I was going to be driving up and down the Valley for the best part of four days and Avis bollixed up my reso somehow so the usual mostly-harmless mid-size wasn’t available. “Wanna Blazer?” the redcoat said and I said “Whatever”; F2F with the Blazer I was reminded it’s an SUV the size of one of new high-density Vancouver townhouses. I couldn’t face the thought of hauling this ill-formed mass of steel up and down the California tarmac, and as I was walking back to say “No” passed a row of Prii so I said “Prius” instead and the guy said “You sure? They’re weird, no key, can’t figure ’em out myself.” And you know, it’s not bad at all.

What with orbiting between Sun’s Menlo Park and Santa Clara offices and once over the mountains to Half Moon Bay, I put a lot of miles on the little goober and only burned half a tank. There are irritants: the driver’s seat needs a height adjustment and you could use a little more pep in some perhaps not entirely necessary but nonetheless expedient freeway maneuvers. But it’s nimble, turns well even at speed and is for most purposes entirely adequate. And in slow stop-and-go it oozes along way quieter than most anything. Plus, you can drive in the HOV lane.

And somehow, I’m charmed by pulling into a parking spot, pushing the “Park” button and the “On/Off” button. Geeks just like buttons I guess. Pity it’s such an ugly little sucker; I could totally see going for some sort of upscale hybrid next time out.



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From: Tkil (Jul 19 2007, at 23:16)

Hey now, don't be calling my baby ugly. :)

Form follows function in this case, and the Prius has the lowest coefficient of drag of any production vehicle. (The Honda Insight beat it by a smidge, but I think that's not currently produced.)

And if you put it next to quite a few other hatchback cars, I really think it's not that different (Toyota Matrix, Ford Focus wagon/hatch).

But I'm glad you liked it. I'm extremely happy with mine; got it in April 2005 and have about 38k miles on it so far. More spooging about it here: http://tkil.livejournal.com/tag/prius

(As for upscale, there's the hybrid Camry, and then there's the Lexus 460h. :)

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From: Don McAllaster (Jul 20 2007, at 05:37)

You'll be even more charmed next time you pull into a parking spot and push the 'Power' button. No need to push park first -- the Toyota firmware engineers were on the job.

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From: Michael Harrison (Jul 20 2007, at 06:16)

I've been driving a Prius for a year now, and I love it. The "no key" thing takes a bit of getting used to, but it's very cool to unlock the doors and start the car while never taking the key-fob out of your pocket.

I agree there are irritants. I personally still haven't gotten used to the two-part rear windshield: the bar across the middle still bothers me and makes me worry I'm not seeing everything behind me.

As for the lack of pickup, that's what you get with a < 100hp engine. Actually, though, I've found my Prius encourages me to drive more gently whenever possible. Even merging onto the DC beltway, which I have to do sometimes unfortunately, I try not to gun it. By accelerating slowly, coasting when possible, and reducing the amount of braking you have to do (slower acceleration and increased coasting help you do this), you can get better mileage in any car. In the Prius, you really see benefits because this style of driving allows the battery to do a larger share of the power providing. If you're interested, google 'hypermiling'. I don't draft 18-wheelers, for the record, because that's just stoopid.

And isn't the rear camera when you go into reverse nice?

One more thing. They aren't ugly. Really. You get very used to their appearance, and you may even come to think them handsome, as a mother with an odd-looking child might. :-)

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From: Jemaleddin (Jul 20 2007, at 07:10)

A friend has a new Camry hybrid - same button, more comfortable, and far more handsome.

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From: Scott Johnson (Jul 20 2007, at 08:45)

The Camry Hybrid is nicer if you like your cars larger than compacts. But the mileage is not nearly as good, easily bested by a diesel.

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From: John Cowan (Jul 20 2007, at 10:22)

Sigh. It seems like the oversize box is there every time now. Fortunately, Firefox has View/Page Style/No Style, which nicely pushes the right-hand column down to the bottom of the page where I don't have to look at it.

Sturgeon's Rhetorical Question (same Sturgeon as Sturgeon's Law): Why is it that we only streamline cars where we can see the streamlining? What's below the car is all about drag.

Insert joke here about "nisi Prius".

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From: Tkil (Jul 20 2007, at 17:55)

Michael Harrison wrote: "As for the lack of pickup, that's what you get with a < 100hp engine."

The gasoline engine and electric motors together should be able to muster more like 110-120hp total; there's a low-speed advantage with the electric motor delivering torque much sooner than a gasoline engine could, but that's no help on the highway. Either way, I drove mine on Southern California freeways for more than a year, and never felt the need for more power.

Scott Johnson wrote: "The Camry Hybrid is nicer if you like your cars larger than compacts. But the mileage is not nearly as good, easily bested by a diesel."

The current (2004-today) Prius is actually classified as midsized, not as compact; it's only a foot shorter than the Camry and they both seat 5. The Prius has lots more usable interior space, since it's a hatchback (and the trunk of the Camry loses quite a bit of space to the hybrid system). See:

http://preview.tinyurl.com/2mos95

Also, 34mpg is still an excellent score for any gas-fueled car:

http://preview.tinyurl.com/2kgwwk

http://preview.tinyurl.com/3ywq4o

http://preview.tinyurl.com/2mhozf

Lastly, diesels in the USA are only this year getting cleaner fuel (and meeting tougher emissions standards). It'll be interesting to see how USA diesels evolve over the next few years -- but they still can't beat the efficiency of hybrids in stop/go situations. Hence the advent of diesel/electric hybrid city buses, etc.

