Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Toyota Prius

On a recent holiday to Melbourne we hired a car to run around in. When my brother-in-law went to pick it up they couldn’t find the car we’d reserved. After they’d fucked him around for an hour he was rewarded with an upgrade. The fact that Avis had given our pre-booked and pre-paid-for car to someone else will come back to bite them a bit later.

We ended up with a black Toyota Prius, an electric/petrol hybrid. None of us had ever experienced one of these before so the novelty value soothed our irritation a little. Some of us were less soothed than others. You just have to let it go or you’ll get an ulcer.

As first impressions go, from the outside the Prius appears to be a small car. Inside is roomy and comfortable, accommodating three adults and their luggage without complaint. The dash is quite plain with a LCD screen dominating the centre. It is a touch screen with fairly intuitive controls that run most of the cars functions like the radio, a/c, trip distance/economy and a few other dinky functions. The warp speed button was broken.

The stubby little gear shift is a bit close to the steering wheel for my tastes but its drive-by-wire operation ensures you can’t slam it into reverse while cruising at 100kph. Starting the car for the first time using its push button ignition was moderately frustrating. Couldn’t get the bastard to go. We tracked the problem to the plastic lump, (that’s the key?), being in upside down! This is a fairly bad design flaw as the car still wakes up and displays that it’s ready to go but won’t select a gear. Quite frustrating really. Wouldn’t it have been fairly simple to make the key either double sided or only fit in the socket one way, huh Toyota? I have since found out the key doesn’t even need to be fitted into the dash; the car will recognise its presence even if you leave it in your pocket.

There are no gears, (look it up if you want to know how the hell that works), so acceleration is unmarked by any hesitations. It pulls quite strongly and keeps up with traffic even if it revs its ring out under very heavy acceleration. Overtaking required the throttle to hit the floor at times. I disliked having nothing in reserve and found myself desiring a little more in the go department. I did manage to briefly achieve 160 kph while overtaking freeway clogging morons. (Excessive speeds were for comparative reasons only.) I could feel a certain amount of feedback/resistance when cruising gently as the battery and petrol engine cut in and out. You have to extend your feelers to be aware of the transition.

Over a several hundred kilometres we averaged about 5litres/ 100 kilometres. It is advertised as getting 4.4litres/ 100 kilometres. I think that would be achievable once you got used to driving like a granny. The mileage came down when I stopped thrashing it and began operating more efficiently. The battery-only function was a short lived experiment. There are so many interlocks that automatically switch it back to normal hybrid operation it became a pain to keep resetting it. I think the computer would prefer the driver didn’t keep on pressing all the buttons leaving it the hell alone to do its job. Using battery-only very quickly drains the charge too. It can actually make the economy worse as the engine has to pull double duty to recharge and propel the car at the same time. It would be a handy device to have if you needed to sneak away from your girlfriend’s home at 3am when her husband/boyfriend/father got home unexpectedly. A cantankerous V8 is notorious for stalling at times like these.

When we gave the Prius back at the airport Avis got all confused. It seems we weren’t supposed to have it. We already knew that you bloody weirdos. They’d really stuffed up their records and had upset numerous other people by giving that car to us. The knock on effect had played havoc with their computers and other customers down the line. Least it wasn’t us getting upset for once, although we did have to stand there while they sorted it. With any luck we might get out of paying the toll road fees

(Like it? See - The boss' perception)

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