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Toyota Prius still dominates U.S. hybrid market, with good reason

Published: Friday, June 6, 2014 3:54 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, June 6, 2014 3:58 p.m. CDT

We may be trying to convince ourselves otherwise, but gasoline prices do not seem to be leveling off going into the summer months. Quite the opposite, the trend remains upward.

You can procrastinate till the cows come home, cut back on needless driving trips to conserve fuel, or simply pay the higher price and trim the budget elsewhere.

But if your goal is to look for alternative transportation, there are more options than ever before. For example, find the nearest Tesla dealer and boycott gasoline altogether for a handsome price or pick an affordable hybrid and cut fuel bills in half.

If the latter solution is appealing, I can attest to the new Prius being almost everything a consumer could want in a small sedan. For 2014, the 11-year-old Prius continues with its dominance in the hybrid market outselling nearly all the competition combined.

There are other good models vying for a slice of the hybrid pie including the Ford C Max, Chevy Volt, Honda Civic and Ford Fusion, although the Prius remains atop the pile for fuel savings.

Nearly a quarter million were sold here last year, so it’s little wonder you see this car coming and going. I drove the popular C hatchback model. Prius also can be ordered as a wagon or plug-in hybrid.

With 50-plus miles per gallon, this miserly sedan can be dressed up to meet your appetite in four trim levels, but even the base car comes with a plethora of standard equipment including touchscreen display, Bluetooth, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, six-speaker sound, cruise control and keyless entry.

Prices range from the mid-twenties to -thirties with dynamic cruise control, high-tech options and tricked out exterior trim available.

What I liked best about the Prius is its overall ride, comfort and roominess. While no racer, pickup is adequate and highway cruising is quiet. A CVT transmission makes the journey smooth while its four-cylinder engine cuts in and out seamlessly with pedal demand.

The Four model I tested came with nearly all options including navigation, an upgraded JBL audio system, Sirius radio and data services for three years. The base Two, Three and Five trim levels round out Prius C offerings.

A heads-up display and upper tier digital dash contain all the vitals needed, including a graphic showing your “green” factor in the form of miles per gallon. Fuel economy is as advertised with 50 mpg overall in regular traffic situations.

Even better fuel economy can be had with little effort. For example, I tested mileage on a level interstate for 60 miles at 60 mph and achieved 58 mpg. Hilly terrain and an aggressive pedal also will decrease fuel economy into the 40s.

If fuel economy doesn’t tip the scale for you, consider the Prius solar-powered roof ventilation option that keeps the interior cool on warm days while the rest of the crowd is awaiting a steamy interior.

• Len Ingrassia is an automotive writer for Shaw Media. Email him at lenscarcorner@ptd.net.

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