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Bloviating Zeppelin: My Life With A Prius

Bloviating Zeppelin

(in-ep-toc'-ra-cy) - a system of government where the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of producing, and where the members of society least likely to sustain themselves or succeed, are rewarded with goods and services paid for by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers.

Monday, March 31, 2008

My Life With A Prius

A few weeks ago following a nasty storm (my local newspaper said this winter had been the worst in 20 years -- clearly due to Global Warming say the Religious Left) a chunk of ice or snow fell from the pines overhead and smacked my 9-month-old car, causing a huge dent in the right front fender and two smaller dents and a paint crack in the hood. A week after that I received a rock into my windshield. Heavy sigh. I've never before made a claim with my insurance company, and now I'd have to make two. There goes my 15 year record.

In any event, the vehicle damaged was my 2007 Toyota RAV-4 Limited V6. I decided I'd had enough of being wedged into Tuna Cans (I've most always had a small car, from a '74 Subaru GL, '79 VW Rabbit, '78 Ford Courier, '85 Chevy Sprint, '87 Geo Metro, '99 Chevy Metro) and traded my 2003 Subaru Outback Sport in for the RAV-4. As I wrote: "The Democrats, Progressives and Liberals can all kiss my ass if they think I'm shoehorning myself into another tuna can at my age and stage of my life."

Don't get me wrong; the Subaru was a great car. I moved, stacked, packed and crammed more stuff in that Subaru wagon (following my divestiture of a draining 17-year relationship wherein my former S.O. liberated all makes and models of items from my cabin which required replacement -- hence the heavy usage of the Subaru's cargo capacity! -- items removed even including the pulls from most all the cabinets. Not to even mention the selling of my dead mother's Hummel plates on eBay and the profits promised to my father going into her mystic coffers. But hey -- that's something she'll have to reconcile in her own afterlife. Three words playing in the back of my brain: "Don't be bitter!") than an entire fleet of vans. But after 89,000 tough miles, it was time to move on.

And move on I did. I acquired a larger vehicle with a much larger engine, 115 more hp and gas mileage that left the Subaru in the dust. At best, the Outback Sport got 24 mpg. I've gotten as low as 17 mpg with the Toyota RAV-4 V6 Limited, as high as 31 mpg, and recently 27 mpg on a long trip. And on regular unleaded. Somehow in my attempt to get a bigger, roomier vehicle with a larger, more responsive engine, I also managed to increase my mpg. It just doesn't seem logical. But again, though I could easily have afforded the Lexus RX350, I chose the RAV-4 because it had the same 3.5L block, same hp, only it ran on regular instead of premium.

In any event, I had to turn the RAV-4 in to the body shop I'd chosen (Maita Toyota in Sacramento, where I'd originally purchased the car and figured: they should be readily able to get the parts and match the metallic paint!), and my insurance covered a $25 per day rental. At Enterprise I asked: "What does that get me?"

They pointed to the 2008 Prius outside. "Great," I thought. "Some tree-hugging piece of shit."

The Enterprise gal showed me a few things, handed me the square key and I was on my own. I drove to a local Borders for a book (Jon Krakauer's Into The Wild) and, getting back into the car, couldn't start it. I tried and tried. The damnable thing wouldn't budge. I almost obviated my Man Card and actually called the rental agency. The same gal answered. She said: "do this and this and this and this." I did all those things. Nothing worked. "Okay," she said. "We're sending someone out."

Oh Christ, I thought. Exposed for the idiot I am. I actually relented and did the worst thing imagineable: I read the instruction manual.

1. I put the rectangular key into the rectangular slot on the dash;
2. I put my foot on the brake;
3. I pushed the Power button once;
4. I released the parking brake;
5. The blue dash light indicated: "READY"

That was precisely what the car wanted: the READY light to illuminate.

I slipped the small shifter up into R for reverse. It actually engaged. I could actually back out of the slot I'd occupied at Borders. Would wonders never cease?

