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Test Drove the Toyota Prius

Posted By Jim On 07/08/2008 @ 8:45 am In Cars | 20 Comments

Last weekend, on July 4th no less, my wife and I stopped by our local Toyota dealership and test drove a Prius. Fortunately for us, neither one of us drives a gas guzzler (I drive a 2003 Toyota Celica and my wife drives a 2004 Honda Civic) and neither one of will need a replacement car for quite some time but with a day off and being in the neighborhood running errands, we figured stopping by would be a fun little diversion. Our friends from New York own a Prius, which they love, and we’ve ridden in it before, but never really “test drove,” complete with salesperson pointing out every last feature. Overall, we were impressed and it certainly would be on the short list of vehicles we’d consider if we were to replace either of our cars.

What We Liked

My wife really liked the Prius and here were some of the reasons why:

  • The ability to help be a part of the solution to global warming instead of the problem.
  • Her commute will be changing to mostly city driving from highway driving. The Prius performs best in city driving conditions, with lots of stop and go, so this would be the optimal time to drive the Prius to take advantage of the 48MPG city fuel economy rating.
  • The Prius was surprisingly roomy in the back, with enough room to fit four adults comfortably (maybe five if you have three skinnier friends in the back). This is a big plus over her current 2-door Civic that doesn’t fit any adults comfortably in the back for long drives.
  • She was impressed with how quiet it was while idling because the engine shut off.

I liked the heads up display and the statistics it showed. The HUD showed your current fuel efficiency as you drove, 99.9 MPG in times when only the electric motor was engaged, and I was amazed at how low the numbers were in certain conditions. At first, I thought the efficiency was horrible. Then, I realized that I had no reference point. I saw the Prius get 2.5 MPG over a particular hill and thought that was bad, until I realized that I simply didn’t know what my car got (likely 2.5 MPG too, as I drive a 4 cylinder car) in those situations.

What We Didn’t Like

Here’s what my wife didn’t like:

  • This isn’t so much a dislike as it is a reason we shouldn’t get one. Her Civic gets ~38MPG, based on empirical data, which would only mean a fuel efficiency boost of around 8 MPG. With 15,000 miles a year @ $4.10/gal, it’s an annual savings of only $281.47. At this point it would take over five years of gas savings to even make up the 6% sales tax on the $25,000 base model car, forget the cost of the car itself. My wife suggests checking out the Fueleconomy.gov’s Side by Side Comparison tool [3] if you’re looking to compare.
  • She also wasn’t a fan of the wait, there is roughly a 2-3 month lead time because the factory isn’t able to keep up with demand.

I didn’t like how the numbers couldn’t justify purchasing the car. While I like the idea of helping the environment by reducing our dependency on fossil fuels and I like the idea of helping America get off dependency on foreign oil, the financial figures simply don’t work. If we were driving a 10MPG Hummer, then we’d be talking an annual gas savings of $4813.40 and it starts making sense.

Things To Consider

My wife wanted to add a few additional ideas to help those who are thinking about the Prius:

  • What are the new fuel cell car going to be like? Honda already has a hundred fifty ’08 FCX Clarity vehicles [4] on the road in South California. A zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell is a compelling offer – no oil, no emissions.
  • Chevy is pushing up the release of their Ford Chevy Volt [5] (whoops!) to compete with all the other alternative fuel and hybrid vehicles.
  • Lastly, Toyota is reported to come out with a new model Prius with better technology… it’s like computers, technology is always improving.
  • Given all that information, is it better to just wait for new/cleaner technology, like fuel cell technology? Right now we’d be trading in a Civic, that gets 38 MPG, for a Prius, that gets 46 MPG, which is only a meager fuel savings and that would definitely preclude us from getting newer technology should it come out in the next five years.

After all that, I don’t think we’re getting a Prius but it certainly was fun driving it.

Finally, we leave you with one interesting note. Normally, heat in a car is free because it comes from the heat of the engine and air conditioning costs fuel because the compressor needs power. In the Prius, because the engine doesn’t run as often, you don’t get “free” heat. It actually costs you to turn on the heat! The trade-off then is that AC is “free.”

(Prius photo by six27 [6])

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[2] Email: mailto:?subject=http://www.bargaineering.com/articles/test-drove-the-toyota-prius.html

[3] Fueleconomy.gov’s Side by Side Comparison tool: http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/sbs.htm

[4] ’08 FCX Clarity vehicles: http://automobiles.honda.com/fcx-clarity/

[5] release of their Ford Chevy Volt: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121546727641233787.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

[6] six27: http://www.flickr.com/photos/six27/245966997/sizes/s/

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