I just drove a Prius

As you may have spotted, I’m not much of a fan of cars. Oh sure, modern western society relies on them, but far too much. But even in my version of suburban utopia, they’d be there by neccessity for some people and some trips.

So given they’ll always be around, it makes sense for them to be as economical as possible. To leave the lightest footprint possible.

Toyota PriusThe poster-child for the new breed of hybrid cars is the Toyota Prius. A friend just got one (company car) and I got to take it for a quick drive this morning. It seemed surprisingly roomy inside given its size, which is probably down to the much reduced space taken by the mechanics. And while some have complained about the Prius’s performance, I found it pretty zoomy, better than my aging 15-year-old Magna, and probably on par with most newer “non-high-performance” vehicles.

(“High performance” seems like a misnomer, when they use so much more fuel to get from A to B. I guess they’re really good at producing noise and pollution; that’s what makes them “high performance”.)

The controls are a bit freaky: key that works like an access card; a computer-like power button; a handbrake that’s operated by your foot; a joystick-like gearstick (but no Fire button, alas). There’s various touch-screens and digital read-outs to control it all.

How quiet it is when you’re not moving is freakily-quiet, too. That’s because it doesn’t bother wasting energy standing still, unlike the rest of the cars on the road.

And it’s got a cool distinctive design that says “Hey all you petrol slurpers! Suffer in your jocks paying $60 to fill your tank! Behold, my Prius!”

I really enjoyed the short spin. I reckon it’s a great idea for anybody who does the bulk of their driving in the city, especially in heavy traffic. Cars like this don’t help with congestion, but they do go some way to reducing emissions.

And then I took my own car to the petrol station. And paid $60 to fill up the tank.

“So why don’t you get one, Daniel?” you might ask. “Since you’re so into pushing sustainable transport.”

The cost, that’s why. These things cost $37K or more new. Given how little driving I do, I can’t justify or afford it.

Give it 5 or 10 years, when the technology’s even more efficient, and cheap (and my own car starts to fall apart) and it may be the way to go.

Then again, I may be getting around exclusively by bicycle, foot and Metcard by then.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

10 replies on “I just drove a Prius”

Hybrids are excellent for city crawl. At the moment, diesels tend to get you better fuel economy elsewhere. I’m seriously considering a diesel for my next vehicle and give the hybrids another generation or so.

I, however, applaud people who go that way, as nothing will encourage them to make better hybrid cars than people buying them.

The only problem with hybrid cars is that they are designed to be the family’s SECOND car – not replace the family car. You can’t, for instance, load up a hybrid with family and gear and head down to the Prom for two weeks. That journey needs a long-range (petrol fueled) vehicle.
However, for those families that HAVE to have TWO cars, a hybrid and a “family vehicle” is better than two guzzlers.
Or am I talking thru’ my a…?

Two issues there Roger… capacity and range. I guess at the moment the hybrids are generally lighter, smaller, aerodynamic vehicles because the technology hasn’t matured enough for them to power bigger vehicles like stationwagons etc. But range shouldn’t be a problem — Wikipedia page says that a Prius with a 45 litre tank will go for 1000km before needing refueling. (They don’t need charging from an external electricity source.)

Another factor in the replace vs keep argument is the energy and resources used in manufacturing new cars (and disposing the old car).

If this is a high proportion of the car’s total energy use (which it might be if it’s not driven much) then its life-cycle footprint would be bigger, not smaller, than keeping an existing car.

I think a diesel Golf is a better buy at the moment if you want a car that size and intend to do any outer urban or country driving in it. Cheaper ($23,000) and lower country fuel consumption.

As an unapologetic car nut, I find the Prius interesting from a technical point of view, and applaud its new technology and eco-friendliness, but I don’t find myself wanting to drive that sort of car just yet.

Like most Toyotas, it’s an excellent A to B appliance, albeit an expensive one, but all reports suggest that it isn’t much to drive, and it certainly won’t do it for you if you’re a driving enthusiast.

I also object to the fact that it’s a separate model – while it might be nice for some people to want to shout their environmental credentials from the rooftops by driving a Prius, I would rather Toyota concentrated on building a Corolla or Camry hybrid that looked like a regular car but had the new technology. So I think Honda’s approach with the Civic Hybrid is the way to go.

Ideally, I would like to see a hybrid car in something approaching a Commodore size. In fact, for me, if there was a Commodore-sized Hybrid powered by a small-capacity V8 engine (simply for the sound – the economy and performance would be the same as a similarly-sized four or six) and hybrid technology, that would be just the ticket. As it is, there’s nothing yet to make me want to buy a hybrid car.

The hybrid for people who enjoy driving will come, I have no doubt about that – but Toyota won’t be the people to build it, just as they aren’t the people building cars for enthusiasts today.

Whilst I feel that the Prius (and most hybrids) are a worthy step forward, a friend told me that the company he works for (Motor Vehicle Insurance) was using the Prius for Metropolitan employees and selling them prior to the end of three years Service.

Turns out the Battery Pack needs to be replaced within every five years – at some $7K each time…

I’m unsure if the Batteries can be recycled :-(

I drove a Prius in London for over a year. It was a fantastic car – I got well in excess of 50 miles per gallon out of it and between fuel and tax savings it saved me more than UKP200 per month. Whilst most of my driving was in the city, we drove the Prius all over the UK. On longer journeys the fuel economy was more normal, and as people say it is not a “performance” car, but we always chose the Prius over our other car (a BMW 325is) for all long journeys simply due to fuel savings.

Not sure why Roger (15 December) thinks you can’t use a Prius for long journeys – surely he doesn’t think it has to be pulgged in at night?

Very interested, though, in Paul’s comments (19 December) on the battery pack needing to be replaced every five years…

I urge all of you to buy hybrid cars and other petrol-stingy forms of the automobile, as the fuel you save driving them will fuel up my Ford Crown Victoria nicely. Big, heavy car (two tonnes)…luxurious… politically incorrect leather seats…and do I give a rip that it consumes dead-dinosaur petrol at alarming rates?

No way!

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