I immediately called the rental company back in order to cancel their responder. I apologized profusely.

I finally realized: the car is a computer. It wants what it wants when it wants it, in the order it wants it, in the fashion it wants it.

When I gave it what it wanted, in the order it wanted it, it worked.

I first sat into the Prius seat and hated it. Just hated it.

And when it wouldn't run, I hated it even more.

Now, today, giving that car up for my RAV-4, I know I'll miss it. If I could purchase another car, for economy, it would definitely be a Toyota Prius. How did I come to this startling conclusion?


If you treat the Prius something as a computer, you'll be better served. It wants what it wants when it wants it, and in the order it wants it.

The key is a rectangle on a ring. Insert it into the dash. Place your right foot on the brake pedal. Disengage the parking brake. Move the dash shifter an inch above into R for reverse. The engine may or may not engage. An incredibly annoying interior beep will commence until your backing maneuver has ended. If for no other reason than this, you will pre-plan your backing maneuvers in great detail so that you won't have to listen to that annoying beep. If this were my car, my first goal would be to pay any amount of money to disable that reverse beep.

But once I made it move: the gloves were off.

I now understand why these suckers pass me on the freeway.

First things first:

You'll hate the dash. The info station is positioned in the middle. A few extraneous info tidbits are placed in your natural viewpoint, deep, deep, deep into the dash. These bits are all digital. There isn't any bit of the car that is analog. You'd best get over that right away.

The key is simply a place to begin. Starting the car features the round POWER button. Your clue is when the dash displays: READY. Then and only then are you truly prepared to drive off.

Grasp the miniscule shifter lever on the dash, then move it up into REVERSE. The car will physically clunk into reverse. Let the interior beeping commence. Your goal: shift out of reverse as quickly as possible. When you're done driving and you stop, there is no place for the shifter. See the rectangular button marked P? There you go; that's P for PARK. You push it to park.

When you're done backing, shift down quickly into D for drive. Jesu Christi -- the beeping actually stops!

The Toyota Prius has a CVT -- that is, a Continuously Variable Transmission -- there is no 1st or 2nd gear or such -- if you floor this baby the engine sounds as if it will shake its moorings. And if you expect to feel a shift, well, you won't. Remember the old Honda mini-bike "centrifugal clutch"? A CVT is something kinda sorta like that, only different. A CVT is a poor choice for a vehicle with real power; and an acceptable choice for a vehicle whose driver's goal is as light a pressure on the throttle as possible. The Prius doesn't shift; it just moves.

About that throttle. It's not a linkage. Think of the throttle as an electrical rheostat -- kinda like the round knob on the wall that dims your dining room lights. You'll find that the gentler on the throttle you are, the more the computer game dashboard becomes fun. More on that in a second.

Absent all the other exquisite oddities displayed by the car, it's essentially a remarkably stable platform. The heavy battery pack exists on the very bottom of the chassis. This helps to lower the CG of the car and overcome its inherent crappy, thin factory tires. Thinking that it would understeer horribly, I was encouraged. It tended to stay on track pretty well, the wheel centered up readily, and it didn't display the nasty buckboard ride I was expecting. Suspension was good, compliant over bumps (but not mushy like a Buick Roadmaster), with acceptable body roll in turns. Not a Honda S2000, but not a Geo Metro either. More akin to the Toyota Corolla.

I couldn't ever completely figure out its regenerative center dash display -- when was it running on its 1.5L engine, and when was it running on the electric pack? Make no mistake: I could readily tell when the car ran on juice or gas. But what conditions would yield gas or electricity -- that escaped me. Oddly enough, the transition from juice to gas was darned near seamless; much, much less intrusive than I ever would have guessed.

I'd been told that the car would transition from electricity to gas at 25mph. But that wasn't always true --I'd seen the display indicate electric power right up to 40 mph one time. It all has to do with how much electricity created or stored over the course of a given trip. I suppose if I'd read the owners' manual I'd know how to read the energy display.

