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Sara Lacey
For Utah Rides

The question for people considering fuel-efficient vehicles is no longer whether you want to be fuel efficient, but rather how efficient do you want to be?  With new Prius family offerings from Toyota you have more choice than ever.  I still get questions about how the Prius works, so let me help sort it out and shed some light on which model may be best for you.

The 2012 Prius is the stalwart of the group, the third generation of the original Prius.  The Prius utilizes the Hybrid Synergy Drive system.  This system, simply put, charges a battery pack with energy produced when the vehicle is coasting and when it’s braking.  The Prius will use the battery to power the vehicle in low-speed situations.  Alternating between an electric motor and a combustion engine, the Pruis will allow you to use the electric motor at lower speeds and in stop and go traffic.  This saves you gas.  When the pace picks up, the 4-cylinder engine seamlessly takes over to give you the power you need when you need it.  In the 2012 Prius you can get an estimated 51/48 miles per gallon.  Interestingly, you also get a good amount of power with that efficiency and the strength of the Prius is that it is arguably the best of both worlds. Also, the Prius has a good amount of room for your family of four.  The Prius starts at $24,000.

But what if you just live close to where you work, and don’t hit the highway so much? Debuted this year is the Prius c, designed to be a city car.  It’s smaller than the Prius while still offering good passenger space.  It’s not ideal as a full-time car for large families with kids in car seats, but for my family of four with one kid in a booster it was a great errand runner, provided the errands didn’t involve trips to both Costco and the landscaping supply joint.  For families, it’s suited to school drop-off and pickup, the dry cleaners, the farmer’s market, and a low-impact trip to the grocery store.  I like to think I looked darn cute doing it in the Prius c, because my test car came in a fabulous color called Habanero.  For people without families, it’s a perfect choice to get you from point A to point B while carrying a few friends.  Still not ideal for Costco and the landscaping supply joint, but the rear seats fold 60/40 so you can get quite a bit in there.  The Prius c starts at $18,950.

Toyota has built its Prius family from scratch, and it’s neat to see how their new technology has begotten even more new technology.  Even so, what’s new seems old now with the Prius Plug-In. The Prius Plug-In now brings electricity into the mix.  Plug the Plug-In into an outlet in your garage and you will get about 11 miles on electricity only (according to the sticker, around 15 according to Toyota).  What’s cool is you can get a charge in 3 hours on a regular 120-volt outlet, and in 1.5 hours on a 240-volt outlet.  But wait, what happens when I’m out of electricity?  Then the Hybrid Synergy Drive kicks in and it drives like a Prius.  This vehicle is good for someone who likes technology, for someone who is an early adopter.  You may save money at the pump, but the entry price for the Plug-In is $32,000.  That’s a bit more than the other models, but we all know early adopters will shoulder those prices, right early adopters?

The plus side of fuel-efficient vehicles is the incentives available in your area.  Incentives include tax credits available for certain fuel-efficient vehicles, as well as access to HOV lanes and/or free parking.  Toyota lists the following resources on its website:

Internal Revenue Service: http://www.irs.gov/businesses/article/0,,id=219867,00.html

Fuel Economy.gov: http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/taxcenter.shtml

U.S. Department of Energy: http://www.afdc.energy.gov/afdc/laws/state

Hybridcenter.org: http://go.ucsusa.org/hybridcenter/incentives.cfm

National Conference of State Legislatures: http://www.ncsl.org/default.aspx?tabid=19324

Hybrid Cars: http://www.hybridcars.com/hybrid-tax-incentive

It’s fun to see how Toyota keeps expanding the Prius lineup, and fun to try all the new gadgets and systems found in the cars.  The only thing I’m now waiting for is a Prius minivan.  Toyota, are you listening?

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