John Cowen asked: "Why is it that we only streamline cars where we can see the streamlining? What's below the car is all about drag."

Ah, but the Prius *does* have a streamlined bottom, see:

http://www.hybridsynergydrive.com/en/prius_fuel_efficiency.html

Along with a few other tricks in less-visible areas (air diverters around the tires, etc).

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From: Anthony B. Coates (Jul 21 2007, at 09:37)

It's just a pity that hybrids like the Prius are so bad for the environment compared to normal cars. See

http://www.independent.co.uk/living/motoring/features/article1959451.ece

When you take into account (i) the energy cost of building a hybrid, (ii) the cost of recycling it, and (iii) the short operating lifetime (around 10 years, compared to 30 for a normal car), hybrids are worse for the environment than a lot of SUVs.

Viewed this way, the Jeep Wrangler is apparently the most environmentally car available in Europe, and it's probably similar in the US.

That said, with manufacturers in Europe being forced to drop their CO2 emissions, small diesels and petrols are probably going to take the lead here in Europe, without hybrid power, but probably with auto engine stop-start in traffic. The new Mini Cooper (diesel and petrol) already matches the Prius on day-to-day emissions and fuel economy.

Cheers, Tony.

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From: Postmodern Sass (Jul 21 2007, at 22:13)

Shall I tell you, Gentle Readers of Ongoing, how many times your favourite geek exclaimed, with delight, at the push-buttonness of the Prius?

That's right, every single time he turned the car on. Or off.

(Sorry, Tim, I couldn't resist.)

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From: Tkil (Jul 21 2007, at 22:37)

Anthony B. Coates wrote: "It's just a pity that hybrids like the Prius are so bad for the environment compared to normal cars."

That report has been thoroughly debunked; it's written by a company (single person?) who is effectively in the employ of the Detroit "big 3" automakers.

(And I don't know the paper that you linked offhand, but I'll bet that it has a right-wing tilt on news...)

Debunkings:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/25/AR2007042502561.html

http://blogs.dailymail.com/donsurber/2007/03/13/how-green-was-my-red-mustang/#comment-7580

That last comment is a bit of a form letter that one "wallofcheese" has been putting in comments in many blogs that reference the CNW study.

Anyway. As with all stories, consider the source and its biases -- and whether it's been reviewed by people who know what they're talking about.

[p.s. Tim, I'll try to shut up after this one. Honest. Glad you enjoyed your time in a Prius, though.]

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From: fro (Jul 22 2007, at 17:45)

I can't wait to see the hot-rod Prii. I know that they are out there already, but I'm yet to see one myself.

I have mental images of young geek-hoons installing super-sized capacitors for that extra power boost over the quarter mile, and lightweight batteries as battery technology improves (at the exponential rate that hybrid demand is pushing it).

I'm also excited over the prospect of Open-Prii. Geek-hoons upgrading firmware, and cracking open the code behind the machine. It already happens with internal-combustion ECUs (see: MegaSquirt), I can only imagine that it's already happened for Prii and other hybrids.

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From: mxt (Jul 23 2007, at 10:21)

Check out http://www.teslamotors.com/index.php for hot electric cars.

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From: Amit Patel (Jul 23 2007, at 11:06)

The Prius is doing a lot more than just hybrid technology. On the highway, you're not getting anything from hybrids; the hybrid tech is mostly for city driving. But the Prius has great highway mileage. The Prius also has low drag, continuous transmission (think "floating point + gears") low rolling resistance, small tires, low horsepower engine, and maybe some other things. It's a shame the other hybrids get such poor mileage (usually low 30s, like my non-hybrid); I suspect they just tack on a hybrid without all the other clever things the Prius has. There are also non-hybrid techs that the Prius *doesn't* have, but with everyone paying attention to the word "hybrid", nobody pays attention to other technologies. For example, several automakers have very high pressure "direct injection" technology that makes fuel burn more efficiently (I've heard 10-15%). Volkswagen has dual clutch gear shift (efficiency of a manual with the UI of an automatic, 5-10% improvement). BMW has something to store braking energy in capacitors (3% improvement?) and "lean burn" (also 3%?). Shutting off the engine at stop lights also helps a bit; I'm not sure if any non-hybrids have this implemented yet.

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From: Paul B (Jul 24 2007, at 08:57)

I see two major benefits, currently, from the Prius:

1. It has made it socially "acceptable" for middle and upper class Americans to own and use a small car as their primary car.

2. It is generating enough volume to economically support refinement of the technologies in use.

Regarding 1, I suppose the BMW 3 series and a few other vehicles might match this, at least in terms of body size. (More recently, for example, the Mini.) But they have been a niche market, whereas the Prius' market is becoming increasingly broad. As much credit as Toyota's engineers receive, their marketers really deserve some credit as well, in this case. Although to some extent, they may have found themselves caught up in the wave of adoption.

In the U.S., small cars have often gotten the short shaft in terms of amenities. Whatever one's perspective as to their size, they also were not pleasant to occupy. Cheap fixtures. Poor soundproofing. The Japanese altered this in their models. U.S. manufacturers never seemed to figure out that the inside of a small car could and should be "nice".

Regarding 2, this may be "the hump" that the U.S. market needs to get over on a course towards real R&D into and deployment of alternative drive trains.

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