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Consumer Reports: Prius Still Most Fuel Efficient

October 08, 2009

The redesigned Toyota Prius remains the most fuel-efficient car consumers can buy at 44 mpg overall according to Consumer Reports' latest tests. The Prius has been CR's Top Pick for Green Car in the Annual Auto Issue for the past six years and the redesigned model received a Very Good Road Test score of 80 in Consumer Reports' November issue.

Long the standard-bearer for hybrid cars, the new third-generation Prius has several small improvements. A firm, steady ride, a better driving position, and improved rear seating are pluses. Highway fuel economy has improved to 55 mpg from 50 mpg, in Consumer Reports' own fuel economy tests, but city mileage has dropped to 32 mpg from the 35 mpg of its predecessor.

"The redesigned Prius has several small improvements," said David Champion, senior director of CR's Auto Test Center in East Haddam, Conn. "It feels more substantial to drive, and still gets great fuel economy."

Instead of testing a group of competing vehicles for the November issue, CR featured tests of several new and redesigned vehicles that are hot off the magazine's test track. In addition to the Prius, this issue also includes the redesign of the Chevrolet Equinox small SUV; the small, boxy Nissan Cube wagon; the redesigned Subaru Outback wagon; and the Chrysler-based Volkswagen Routan minivan.

The redesigned Chevrolet Equinox, which received a Very Good road test score of 69, is much improved over the previous version and offers a spacious interior for the money. It's now competitive in its category, although it's not on par with the category leaders, the Toyota RAV4 and Subaru Forester, it does offer a spacious SUV for the money. The Subaru Outback's redesign brings a quieter cabin and more rear seat and seat cargo space. It received a Very Good road test score of 79. The Nissan Cube received a Good road test score of 64 and is a space-efficient runabout, but overall it's not up to par with the similar Scion xB and Kia Soul boxy wagons. The Volkswagen Routan is essentially a rebadged Chrysler minivan with some modifications and received a Good road test score of 65.

Prices ranged from $36,215 for the Routan to $16,790 for the Cube. Above average reliability is predicted for the Prius and Outback. Both the Equinox and Cube are too new to have reliability data for CR to recommend them. Although the Routan is also too new to have reliability data, the Chrysler Town & Country, on which it is based, had below average reliability and CR expects the Routan to be the same. CR only recommends vehicles that have performed well in its tests, have at least average predicted reliability based on CR's Annual Car Reliability Survey of its more than seven million print and web subscribers, and performed at least adequately if crash-tested or included in a government rollover test.

Full tests and ratings of the vehicles appear in the November issue of Consumer Reports, which goes on sale October 6. The reports are also available to subscribers of Updated daily, is the go-to site for the latest auto reviews, product news, blogs on breaking news and car buying information.

Handling on the Prius is sound, but unexceptional and the ride is well controlled overall. The Toyota Prius IV ($26,750 Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price as tested) is powered by a 134-hp, 1.8- liter 4-cylinder engine and separate electric motor that provides adequate acceleration, but works hard while merging on the highway or climbing hills and gets 44 mpg overall in CR's own fuel economy tests. The continuously variable transmission is very smooth. Braking is Very Good. The interior is well assembled and most panels fit together well. Cargo space beneath the rear hatch is reasonably good, and the 60/40-split rear seatbacks fold down to extend it farther.

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