Long Term Toyota Prius hybrid-electric car test drive

A color tour in my own Prius and other hybrid adventures and musings, by Glenn W. Arlt

See review here / first generation here / See main Prius page here

Having had my own 2005 Toyota Prius since July 2005, and having waited 9 months for it, I thought it might be time for a short update on how it’s going — just to give anyone even remotely considering the purchase of one some idea of what it is like as a real car in the real world — not like the professional “car testers” who only have the vehicle a while and treat them like rental-cars — or worse. [Editor’s note: that would be me]

Two weeks ago, I went to the Toyota dealer 45 miles away (which happened to have been the “losing” dealer since my local dealer managed to get me my new car first — I’d gotten tired of waiting so put down a second deposit at the second dealer for a new Prius last May). I had purchased four inexpensive alloy wheels and Bridgestone Blizzak (true) winter tires (as opposed to all-season tires fitted at the factory for US spec cars) because I live in a rural area in northwestern Michigan. Swaffer’s Toyota of Cadillac (Michigan) put on my alloys with winter tires for a fair fee while I was there visiting my elderly parents. While I was waiting, they asked if they could use my Prius in a TV ad being filmed that day — so my car’s a “TV star” and in fact, I finally saw the finished ad (and my car) this morning (10/19/2005). It’s kind of weird to see your own car appearing in a TV ad. (Needless to say, Swaffer’s can’t keep a Prius in stock because as quickly as they arrive, they’re delivered).

I’d spoken to a few other Prius owners in the area, and one had owned a Prius through part of the 2003-2004 winter (he used the all-season tires) and then last winter, he obtained four wheels and true winter tires. This is not an extra-ordinary expense for me since I’ve been doing this same thing on my prior car as well as my wife’s current car for years. Toyota wanted $140 per steel wheel — I obtained (factory sized) alloys from Tire Rack for $99 each — and after I priced the Toyota steel wheels, and discussing it with my Toyota sales professional (Greg, Traverse Motors Toyota, Traverse City) advised me to go to Tire Rack, which I’d already looked into.

My Prius has group 4 options, which means to say that it essentially has all the bells and whistles — except the navigation system, Bluetooth, the upgraded 6-CD and cassette stereo (mine only has CD and AM/FM). This means I have the advantages of vehicle stability control, side air bags (in the front seat sides) and curtain air bags. I felt this was necessary, considering the extremely poor standard of driving of most Michigan drivers, who apparently think that a big red octagon with S-T-O-P means “just go on right ahead and pull out in front of that person who happens to be doing 55 on the main road — they’ll slow down for you — now cruise right on through your 90 degree turn without stopping otherwise you’ll have to wait.” Call me old-fashioned but I can read the rules of the road and actually understand what that red sign means, and how when you are leaving a gas station or a small side-road, there is an “invisible” STOP sign there in the law, as well.

On to the drives in question — the latest color tour throughout our area. In a word, they were — grand!

Saturday, we went to Traverse City then drove north onto the Old Mission Peninsula. (Check a Michigan map — look up Traverse City). On this peninsula, which has grape vineyards and cherry orchards and farms, one often has a fabulous view of either the West Bay of Grand Traverse Bay, or the East Bay of Grand Traverse Bay — sometimes, you’re doing a rapid neck-swivel because in parts of the drive, you can see both. The colors were spectacular, though when we decamped from the car at the lighthouse at the end of the road (literally) I chickened out at the 40 degree weather and high winds — having forgotten to bring a good coat and hat. My wife didn’t complain about heading back to the car, as she had likewise not brought same. The colors on the way to and from Traverse City and throughout the entire tour were fantastic, though the gray skies and wind didn’t make it the ideal color tour.

Sunday afternoon the weather was somewhat warmer and the skies blue with a few cottony clouds, so we left our home on Lake Ann Road, headed north towards Lake Ann and then west through some of the best fall colors to be seen in the area. Our tour took us through remote areas of Benzie County and then north into Leelanau County, where we circled Lake Leelanau (the trees there were not as colorful yet), then down to Traverse City, and back west home. As last year’s tour, we found the best colors nearest home.

Driving the Prius on a slow Sunday afternoon, rural color tour gave me a chance to look at the possibilities of mileage under such circumstances. Overall, we obtained about 56 miles per gallon for the tour — which varied from 38 mph (in order to allow the electric mode to work) with and without cruise control being on, up to 55-60 mph. Both days, I was careful to not “tootle” along slowly while holding up any traffic, and in fact, pulled over for someone in an SUV on the Saturday tour to let them rush to their destination. Plus both color tour areas we enjoyed are rather up-and-down with multiple stop signs and curves, so the mileage seemed phenomenal to us. It’s very easy to get spoiled after a week or two in a Prius and thus disappointed if a fuel tank “only” obtains mileage in the 40 to 45 mpg range — until one fills up a “conventional” car such as my wife’s 2002 Hyundai Sonata V6, which gets 20 to 26 mpg, instead of the usual 40 to 52 mpg of the Prius. Considering that they are functionally similar vehicles with similar room and performance, a 100% mileage improvement is — let’s face it — absolutely astounding. My wife fully intends to replace the Sonata in a couple of years — with another hybrid, and at that time we will look at the selection of Toyota hybrids, Honda hybrids, Hyundai hybrids and Subaru hybrids — with Nissan hybrids also a faint possibility. We’ll eschew the idea of considering a GM, Ford, or Daimler-Chrysler hybrid because after buying their products for 25 years, we no longer have faith that these companies can even build “conventional” cars well, so how could we trust them to build hybrids well? We cannot.

Driving through old-town in Traverse City reminds one of a prior time, when people generally walked from their homes to work downtown, shop downtown, and drove their cars on weekend tours or to see friends or family. Cars, once upon a time, were even put-up for the winter and not deemed a necessity in this country, in our grandparent’s time. Looking at the beautiful old homes, it can be seen that they were not designed around the car (garages being in the back, facing the alley) — but were designed around the “parlor” for indoor visiting with friends, and likewise the big front porch, for outdoor visiting with friends. Until the late 1920s, only the occasional household had a radio, and up until that time, entertainment was had at places such as an Opera House or movie theatre, if not at home.

Perhaps in the future, if we tire of 500 channels and nothing on (as the song truthfully reminds us), and tire of a lack of real personal relationships, we’ll go back to using our cars largely for weekend tours, shopping, visiting and color tours again. Might there be the eventual move of population back to cities and town centers from suburbs? Maybe.

While we were out — and it was as near to the color peak as any weekend was going to get — we saw perhaps one or two other obvious color tourists, including an early 1950s MG TD. (They must have been cold — the top was down). Does nobody go weekend driving any more? Perhaps in the future, this change of lifestyle may be forced upon us or our children or grandchildren by the unavailability of massive quantities of cheap crude oil — hence one of the reasons the Prius is so interesting. Hybrids may help us to make a less traumatic, economically threatening change, but it is probable that such a change is coming no matter what we do. The term “fossil fuels” makes it obvious by definition that the resource is not infinite. Perhaps ethanol fuelled hybrids are one of several possible solutions for our future.

The Prius is such a soothing car to drive — being so quiet and smooth, and so intuitive after you get used to it, that once you get back into a “conventional” vehicle you may find that “convention” just doesn’t cut it any longer. The glass area is big so driving tours are pleasant, and of course, safe. Conversely, I understand that driving in a Chrysler 300 (“Hemi” or not) is like sitting in an early 1950s Hudson Hornet or a Brink’s truck — not much in the way of window area.

Also by Glenn Arlt: the Prius as a squad car - and don’t laugh!

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