The Toyota Prius has long been one of the most popular hybrids in the U.S.

Toyota Motors USA

The Toyota Prius has been one of the best-selling hybrid gas-electric car models of the past decade. What is the Prius and what makes it so popular with eco-friendly drivers? In a nutshell, the Prius is a full hybrid with a gasoline-powered engine and a battery-powered motor. The car can travel on battery power alone at speeds of up to about 42 miles per hour (68 kilometers per hour) before the gasoline engine kicks in. The electric motor can also assist the gasoline engine with acceleration, and the regenerative braking system recharges the car's batteries.

The Prius has a long and storied history for such a cutting-edge vehicle. It was first introduced to the world in Japan in October 1997, and it went on sale in its home country that December. The Prius didn't reach U.S. dealerships until July 2000 (for the 2001 model year), but it quickly became a Hollywood hit. Celebrities bought the eco-car in droves, despite the first generation Prius' jerky ride, and the hybrid gained cachet among green drivers.

In that first year, the car won a slew of awards:

  • Greenest Gasoline-powered Passenger Sedan in the U.S. (American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy)
  • Best-Engineered Car of 2001 (American Society of Engineers)
  • 10 Best Engines for 2001 (Ward's Auto World magazine)
  • Best Compact Cars (EPA's 2001 Fuel Economy Guide)
  • Reader's Choice for Eco Cars (WomanMotorist.com)

The much-improved second-generation Prius came to the U.S. in 2003. This is the version we know best, with its short, sloped hood and nearly vertical rear. The hybrid system was vastly improved to provide a better ride and quicker acceleration. Toyota announced advent of the Touring Edition in 2007. The next generation of the Prius, with further refinements, goes on sale in June 2009.

Toyota has sold over a million Priuses worldwide since its introduction. While many cars come in different variants -- base, sport, touring, EX, and the like -- the Prius has had only two, the base model and the Touring Edition. In the automotive world, the word "touring" usually denotes a car that has a few more amenities to improve the driving experience, and the Prius is no exception.

So, what are the differences between the Prius and the Prius Touring? Let's see what the Touring's got that the regular Prius doesn't.