I had been meaning to do this for a long time now. Get a Prius, that is. The thought of fifty miles per gallon was always sort of attractive, but I never could get myself into the showroom.
Would the thing be too small? I'm six-foot-plus barefoot, and many smaller cars I had the "pleasure" to drive would have been fine only if I could drive with the sunroof open. Somehow, toodling down the road with an old pair of aviator's goggles and scarf didn't really appeal to me. ;-)
Last August, I finally took the plunge, and was tremendously surprised. Despite its compact outward size, inside, it is really quite roomy. I can even ball my hand into a fist and pass it over my head without touching the ceiling.
In the intervening months, I've become quite familiar with my Prius. I'm normally a cynic when it comes to advertisement campaigns, but this is the first car that I've had that lives up to the claims the manufacturer makes. (And you know that Toyota "Yes" ad campaign. Me? "Yes"...)
It really does get 51 MPG highway (I'm getting 52 and change). It's kinda cool hyper-miling the thing in commuter traffic. Even the hilly streets of San Francisco bring with them the reward of extra MPG from regenerative braking and down-hill coasting.
Overall, the car is very well designed and sturdily assembled... not something shoddily slapped together with plastic rivets. And it's really fun to drive (in a geeky sort of way.) Let's face it: most car advertisements picture you glamorously whipping down some winding back-road somewhere, but really, how often to you get to do that? Most of the time you'll spend behind the wheel, you'll be staring at the tailpipe of the car in front of you. A car might as well be fun driving in your normal day-to-day environment, too.
And being a gas/electric hybrid, it doesn't mean that it's whimpy in performance. When I need to, I can handily charge up a steep onramp to zip into unforgiving traffic, and a sustained push uphill is well within the capability of this performer. In fact, I'm told by someone who is in-the-know that the electric motor is deliberately limited to 50 percent of it's full capacity... so there are a lot more horses under the hood than you might think.
But just because you can, it doesn't mean you should. The on-screen fuel consumption gauge pretty much lets you see exactly what those jack-rabbit starts and pedal-to-the-metal surges do for your MPG. The Prius has the muscle to get you out of a pinch. But use it sparingly, and you'll be amazed at how far a ten gallon tank of gas will get you.
If anything, that panel will be instrumental in helping you relearn how to drive... fuel-efficiently, that is. If you're willing to let go of a few bad habits, 55—and even 60—MPG are not unheard of.
So, as you can see, I'm sold. If you've had any doubts about the Prius, get yourself to a showroom and find out. When it's time to retire this Prius, I hope there will be more credible hybrids that go beyond what the Prius of today delivers, but given what's out there today, I think my next car is likely to be a Prius.