Friday, March 12, 2010

Looking back over 28 months of Toyota Prius driving

The Toyota Prius has gone. We sold our family vehicle and so it's time to look back and think about the strengths and weaknesses of this car.

Let's start with the strengths:
The Toyota is an affordable high tech vehicle. The technology works really well. We didn't face any breaking or acceleration issues similar to the ones recently discussed in the press. It's pretty economical too with minimum fuel consumption of around 4 liters per 100 km if you really try hard. It beats most Diesels in terms of emissions, not specifically for CO2 but for the other stuff like NOx. The car can seat four to five people with acceptable comfort and it comes well equipped with lots of gadgets like keyless go or a pretty impressive JBL loudspeaker system.
The car never let us down, reliability is certainly very good. Servicing isn't expensive either. Insurance premiums and road taxes are acceptable too, some states even have lower taxes for hybrid vehicles. So from an operation's cost point of view the car is good.

There are some weaknesses too:
Fuel economy is only good if you help the car. Short distances are bad, especially in the winter time and high speed driving on highways is bad as well. The hybrid unit will not help in these situations. You need to understand that when you break hard you still burn energy and that optimal recuperation only happens when you break softly or let the engine break on its own. We observed fuel consumption of 8 liters and more per 100 km in suboptimal conditions. The seats are not really good and the offer only limited lateral support. Usability could certainly improved and some things are not thought through. Let me give you one example: In Switzerland we tend to drive with the lights on also during daylight. Now, when switching on the lights, the display dims down, because it assumes it's dark. Therefore you can't read the display very well any more during the day. You can influence the brightness, but not enough. There's not enough space in the boot, certainly not for a complete family. I don't understand why the pure electrical mode has to be limited to speeds below 49 km/h. Most European cities have a speed limit of 50 km/h and this always turns the gasoline engine on. The beeping of the reverse gear is annoying. And there are a few additional little things I could mention here, but to be fair, none of these is a major problem.
The recent issues around Toyota and the fact that (at least in Switzerland) the market has been over-flooded with second hand Prius had a bad impact on the reselling value. We lost much more on this car than we did on the previously owned VW Touran for example.
But what is really the biggest minus in my eyes is the way how the car drives. If you consider yourself as a engaged and sporty driver you will not become happy with this car! The noise is annoying when you rev the car, the handling isn't really fostering fast driving and the performance is sub standard.

So here's the verdict:
If you look for an economical family car with good behavior and a green image and you don't have any aspiration to drive fast and sporty, then the Toyota Prius may be the right car for you. There's clearly an eco premium to be paid, but it's compensated by the fun of driving in fully electrical mode. Reliability is good and emissions are very low. There are many cab drivers in Switzerland who drive Prius now and for them it probably really makes sense.

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