The other day I got to test drive a 2008 Toyota Prius at the Block Party for the Planet celebration in Mt Lebanon. I will say that I was impressed with a number of things that the Prius had to offer, including a surprisingly peppy acceleration, a neat display terminal, and a decent amount of storage space.
The following is my honest, objective review of my experience with the Prius:
- Good acceleration, but it comes at a cost. When I had to pass a car or accelerate up a hill it was much easier and the car was more responsive than any 4 cylinder car I have driven in the past. I did notice that anytime you accelerate your MPG goes down to zero. Ouch. The goal is to get from point A to point B though, and the Prius gets the job done in terms of getting you to your destination safely without burning too much fossil fuel. I wouldn't expect to race a Porche while driving a Prius but I would expect to grin as his 0 to 60 in 4 seconds gets gives him an average fuel efficiency of 12 MPG while I am getting closer to 40. Holla!
- Leg room - I am 6'3" and found the driver's leg room was barely enough. The drivers seat had plenty of room to slide back further but it was limited by the mechanism that keeps the seat in place. I could see long road trips being painful for tall folks driving the current Prius model. An extra inch would go a long way here.
- Storage Space was plentiful. I often tell people that my wife and I had to drive SUVs because our two dogs were 175lb English Mastiffs. One has since passed away, and we downsized recently, so I think we could get away with hauling our dogs in the Prius. The back seats would have to be folded down but with exception to the height I think the overall space is very close to the small SUV that I am currently driving. Of course, we do not have kids, so a family of four may find the Prius a bit too small to be the family vehicle. My suggestion to them is to look into the new Saturn Vue two mode hybrid.
- Fuel efficiency was a let down. Maybe it's because I was driving in the burbs, but I couldn't see how the Prius could get me stellar fuel efficiency unless you drive it primarily in congestion during commutes to and from downtown. After driving for slightly more than 6 miles around the South Hills, my final MPG was 37. That is great compared to what I get now, but I could purchase a gas powered VW Gulf that gets about the same fuel efficiency.
- The price was a little steep. The base price of the Prius was around $23,000. After accounting for options the retail price was around $28,000. The car was equipped with a $5,000 package that included DVD navigation and a camera that shows you what is behind you when you are driving in reverse. These are extras that some people do not mind paying for but I'm trying to keep my monthly payments low. I'll take the free map and rear view mirror for $0, thank you very much.
- The performance display was neat. I was able to see if the battery or the engine was running the car - and also able to see how the power from my acceleration or braking was recharging the battery. I was also able to watch how my MPG changed, both overall MPG and current MPG, which allowed me to change my driving style to obtain better fuel efficiency. Of course, the downside to this is that driving becomes a game. It's kind of neat in a way - I made sure to coast down hills and on straight aways in order to boost my MPG, but I could see this becoming a big distraction from actually driving safely. I thought that it was mainly because it was my first time driving a Prius and my lack of attention to the road was due to the novelty of it all, but when I returned I talked to a current Prius owner who explained to me how neat it was to drive the car a certain way to maximize fuel efficiency. It sounded like he was explaining a video game experience. Yikes.
- Final Verdict - I will wait for the 2009 Prius. As I said in previous posts here at Green is Good, driving a Prius is not enough. I would prefer to have a plug-in hybrid or a car that runs on fossil free fuel like vegetable oil, so if I am going to go the hybrid route I want a car that will truly make a difference. In other words, I want to use as little gasoline as possible in my next vehicle. 40 mpg is not the game changer that people make it out to be, but the next generation Prius could be a step in that direction. The rumor is that the 2009 model would have a huge increase in fuel efficiency (rumors have city MPG at 80), and I think that is easy to achieve considering that the '08 Prius weighs close to 3,000lbs. By using lighter materials and enhancing the battery technology, 80 mpg should be a cinch. My lease expires at the end of this year and I am going on record to state that my next car will be either a hybrid or a diesel that I will convert to run off of vegetable oil.
The 2009 Toyota Prius: