceberg occurred to me: I was seeing but a small piece of what the F8 had to offer. I could tell that there was much, much more.

This is the ever-present problem that manifests when 710 horsepower and Ferrari technology take to roads where the posted speed limit is something of an insult to the vehicle. Fortunately, the F8 is a pleasure to cruise in, ramping up and down the torque curve and savoring the visceral thrills of that stonking V8, the blabs and burbles of the exhaust, the whiz of the turbos, the decisive yet never technocratic nature of the transmission when paddle-shifting the gears.

The convertible makes the whole experience all the more satisfying, especially if you have a medium-warm, early summer sunsplashed day and some winding country roads to wend and wind around, finessing the F8’s power and engaging the quick yet solid steering, safe in the knowledge that the superb brakes and fat sticky tires will keep you out of trouble.

A few hours of this and I found myself able to — I kid you not — meditate on the machine. “F8… F8… F8,” became my mantra. I explored subtle subtexts. Delved into the magical balance of monumental horsepower and punishing torque with beauty and Italian verve. With the wind whipping through my straw hat. 

In the end, the F8 Spider was almost too good for its own good. I expect Ferrari sports cars to be more challenging. I crave it. Even if I can’t tap the fully wild, I want that shivering glimpse. This time around, however, I was more soothed than intimidated. This was more a function of the F8 Spider being constrained by normality than any evasion of its nature. And I knew at any time I could throw a switch and summon mad urges.

But for hundreds of miles, in a Ferrari supercar, I was utterly at peace.

Read the original article on Business Insider

REVIEW: The 2021 Prius proves that after 20 years, Toyota’s game-changing hybrid is still a masterpiece

Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius

  • I tested an approximately $31,000 Toyota Prius 2020 Edition, from the 2021 model year.
  • The stalwart hybrid was jazzed up with some cool blacked-out exterior and interior features, but it’s still the same old Prius under the hood: a glorious piece of automotive engineering.
  • Two decades after its arrival on the scene, the Prius continues to make good on the promise of stupendous fuel economy — 52 mpg combined! — and a relaxing, money-saving, low-emission lifestyle.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Every auto journalist has a car they love beyond all measure: ancient Bugattis, unruly Lamborghinis, elegant Aston Martins, cult-classic Acuras, beat-down old pickups, off-roading SUVs, suave Alfa Romeos, peppy Miatas, the singularly brilliant Porsche 911, and oh so many Ferraris. Always the Ferraris.

Me, I carry a torch for the Toyota Prius.

DeBord Prius
Me and my 2011 Prius.

I’ve been justifiably ridiculed for this, but it’s not as though my affection springs from inexperience: I drive pretty much every great vehicle that comes out each year, and I’ve owned groovy old Buicks, a runty Mazda pickup, a Saab 900, a first-generation Miata, a Volvo 240 from the 1980s, and a happy assortment of Japanese sedans and minivans. 

Looking back, I can safely say that while I enjoyed all those rides (I actually cried when I sent the Saab to its final reward), my 2011 Prius is the machine I admire most. 

Toyota last year debuted a special “2020” edition of the car to celebrate it, distinguished by some groovy paint colors and a few commemorative touches. (It was one of 2,020 2020 Editions built – get it?) It sells for about $31,000, and I borrowed it for a week to see if it could spark anew my Prius captivation. 

Of course, it did. 

A work of genius

Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius

I grew up in a family of engineers and from an early age, with the value of technical innovation and elegant solutions to big problems was drilled into me. The basic idea was that you wanted to do the most with the least, avoiding elaborate, Rube Goldberg-style contraptions but not shying away from complexity if an intricate system was the best way to go.

The Prius has always been emblematic of this. The problem to be solved was really threefold: reduce tailpipe emissions to improve air quality; increase fuel economy to conserve what was in the late 1990s thought to be a finite resource whose reserves were dwindling; and provide an economic proposition to consumers who would lower their annual fuel costs.

Toyota worked on the problem for a decade and spent billions. But the results have been stupendous, as the carmaker sold more than 6 million Prius vehicles of assorted types over 20 years. When I lived in Los Angeles between 2004 and 2014, I saw dozens of the hybrid-electric works of genius very day. 

Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius

Each of them had Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive under the hood, a “parallel” hybrid drivetrain that can combine gas and electric propulsion, and that in some versions can run on electric power alone.

The system executes an intricate choreography and is far from simple, but the upshot is a versatile four-door hatchback and a reasonable price with outstanding reliability, minimal emissions, and fantastic MPGs.

Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius

My tester 2020 Edition Prius wore a Supersonic Red paint job, but a new Wind Chill Pearl option is available. The 20th-anniversary details include special floor mats and a black detail kit for the exterior, with sharp 17-inch wheels and what Toyota calls “blackout” trim. The shifter was also blacked out, as were the interior vents. 

The red and the black made for a rather aggressively styled Prius when contrasted with my blue 2011. Inside, my tester sported a black interior, which I considered a pleasing alternative to the space-age white than I savored the last time I reviewed the vehicle.

Still delivers on the MPGs

Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius

The hybrid drive has evolved, but it remains based on a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine yoked to a pair of electric motors. It yields a total output of 121 horsepower and 120 pound-feet of torque, sending power to the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission.

The fuel economy is impressive: 50 mpg on the highway, 54 mpg in the city, and 52 mpg combined. As a Prius owner, I can attest that this powertrain requires an occasional intervention to maintain the batteries, but otherwise, I’ve endured nary a moment of grief in the six years I’ve had my car.

Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius

Technology? The Special Edition has a suite of driver-assist and safety features, but it isn’t a precursor to a self-driving future in the same way it heralded the arrival of the hybrid era two decades ago.

The infotainment setup is … adequate. Toyota isn’t known for great infotainment systems, and the modest, seven-inch touchscreen framed with buttons would strike many car buyers as outdated. It gets the job done – Bluetooth, USB, navigation – however, and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available as fallbacks.

Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius

Your capacity to consider the Prius a joy to drive is a function of your imagination. Because, objectively, the Prius isn’t fun to drive, even with “Power” mode engaged (it intensifies the throttle response, mainly, and makes the car noisier during its 10-second meander to 60 mph).

The suspension is light and jittery, and despite an impressive 0.24 drag coefficient, the slipstream of air around the vehicle at speed is a tad distracting. 

Saves money! And the planet!

Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius

The Prius shines, as it always has, when “Eco” mode is on and you’re tooling around town. (There’s also an “EV” mode for brief, low-speed, battery-only transit). Tooling around is where you kill your fuel economy in a traditional car, since the internal-combustion engine is inefficient when puttering.

The Prius’s scale, cargo capacity, and easy steering make everything from parallel parking to Costco jaunts a thoroughgoing pleasure. The fuel gauge barely moves. I’ve sort of given up on running the gas out of one of these things during my usual weeklong tests. Heck, in my own Prius, fill-ups happened only about every other month.

Basically, you’re just saving money, man! Who gives a hoot about whether you can hang with the speed demons?

Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius

I never forget this when slipping behind the wheel of a Prius (and in my 2020 Edition, that wheel was heated, as were the seats). And because of that, a sense of tranquility washes over me. The instrument cluster is to the right of my line of sight, so all I have in front of me is sharply sloped windshield and road. 

This is the Prius Life, and even in snazzy red and black – even after 20 years – it’s as relaxing as ever.

Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius

Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius

Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius

Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius

Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius

Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius

Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius

Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius

Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius

Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius

Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius

Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius

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