It’s now been a decade since I’ve been driving a hybrid electric-petrol car (Toyota Prius), and I thought I’d write about the experience from the point of view of others who might be considering the technology.
When I bought the Prius (mid 2002), it had been on the UK market for just over a year, and was still in its first-generation styling (a saloon car). I had been interested in the car, both technically and as a passenger, so after it was released in the UK it was a natural choice to get. (My earlier car, also a Toyota, had gone to the great rust bucket in the sky earlier that same year. It too lasted a decade and reached 140k miles.)
I had also considered a Honda Insight at the time, but the styling of the car was particularly ugly and the two-door nature would have been a cramp for our future family plans. Of course, not having a hybrid car was also a potential, but I have always been on the leading edge of technology. (Bought a NeXT in 1993, bought a TiVo in 2000, bought a PowerBook Ti in 2001, a Dyson DC01 (even the CR01 washing machine, which lasted over a decade.)
In any case, driving an automatic turned out to be less of an issue than I thought (in the UK, almost all cars are manual or ‘stick-shift’ in American). The Continuously Variable Transmission (or CVT) keeps the car going, though there’s a slight lag between putting your foot down and the car accelerating, and it can be quite off putting as you get up to cruising speed and the engine slows down as it scales back the power. It’s also novel when stopped at traffic lights to hear no engine noise, though the novelty wears off after a while. About the only thing I have to remember is that when reversing or going slowly in a car park that pedestrians aren’t likely to hear the car (fun sometimes when there’s someone inconsiderately walking down the middle of the car park; you can sneak up behind them and then use the horn to good effect).
Anyway, the car is still getting good mileage – back in 2004, when I took the new style Prius out for a test drive (and incidentally, my first blog post), the mileage I was getting was 42 mpg average. These days, it’s probably closer to 40 mpg but in all honesty my car is much more of a station-and-back-again shuttle than anything else.
Of course, car efficiency has improved (outside of America) and what used to be an excellent mileage is now only a pretty good mileage. Still, it lets me get a ‘green’ parking permit which saves me a good grand a year on parking. Plus, although it’s possible to get smaller eco-diesel cars that have closer to 70mpg, you can’t fit a family of four and their luggage in them (or in some cases, dogs).
My wife ended up buying another hybrid car (from Toyota’s sister company) a few years ago, and I’m not sure we could go back from the comfort of driving a hybrid car now. Chances are, my next car will also be a Prius.