Inevitably, the first question I get about my Prius is either: "How do you charge it?" or "You have to plug it in, right?"
Unfortunately, most electric only cars are no longer on the road. If you want to learn more about the politics behind that, check out the movie: Who Killed the Electric Car?.
The Prius is a gas/electric hybrid, so you don't need to plug it in. It actually collects heat that would normally be lost during the braking process and uses that to charge the battery.
Let me preface the remainder of this review by saying, I'm not a car expert. I can figure out how to change cabin filter or the air filter on my own. That pretty much sums up my expert car knowledge. However, I can make comparisons to other rented/owned vehicles I've driven in the past.
This review is about real life use and functionality. I'm not a columnist for Car & Driver.
The Prius is hatchback and it is not just any hatchback. It is rather oddly shaped. Obviously this is done to increase the aerodynamics and ultimately the mpg of the vehicle. The look takes some getting used to.
Once you sit inside the vehicle, your opinion may change. It is incredibly spacious. The futuristic shape actually creates lots of head room. There is loads of leg space in the front seat. Two people fit very comfortably in the back. A third person who is not very large could fit as well.
The hatch provides about the same amount of space as a large sedan trunk. It clocks in at 16.1 cubic feet with the back seats up. The seats have a 60/40 split and can be folded down. It is pretty incredible how much storage space there is with the seats down. On a recent trip I packed a rolling luggage bag and two bird cages with space to spare.
There is also an extra storage area underneath the floor of the hatch. It is about 5" high.
From The Cockpit
So, you're sitting in the driver seat looking around...
The rectangular key slides into the dash and you press the power button to turn on the vehicle.
The next thing you will likely notice is the long dashboard. Your odometer is not directly in front of you. It is tucked back where the windshield glass meets the dash and it displays digital numbers rather than a needle based view. You'll notice no engine temperature gauge or tachometer.
To your right is a large digital display. This screen allows you to change/set radio stations, adjust the climate control system, and view your current or calculated MPG.
If you have a higher end Prius it will also have the GPS, bluetooth, and perhaps the video for parallel parking/reverse. I've got the bare bones model. Though, my father purchased a Prius with all the bells and whistles. We've taken a few trips together, so I've gotten a feel for these features.
The GPS is very handy. Though very expensive, it is nice to always have with you in the vehicle. It isn't an easy target for thieves like a portable GPS. His car also has the voice activated system. In my experience this doesn't work very well. My dad usually says something like, air conditioner on and the GPS responds back by saying POI (points of interest) initiated.
The bluetooth feature allows you to use your phone through the vehicle's speakers. It works pretty well. Though occasionally I've seen my dad reboot his phone in order to get the car/phone talking to each other again. I'm not sure if this is a problem with the phone or the car's bluetooth.
I've seen a few reviews where folks have complained about difficulty with using the touch screen to adjust the temperature or change the radio while driving. Honestly there was a few day learning curve, but I don't find it any more difficult to use than the regular knobs or buttons in another vehicle. Additionally the steering wheel has buttons to control both temperature and radio stations/modes.
The front seat of the Prius has tons of storage. The arm rest has a storage area. There is small storage area under the radio. The doors each have storage pockets and there are two glove compartments. There is a sunglasses compartment on the center ceiling too.
The seats are comfortable and I've never noticed sore spots after long drives.
There is no lock on the glove compartment. I hate when a vehicle doesn't have a locking storage compartment. Last summer, someone broke the front passenger side window to steal a GPS that was hidden in the vehicle. They rifled through all the compartments mentioned above until they finally found it in the driver's side door. If I could have locked it away, I would.
The location of speedometer often times creates glare on the windshield at night. At least a couple times a month, I find myself trying to adjust brightness on the display so that I can see clearly.
The rear hatch is designed poorly such that it is difficult to see out of and has many blind spots. You get used to it, but it is annoying.
My previous vehicle had an audio jack for mp3 player. Well, I paid extra to install one. This isn't a necessity, but your music sounds better that way. A lot times, the FM converters have static or pick up interference. Toyota doesn't offer an audio jack for this vehicle. If you install a new radio, you lose all the button functionality on the steering wheel and on the touch screen. Supposedly, there is a work around involving drilling and installing a converter where the CD changer would connect. I've opted to use the FM jobby.
The gas tank size is only 11.9 gallons. Actually, when the car is yelling at me to fill up, it only takes 8 gallons. That means about 400 miles to a tank. It also means, I fill up just as often as everyone else. Why on earth didn't Toyota figure out a way to hold just a few more gallons? As a passenger, I would be way more impressed if the vehicle could get 600 or 700 miles to a tank. Distance wise, it is just like other cars even if you are getting more miles to gallon.
You can't jumpstart another vehicle. This can fry your battery. Your car can be jumped by another vehicle.
The first time someone rides in my car and we are at a stop light, it freaks them out. Usually at a light, the engine turns off completely. It sort of feels like the car has stalled. I just point out we're saving gas and emissions.
When the traffic light changes the car powers on and we drive off seamlessly. There isn't any delay.
How's the pickup? I step on the gas and it goes. It doesn't seem any slower than other cars I've driven. If you're in a situation where you floor it, you won't get the same kind of pickup as other vehicles. Cruising on the highway, I sometimes find I am going too fast because the car is so quiet. In the past, I sort of get to know my vehicle and have an idea of how fast I am driving by the "feel". That's pretty hard to do with a Prius.
The mileage in a Prius is better than non-hybrids. It is not as high as EPA estimates though. In the summer I average about 50. In the winter I average along the line of 43. Turning off the climate control system in either summer or winter can actually gain some extra mpg.
The longer you drive the vehicle, the more you get to know it and the better you are driving to gain more mileage. Gliding down hills and keeping away from the accelerator helps quite a bit.
Oil levels can affect the gas mileage adversely. If you get an oil change somewhere other than the Toyota dealer, ask them to fill the exact amount the manual specifies. A lot of places just have a standard amount they use.
The car is spacious, quiet, and gets great gas mileage. Yes it has some quirks, but they are worth it in my opinion.
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