Playing With the Prius

by wjw on March 14, 2009

While I’ve been sorting out my car situation, I’ve been renting a Prius. I didn’t ask for one, but Hertz was short on cars that day and gave it to me anyway.

I considered a hybrid when I was looking for a car last year, but I decided against it. I live far out in the country, and almost all my driving is on the highway. Most of the gas-saving benefits of the hybrid occur during stop-and-go city driving, and I don’t do so much of that. Though if we move back to the city, we’ll definitely get a hybrid or electric.

For an mostly well-designed car, the Prius has a very clunky interface. It took me the longest time, cursing and sweating in the Hertz parking lot, to figure out just how to get it into gear— and it only has two gears, forward and reverse. (Turns out you have to have your foot on the brake whenever you shift. This is not an intuitive thing with me— I’m used to pressing a clutch instead, and with the other foot.)

A few of my other expectations required adjustment. As I accelerated, I kept expecting it to shift, and of course it doesn’t do that. You can keep accelerating forever without pause, so far as the Prius is concerned, right up to the limits of the machinery. (I don’t find this a bad thing.)

Certain of the parts seemed cheaply made. The CD player didn’t work. The arrangement of the trunk area didn’t seem well thought out, and the parts seemed cheap to me.

It didn’t seem possible to get the fan to blow outside air without actually turning on the AC. Eventually I just opened a window. Why this silly design feature?

But the actual driving was a lot more fun than I anticipated. The Prius is quicker off the mark than I would have expected, quite decent acceleration really. It zipped up to 80mph without a hesitation or a murmur of complaint. The ride was pleasing, and the driver sits up high to get a good view.

And the real fun was the TV display that gives you a constant readout of your mileage. Even on the highway, where the car is less efficient, I was doing over 40mpg. In town was better.

And when you’re going downhill, or braking, you can watch your fuel efficiency hit the 100mpg mark, which is as high as the display goes.

I was liking this car, and I didn’t really expect to.

Though I’m not actually going to buy one. Yet.

Slothman March 15, 2009 at 12:39 am

You can operate the fans without the A/C by going to the Climate control panel on the video display (at least on my 2005 model) and explicitly turning off the A/C and tweaking the Fan settings. That may prevent you from using the really convenient temperature control buttons on the steering wheel that go with the A/C AUTO button.

Lance Larka March 15, 2009 at 5:48 pm

We have a 2004 Prius and love it. We routinely drive from Northern Alabama to Washington DC and back. aprox 704 miles (no, we don’t do this often at all 🙂

We get an average of 47mpg on this route and for about half of the trip we’re in the 70-80 MPH range.

My favorite feature of the display isn’t the average MPG it’s the current MPG. Our Prius trained us real fast on how to minimize the fuel usage.

Oddly enough our in-town MPG is usually 42-43 MPG. Probably a result of having to rapidly accelerate to avoid the abysmal drivers around here. 🙂

But we are seriously thinking of buying the battery and plug upgrade as soon as the warranty expires. I’ve heard that in-town MPG tops 100.

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