Driving a Prius

I’ve been driving a 2007 Toyota Prius for a little over two months now. My old car was a 1997 Nissan Sentra that I’d had for years, so just driving another car is a change. Then factor in the switch from a plain gas engine to a hybrid

Thoughts on the Car

Very smooth, very quiet ride. Lots of nifty little conveniences, like the fact that it remembers different volume levels for radio vs. the line-in jack (for the iPod). Far roomier inside than it looks. Oddly enough, I think it may be wider than the old car.

Not big on the hatchback, though I’m getting used to it. Cargo space is limited, though it makes very efficient use of the space it has. Lots of extra little compartments, hooks, etc. Cup holders are a bit too loose* for most purposes, including my travel coffee mug (yeah, big deal, I know).

Driving it

I’ve found myself changing the way I drive. I used to focus on maintaining stopping distance. Now I’m focusing on making the most efficient use of acceleration. The Prius dashboard displays the point MPG, and a graph of 5-minute averages over the past half-hour. It makes you acutely aware of which actions are most efficient.

It switches between gas and electric motors automatically, and recharges the battery while driving. The electric motor does well at low speeds (say, parking lot driving), and at maintaining speeds up to 40 MPH on smooth, level roads. It can’t accelerate much, so that triggers the gas engine. The gas engine runs around 40–60 MPG while maintaining a constant speed. Coasting & idling are free, since it can instantly turn the engine off and on as needed. (This can be disconcerting at first, because it feels like the car is stalling.) Accelerating, on the other hand, ranges from around 5–25 MPG.

So I’ve been adjusting my driving style to minimize time spent accelerating. Instead of constantly speeding up and slowing down, I get on the freeway, accelerate as quickly as I can until I match the flow of traffic, then hit cruise control. On downward ramps, or heading into a red light or stop sign, I’ll coast. If I’m going to stop anyway, getting there 5 seconds earlier isn’t going to help. Stuck in traffic? If the car ahead moves one car-length, there’s no need to jump into the gap. I’ll creep forward slowly and let it use the electrical motor.

It’s also changed the way I react to different types of traffic. It used to be that as long as traffic was moving at a decent clip, I was happy, and when it got ridiculously slow, I was annoyed. But now, slow traffic isn’t quite so bad (unless I’m in a hurry), because at least I’m running silent and smogless. And while fast, constant traffic is ideal, traffic that oscillates between 50 MPH and 70 MPH is maddening, because I can’t just set the cruise control; I have to slow down and speed up over and over again.

Mileage

The shift in driving style does seem to help. The first tank** of gas, the onboard computer estimated about 38 MPG, and the classic fill the tank and divide by the trip odometer method estimated 33. The second tank (with a 50-mile-each way highway trip), the estimates were 43 and 40. Since then it’s settled into roughly 41-44 MPG overall. That’s about twice what we were getting with the old car, which averaged about 20 MPG during normal commuting, though it did manage to average 30 MPG going to Las Vegas and back last March.

Speaking of mileage, the first 5 minutes always seem to suck. As near as I can tell there’s a warm-up period of some sort, because it always insists on running the gas engine under circumstance that I know it could handle on the electrical engine.

For the record: Daily commute, 15 miles each way. About half of that is suburban city streets, and half freeway. Plus occasional drives to lunch, errands, etc.

Bottom Line

It’s a nice car, and I’d recommend it for anyone who mainly does city and highway driving with 1–4 people, unless they rarely drive more than 5 minutes at a stretch. And as I mentioned, cargo space is limited, so I wouldn’t suggest a family of four take it on a cross-country vacation.

Notes

* Curse the Internet. I’ve seen lose written as loose so many times that I overcompensated and started to write loose as lose.

** To be more precise, the first ¾-tank. I’m refueling when it hits 2 bars on the gauge, and the first two times, I put about 8.5 gallons into the 11.9-gallon tank. The first time it was around 280 miles, the second around 340. The dealer said they’d filled the tank up, and it showed as full, but it’s possible they stopped at the point where it would register as full.

I had this post in mind when I read about Blog Action Day, and figured I’d just make sure I finished it and post it on the right day. Eventually I realized it wasn’t quite on topic, but I had some thoughts about California’s water crisis bouncing around in my head, so I ended up writing that instead.

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