Passion of the Prius

Socal Trip 2006. Julie, Federman, Alana, Myself. Gallery here.

We rented a prius from operated by fox rent-a-car. The price appeared to be comprable to Alamo’s best rate on a midsize, but upon arrival they inform you of some bogus add-on for insurance in cali – $80. I’d have to find out concretely if it was the same deal at alamo or not.

Our prius was a serious endeavour for me – can i go green for the next car lease? my lease expires this fall and i itended for this to be an extended test drive. First impressions have already been made. I test-drove a prius in the winter months from downtown toyota on front st. I went on the gardiner and i was impressed with how the car merged and acheived highway worthy speeds. Since then i have googled the prius a couple times and read about people who learn how to drive ‘prius style’.

I got in the car at fox, and pressed power, and the dash lit up, but no business shifting into drive? Finally i saw a ‘ready’ light and put it into D. Federman and I drove back around to LAX to pick up the ladies, waiting with our luggage. The first thing we all noticed – not as much luggage room as it it would seem from such a bubbly car. Decent though, and with a stacking of bags (leaving some room to see in the rearview) we got it all in and slammed the trunk down on it. I used to the funny dash shifter and put it in drive but again, the car wasn’t ‘ready’. I pushed power a bunch of times, on and off, and finally it said ready and i shifted into D. It would be another 5 starts before i figured out it required my foot on the brake during the power-up process to make the car ‘ready’ for shifting.

We hopped out on the highway, i was very impressed with the comfort of the ladies in the rear seat. My seat was back in typical cash style, and the girls had a realistic 10-12 inches of legroom downright impressive. The girls first noticed a spray of what could have been vommit or food on the ceiling and later we noticed this:

Overall impression of the car was a 70/100 – a solid B (in canadian grading). Everyone who sat in the backseat complained about vibration, both up and down (possible shotty rental car suspension) and more importantly from side to side. The shape of this aerodynamic bubble car may have a really good drag co-efficient but it bounces from side to side a lot. The wind catches the car from the sides and pushes it around on the highway – but no more so then i would imagine a toyota matrix feels like. The cornering was also subpar. I drive a tight-suspension car, and i adjust my driving while driving parents or julie’s car – but this car was on a whole other level. It always seemed like it would enter the corner with confidence, but then the body roll was so intense it threw passengers in the vehicle – i’ve driven minivans that handle better then the prius in the corners.

With that criticism out of the way – the front seat passenger and myself were constantly amazed by the display of energy flow. Because of the hilly terrain of both the interstates and main streets there was a great deal of variety in the use of energy in the car. Sometime when a drive consisted of more downhill then uphill, the car actually produced more energy then it consumed from the battery. The battery was constantly being filled up by the many downhill segments of roadway. In traffic on the interstate travelling at speeds of 0-12mph the car ran purely on battery – making a 30 minute stall in traffic consume no fuel whatsoever – this is when the technology really shines.

After learning how the energy consumption charting worked it quickly became evident how the prius achieves its rate of miles per gallon. Basically by my estimation the car has three distinct fuel consumption patterns: the first would be merging / driving as if you didn’t have a hybrid (flooring it!) It gets 12-18mpg in the mode which is usually short lived until you achieve your speed. Under normal cruising conditions say 75mph the car achieves about 25-35mpg. But as you easy off the gas on a big downhill stint or just cruise to a red light, the car gets 99mpg – it doesn’t really get 99mpg but that is what the display shows. While a normal car would consume gas while running through a downshift, this car uses the alternator to resist as you slow down to a red light – it uses no fuel during this time. So, with all that said the three modes of driving for me (who drove quite aggresively off the line for a prius) was 42.9mpg over about 820 miles.

Interesting sidenote – i may be wrong but i sensed that the alternator and engine shut-off was an intellegent system. Lets say i was going 77mph over the crest of a hill, and a normal car would require braking based on the 3% downgrade to maintain 77mph. As soon as i took my foot off the gas and let the engine shut off, the car seemed to maintain my speed within 1-2mph on its own – so it resisting the right amount to maintain my speed while using a % of the energy to charge the battery, but not all of it. I plan to ask a toyota engineer this question in the future to verify.

Overall Grade: B
Recommendation: Great for a Grandparent, lots of room, really efficient, makes them look cool.


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