Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Test Driving a Prius

I got into a car accident at the beginning of the year. It wasn't my fault, and no one was injured. However, my Truck was no longer drivable, due to the damage. More on this in another post after it is all settled.

So, I needed a car to drive. I called my brother, who, due to the death of his Father-in-law, had an extra car. This car happened to be a second generation Toyota Prius. I have never driven a Prius before. It is "different."

It is designed as a "futuristic" car, with many displays and controls that are digital, electronic, and/or computerized. This can be a hassle to deal with. For example, instead of moving a lever or turning a knob to adjust the heater, you have to press the "Climate" button, look for the temperature adjustment on the computer screen, then press the up or down button and set the temperature to whatever degree you want. That in itself is a hassle. What's better, 72 degrees? 73 degrees? 74 degrees? You get the picture. How much easier it is to just turn a knob. Hotter? Turn the knob to the right. Cooler? Turn the knob to the left.

Then there's the "Speedometer." It is digital, and more or less in the left center of the dash board. All this information, engine temperature, oil pressure, fuel level, and speed should be right in front of the Driver's eyes, not towards the center of the car. And the center touch screen for the Climate, Audio, etc, controls is in the center of the car, below the dash.

This means that the Driver is constantly taking his eyes off the road in front of him, to look left or center and down, to make adjustments to his speed, temperature, radio stations, etc. This is dangerous. You have to "learn" how to disregard all of this and keep your eyes on the road. A friend of mine has said that she always sees Prius drivers in accidents. Personally, I haven't seen an increase in accidents involving Prius Drivers, but if it does happen, I wouldn't doubt it.

But, I did consider buying one to replace my wrecked truck. So I rented the newer 3rd generation Prius. The Dash board info center is even closer to center than the 2nd generation! It is better that they put it deep inside a "hole" in the dash to help with sun glare, but more to the center? They should have moved it more to the Driver's side.

Some of the controls were made more in tune with conventional cars, as the climate control is now separate buttons NOT on a computer touch screen.

The radio in the cheaper models are also separate manual buttons not on the computer touch screen.

The one I rented had the Navigation option which had all the radio controls on the computer touch screen. And it came with a GPS navigation system. This too was a distracting device, but it can be turned off, and since it includes a back-up camera when you put the car in reverse, it is a good option for safety.

Performance wise, the engine has more "Pep" than the 2nd generation. It also can be placed in 3 different modes, Electric, Evo, and Power. Electric means it will run only on the electric motor up to a certain speed, about 20 mph. Evo means it is in "normal" mode, and drives much like the 2nd generation. Power mode makes noticeable "OOMPH." In this mode, the car uses more of the gasoline engine to power the car and thus gets less miles per gallon.

As I drove this car for 2 days, it impressed me for what it does best, save gas. I got over 50 miles per gallon in a combination of City and Highway driving. I did notice a drop when in power mode.

But it did not impress me as the kind of car I need for my everyday duties. For me, it would be a great second car, just to go to work, IF I had a long commute, which I don't.

And also, it does not make sense to me, but the older 2nd generation one seems to be better than the new one. The newer one has better controls and comforts, even more power. But the older one seems to do it's job better, even though I got less miles per gallon.

If you're interested in a Prius, it is a comfortable roomy car and gets excellent gas mileage. And with gasoline prices set to rise over 4 dollars per gallon in the United States, it may be the hot car to have. I may regret not buying one, but we'll see what happens.

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