About that center dash display: just about everything runs through that touch-screen display. Want to turn the fan on or off? Press CLIMATE on the display and touch the screen. Want to fade or balance the radio? Press AUDIO on the display. Want to see how much juice you're generating on a trip or your average mpg? Press INFO then press TRIP. If that center dash display ever goes tits-up, you are just about entirely toast.

There are darned few manual controls on the dash. Some manual controls can be found at your thumbs on the steering wheel, to include front and rear defrosters, radio controls. The cruise control is standard Toyota: a small stalk on the right side of the wheel.

The brakes on the Prius are oddly twitchy. You'd have to call them "sensitive" at best. Certainly they stop the vehicle and don't require legs like a Russian weightlifter to activate (like my former Subaru). But as the vehicle slows and the CVT engages or disengages it can tend to ramp up their sensitivity geometrically. If you have no feeling in your feet you'd best advise your passengers to be completely belted in because, if you're ham-footed on the brakes, you'll send them through the windshield. You'll come to appreciate the judicious pressure you must make on both the brake and throttle pedals.

You tend to start driving the car like it's a computer game. You check the info display to see how long you can keep it in electric power, and you likewise constantly check the MPG display to see how deep into the rheosta -- er, throttle you are. It's as if your goal is to wring every last mile out of each gallon of gas.

I acquired 46.3 mpg overall, during my 12 days with the Prius. Most of my driving was on the freeway or at speeds over 50 mph. If you become landlocked in heavy city traffic, your mileage will be better as you'll be running a good deal on electricity.

Can it compete with traffic? I drove it up I-80 into the mountains twice, passing most every vehicle at 70+ mph. It does not lack for power if you use it appropriately. Fear not: you won't have to drive it like a Hamms Beer delivery truck. And when you pass the black Cadillac Escalade the smugness just seems to exude: dude, you paid $75,000 for that P.O.S. and you still got passed by my Prius.

The interior is pretty roomy, the cloth seats comfy; the back seat area is amazingly roomy. The cupholders are a bit funky and won't hold your tippy drinks very well. And because it's a hatchback there isn't a massive amount of stowage to the rear, though there is a rolling sheet to cover and hide your purchases and possessions. Pull up the tab on the floor and you'll find this is where the jack and its handle and such live. Pull up on the black tray and you'll finally discover the mini-spare tire beneath.

One big issue with me: the view to the rear. Not unlike the much earlier Honda CRX, there is a horizontal bar running smack dab in the middle of your viewline from the driver's seat -- see the photograph. This stupid bar occludes a good deal of your available view to the rear. Obviously, the designers of the Prius wanted to reduce the Cd (coefficient of drag) by radically sloping the front and rear. This results in your looking out the rear through the hatchback, like the gunslit of a German bunker. There is a lower viewable section below the slit, heavily tinted. But the horizontal hatch support removes much of your field of view to the rear. Important safety tip: back up very carefully.

When all was said and done, I despised the car before I even sat down. I despised it even more when I couldn't get it to move. But when I finally understood the car, I liked it. A lot. I actually kinda miss it.

Would I buy one, if I wanted an econo-transport?

In a heartbeat.



Blogger Ranando said...

When they can blow Sunshine in my Fuel Tank and not up my ass, I'll buy one.

Sun Mar 30, 07:47:00 PM PDT  
Blogger Mark said...

My first car was a '63 VW beetle. I liked that silly thing but it had a lot of leg and headroom for a small car. I can't fit in most compact cars, especially Japanese designed ones as I'm a bit taller and wider than most of them. which makes me wonder what sumo wrestlers drive over there.

Mon Mar 31, 05:54:00 AM PDT  
Blogger Gayle said...

A man who actually read the directions? Congratulations, BZ! LOL!

I doubt the Prius would be the car for me. I like a car that I can control, not one that controls me. "She wants what she wants when she wants it." So do I! This car and I would be arguing all the time. :)

Mon Mar 31, 07:14:00 AM PDT  
Blogger A Jacksonian said...

