The Nuts And Bolts Of The Prius

Like other hybrids currently available or in development, the Prius combines a petrol engine with an electric motor. Different hybrid vehicles employ this combination of power sources in different ways to boost both fuel efficiency and power. The Prius runs on only the electric motor when starting up and under initial acceleration. At roughly 15 mph, the petrol engine kicks in. This means that the auto gets power from only the battery at low speeds, and from both the petrol engine and electric motor during heavy acceleration.

Once up to speed, the petrol engine sends power directly to the wheels and, through the generator, to the electric motor or battery. When braking, energy from the slowing wheels—energy that is wasted in a conventional car—is sent back through the electric motor to charge the battery. At a stop, the petrol engine shuts off, saving fuel. When starting up and operating at low speeds, the auto makes no noise, which seems eerie to some drivers and to pedestrians who don't hear it coming!

The Prius first sold in the United States in the 2001 model year. It was a small, cramped, slow compact car with a dull design. Three years later, the second-generation Prius benefited from a modest power increase. But it was still anything but a muscle car. However, there were countless other improvements. The sleek, Asian-inspired design was much better looking than the first generation Prius and came in seven colors. The interior was roomy and practical, with plenty of rear leg room and gobs of storage space.

The Gen II Prius also provided expensive touches typically found only in luxury vehicles. A single push button brought the car to life. A seven-inch energy monitor touch screen displayed fuel consumption, outside temperature, and battery charge level. It also indicated when the car was running on petrol, electricity, regenerated energy, or a combination of these. Multiple screens within the monitor also provided controls for air conditioning, audio, and a satellite navigation system. And whereas the first Prius averaged an astounding 5.60 liters per 100 kilometers, its successor did even better at 4.90.

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