Jay Maynard (jmaynard) wrote,
Jay Maynard

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The other end of the scale

I've had all kinds of cars as rentals, from the average Impala and Grand Prix through the PT Cruiser and Camry to a couple of Buick Lucerne CXSes (the top-of-the-line version with the big engine) and a Jeep Commander. I try not to drive the same old thing all the time. It gets boring. I've even had the vehicle enviro-wackos love to hate, the Hummer H3 (and got some undeserved hatred for it).

This week, I'm at the other end of the enviro-wacko desirability scale. I've got a Prius. I've wondered how it would be, as a car instead of an environmental statement, and when I saw it sitting on the Emerald Club line, I grabbed it. (Especially since the alternative was a bunch of Impalas with a couple of Grand Prixs thrown in.)

It's an interesting driving experience. I was expecting econobox-style wimpiness, and got surprised when I got on the freeway and was soon at 75 MPH and climbing. There are no aural cues; the engine note doesn't change as you accelerate, and there's no shifting from the constant-velocity transmission. It just goes. Push the pedal harder, and the engine note gets louder, and it goes faster. Let off the pedal, and the engine gets quieter and it doesn't go as fast.

That brings up another point: When you're not pushing it hard, it's quiet, even at freeway speed. I say this even though my standard for quiet has been adjusted upward by the level of quiet the RX350 manages. It's even quieter at low speed on purely electric drive, of course, but that's actually pretty seldom in real driving.

There are some things about it I definitely don't like. The batteries take up lots of room in what would otherwise be the trunk; there was just enough space under the cover in the back for my two carryon-sized suitcases to lie flat. You can't stuff it with anywhere near as much stuff as a Corolla. The car also shares one design flaw with, of all things, the Pontiac Aztek: it has a huge bar right across the middle of the back window. That's truly annoying, as it lands right where you expect to see things like the headlights of the car behind you. The rear wiper is next to useless, as it only wipes the upper half, and reveals a pitifully small patch of window.

It took me a couple of days to figure out how to get the damned thing started. The secret: You have to have your foot on the brake when you push the power button. (Starter? What starter?) Until that was pointed out to me, it was a hit-or-miss proposition.

I was pleasantly surprised to note that, even cruising at freeway speed, it reported fuel economy on the high side of 50 MPG. I'd expected that to be the least efficient mode of the vehicle. It does seem to lurch a bit as the electric boost kicks in and out, and as the regenerative braking takes effect. That's minor, and could probably be gotten used to.

On the whole, it's a nice enough vehicle. I wouldn't buy one, and I suspect neither would vakkotaur, because the lack of storage space is too painful. I drive an SUV because I need to haul stuff. I'd have to drive a Highlander Hybrid or an RX400h to see if those would do me any good, and I'm still far from convinced that it'd be a worthwhile investment (and I'm not about to spend $6000 just to be environmentally PC), but I wouldn't necessarily rule them out. The Escape Hybrid might not be too bad - if it wasn't built by Ford, an absolute deal breaker for me.

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