My Insight has the CVT, made sure I had that in case my lady had to drive it (which turned out to be prescient). Unlike the Prius, the insight (and other Hondas) are electric assist to gas engine, not like the Prius: you turn it on and it is a conventional engine that gets going. No power switch: it is not a computer it is a car with automated parts.

Hondas have always had good leg/head room since the mid-1980's when they realized US needs. My old '87 Civic Wagon gave me more room than anything save a Chevy Blazer... I kid you not. I am only 6'3", however, at 6'6" you might be a bit cramped... After the wagon I went to a Voyager and could see damned near everything around me. The Insight made me feel like I was in an aircraft 3' above the ground, but still with plenty of head/leg room. When I was driving it I got nearly 50mpg and learned its ways of saving fuel.

Actually, if you own a vehicle that has long term mpg readings, you learn to adjust your driving to get better mileage... my adjustments were few and the worse was the 6 or so miles of rolling hills needed to get to one work site for a few months.

The only thing wrong with a Honda is you *also* get the Honda religion: thou shalt follow the owner's manual and take care of thy vehicle and it shall, yea and verily, take care of ye. Luckily you get one bible with every car... that being the aforementioned owner's manual.

Now I am out of the car driving concept... miss it as the Honda Elephant... mmm.... Element... looks interesting, but I would want it hybrid.

Mon Mar 31, 08:41:00 AM PDT  
Blogger cary said...

I had the choice of a Chevy Impala or a Prius when I rented a car in Florida to drive back to Arizona.

For comfort reasons (I'm only 5'8", but a bit wider than the Prius' seat) I should have taken the Impala.

I was thinking with my wallet, however, and in the end I am glad I took the Prius. After spending $125 in fuel to get across country (at about $2.90/gallon) the overall mileage was in the 48.3 zone. This was at cross-country driving speeds, which means that anything moving at less than 80 was in my way.

Mon Mar 31, 01:59:00 PM PDT  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

Ranando: Har! I like that!

Cary: that was the deal. The Prius can haul with the herd at 80 or better.


Mon Mar 31, 04:27:00 PM PDT  
Blogger TexasFred said...

Real men drive SUV's... :)

Mon Mar 31, 04:46:00 PM PDT  
Blogger shoprat said...

Call me weird but I consider a car nothing more than a tool. As long as it gets the job done it's cool.

Mon Mar 31, 06:29:00 PM PDT  
Blogger Clint said...

You can disable that annoying backup beep; instructions are available on the web.

Also, the higher end packages come with a backup camera that displays on that screen when you are in Reverse; that's a lot of fun too.

Mon Mar 31, 07:33:00 PM PDT  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

Clint: hey thanks, appreciate it sir!


Tue Apr 01, 11:52:00 AM PDT  
Blogger Rivka said...

Thanks for the insight on the car. We may just look into that next time we buy.

Tue Apr 01, 02:37:00 PM PDT  
Anonymous WMD_Maker said...

I think you would be better off with a restored 60's Valiant or Dart with the slant 6 or a Comet or Falcon and spend the left over 20 Grand from the price of a Prius on gas.

Tue Apr 01, 05:45:00 PM PDT  
Blogger ABFreedom said...

That was a riot to read... they should hire you at one of them driving magazines... as for the car... nope... it's all two stroke no control bend in the middle up here... I think I'm one of the few without a 4x4, truck, or SUV... them econo things don't like -30 temps..

Tue Apr 01, 06:48:00 PM PDT  
Blogger Jo said...

Oh I'd never get along with it ! To this day I'm bitter about them removing the thing on the floor that worked the headlights !
Now, if they would just make a golf cart that would do 55 I'd be happy :-)

Tue Apr 01, 10:40:00 PM PDT  
Anonymous khan said...

Sorry, it was ridiculously annoying to read this when everything is in italics or boldface.

In the English language, these two are used for emphasis. If you use them the whole article, you kinda lose the effect that they are intended to make.

Tue Feb 03, 12:25:00 AM PST  

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