Let’s get one thing straight: There are very few inanimate objects which inspire my personal appreciation, respect, and interest as much as the 2010 Toyota Prius does. It’s a happy-faced, slick, aerodynamically-optimized, practical, comfortable and dead-reliable vehicle which exists for the sole purpose of letting concerned Americans feel like they are making a small but genuine difference in their efforts to reduce their consumption of the world’s finite resources.
I will go to my grave believing that Toyota made an incredible corporate gamble to spend a billion of their hard-earned dollars against all odds to commit to the development and production of the Prius in the mid-nineties right during a period of historic low oil prices for the sole purpose of arming Toyota with the advanced technology for a global future of ever-scarcer oil, and that the Prius began to make a profit years sooner than is often rumored, in a way that no automotive nameplate that does not begin with “Toyota” would consider even vaguely possible. Over time, the Prius has opened the eyes and minds of many of its most ardent detractors. In my perfect world, it would extend the same service to the few remaining narrow-minded, mouth-breathing, blinders-wearing, right-shoulder-passing mullet-mobile owners.
A little harsh, lacking in punctuation, and yet strangely familiar? My rant is a word-for-word mirror image of an anti-Prius diatribe heard here at TTAC recently. Well, the Prius does tend to generate highly polarizing points of view. Which evoke less-than stellar memories of my high-school hallways and the Vietnam War era. Back then, the rant was “America, love it or leave it”. And now we’re wishing death to . . . owners of a certain car?
But Jack Baruth’s editorial moves on to the more mundane question of how we at TTAC should rate cars (in the number of stars sense). Your vote in the poll is overwhelmingly clear: 86% prefer Option #1 — Rate the car in accordance with how well it performs its particular intended mission. I hear you, and Jack and I actually agree on something.
From the beginning, the Prius was conceived of and designed to be one thing only: an ultra-efficient, economical and practical compact car (here’s an interesting story on its origins). So I’ll leave the critique of the Prius’ Corolla-like interior appointments, steering feel and handling and the Prius’ limitations in flying up long mountain grades to others. Anyway, my feelings about the Corolla have been made quite clear here. And the 2010 Prius and current Corolla are more alike then ever, both having been “rationalized” (rationed?) by Toyota in the pursuit of cost control and higher profits.
I tested a stripper 2010 Prius II with a price of $22,000 (plus $750 delivery) bought by my neighbor. A comparably equipped Corolla XLE lists for $19,489. The “hybrid premium” amounts to $3261. Ownership costs for both vehicles are very similar except for fuel. At $3 gas, and 15k miles annually, the Prius saves $652/year; at $5 gas, it’s $1100/year thriftier.
My neighbor is replacing a Corolla she bought new twenty years ago (and still looks great). She expects to keep the Prius equally long. Given the likely twenty-year trend of gas prices, she’s going to come out way ahead with the Prius. In fact, if gas averages only $5, the Prius will repay its entire purchase cost in fuel cost savings. Pious or practical?
I took the Prius on a sixty-mile drive of back roads with winding and hilly sections as well as long straights and returned via the freeway. It did not come as a big surprise to me that response was quicker in the Power mode than in the Eco mode Nor should it to you or other test drivers. And the “OM” emitted by the engine on acceleration and hills would be highly appreciated by certain meditative sects. They would also undoubtedly rate the Prius’ serene highway manners highly for Zen Driving Meditation.
I’m not a practiced Prius hypermiler, but with a little sensitivity to the pedal formerly known as the throttle, I found myself in pure EV-only operation for some extended periods on winding, undulating stretches at around 40-45 mph. The Prius felt like it was coasting with the engine off . . . even uphill. A new challenge for engaging driving that doesn’t shred tires.
But no test of the Prius is complete without some freeway shenanigans. No attempts to break the 300km/h barrier here. But drafting behind a semi at 61 mph shot the economy meter into the 100+ mpg range (see photo for proof). And then the ultimate Prius test: holding up traffic in the right lane. On a thirty-mile level stretch in the valley, cruise-controlled 65mph yielded 55+ mpg. Being even more obnoxious, at 60mph the meter was well over 60 mpg. Unfortunately, traffic was so light that I couldn’t really create a traffic jam or inspire right-shoulder passing, despite my best efforts. My trip total was just a tick over 50 mpg, despite forcing the Prius to chant lots of OMs.
On the way back through town, I made good use of the 2010 Prius’ most significant new feature, the EV Mode. It allows speeds up to about 15mph for as long as a mile, absolutely perfect for sneaking up on and scaring unsuspecting pedestrians and bikers.
Cars are kind of like people: they’re happier when they stick to their intended life mission and are judged accordingly. The Prius knows its mission and carries it out well. It’s a practical, comfortable, reliable and u;tra-efficient transportation device. It’s earned a bit of smugness along with its five stars.