Friday, September 26, 2008
Prissy Prius Extended Test Drive
I was traveling on business this week and when I arrived to collect my rental car what should I find waiting for me but a Toyota Prius. Now I've had my doubts about these vehicles, including whether they really are so good for the environment, so I welcomed the chance to get some first-hand experience with one.
First, I stowed my small roll-on and computer backpack in the trunk. This isn't a separate compartment from the rest of the car, just a space with a retractable cover. I found that this small amount of luggage took up most of the available space there. It isn't very long from front to back and as far as height goes, there is maybe a foot with the cargo cover in place. It would be difficult to get a couple of larger bags in and still hide them from prying eyes.
After stowing my bags, I got in and found the "key," which is really just the remote fob that fits into a slot on the dash. To actually turn the engine(s) on, you push a "Power" button on top of the dash. I pushed once and the central information screen came on. I had to push a second time to get the instrument display to come up. I then proceeded to put my foot on the brake and release the parking brake, then attempted to shift into reverse. Nothing. It shifted to neutral and wouldn't do anything else. I put it back in park by pushing the Park button then tried again. Still no go. I pushed the power button again and the car turned off so I pushed it once more to re-activate the displays and then, quite by accident, discovered that if I pushed it twice more in rapid succession, I could shift into reverse. This whole operation took me close to ten minutes (Note to self: If you ever take it into your head to rob a a bank or something, do not use one of these as a getaway car.).
Finally mobile, I drove on out of the garage. The car's acceleration is actually quite good, all that torque from the electric motor I suppose, and steering is pleasant and predictable. Over the course of four days I did a mix of freeway and local street driving, most of it the latter. The car was pleasant to drive and once I figured out the quirkiness of starting up, mostly like any other car.
The moment of truth for the Prius came when I topped off the fuel prior to returning the car. The big selling point of the Prius is its fuel efficiency when compared to a car with a conventional power plant. So, how did it do? I drove 120 miles from the time I picked up the car to the time I refueled it. I put 3.47 gallons in the tank. That works out to 34.58 miles per gallon. My conventionally powered Honda Civic gets 33 and cost roughly $5,000 less than a Prius. It also has a larger trunk. The cabin may be slightly smaller, but not really noticeably so to me. With this kind of price difference, the fuel efficiency would have to be a great deal better than what I experienced to justify the cost differential over a conventionally powered car because it will take an awful lot of high-priced gas not used to make up $5,000. The Civic also starts and is ready to go as soon as I turn the key and put it in gear. The Prius was fun for a few days but I don't think I'll be buying one for myself.