Posted by kernelbob on August 21, 2008
Hertz gave me a Toyota Prius in San Jose this week. I’d never driven one before.
The car was weird. It reinforces my bias that Toyota builds cars for people who don’t like cars.
Good things. Mileage, of course – I averaged just over 41 MPG in mostly urban driving, and I flogged it as much as I could in the heavy traffic. Storage. Lots of cubbies and a big trunk.
When I’ve praised the storage space, you know I’ve run out of compliments.
Bad things. I picked the car up after dark, and the first thing I noticed was a large LCD panel in the dash which is blindingly bright. I drove about 20 miles before I figured out how to turn it off. Conversely, none of the buttons on the dash are illuminated, so turning it off involved doing the Braille search and poking whatever I found.
The Prius is hard to see out of. The A pillars are very thick, and if you’re as tall as I am, the rear view mirror completely blocks the view to the right. Neither the mirror nor the seat height is adjustable. The seating position is very high, presumably because people who don’t like cars like kitchen chairs better. The high seat amplifies the car’s bouncy ride.
The Prius has a video camera in its tail. When you shift into R, the screen lights up with a fisheye view of the ground behind the car. That’s useful, but it also beeps continuously like a forklift. Because shifting into reverse is, you know, very dangerous. That feature alone would drive me screaming out of a Toyota showroom.
Then there’s the drivetrain. It’s a hybrid. The engine is off a lot of the time, and if you want a bit of power, you’ll wait for it to start. It’s like turbo lag, but less predictable. Cruising slowly, the engine cuts out and in. The car jerks a litttle each time. Those jerks interfere with any attempt to corner smoothly.
If you didn’t like cars, you wouldn’t notice that. You’d be playing with the LCD panel, adjusting the climate control and radio, or watching a diagram of power flowing among the battery, motor, engine, and wheels, or watching the dancing bar chart of your instantaneous MPG. And you’d be happy that the thing you’re sitting in is nothing like a car.