I drove a Toyota Prius today. A coworker of mine has one as a rental and he let me drive it to/from lunch. My initial impression was excitement mixed with a little confusion. I’m all about alternative energy and the opportunities/challenges that come with it. I have been intrigued by hybrid vehicles for a couple of reasons; first, they are some of the most technologically advanced cars on the road and second because they may be the vehicles of the future.
So let me talk about the ‘wow’ first. We hop in the car and there is a power button just like you would find on your television or game system. Once you hit it, all the screens come to life and the engine starts. Of course, I couldn’t hear it and wasn’t sure that it was. The shifter is a little knob that projects from the dash. You move it to reverse and the information screen automatically converts into the viewer for the back-up camera. I still had to turn around and look; bad habits die hard. Actually, I was just too nervous trusting a little screen to tell me that there was nothing behind me and how far away from things I was. Moving the shifter to drive, the car slowly pulled away. The information screen can toggle between many display types. We particularly enjoyed the one that tells you where the power is coming from/going to and in what proportions, e.g., battery, gas. We even managed to screech the tires from a dead stop (not your typical hippie driving activity).
Next was the confusion. The steering wheel and dash are similar to what I would imagine that of a fighter cockpit. I found many of the buttons to be unnecessary. Do you really need to adjust the heating/air conditioning on the fly? And the screens for the radio and information system were not bright enough. The windshield is so large and extends so high onto the roofline that any overhead sun puts a horrible glare on the screens making it impossible to read them.
All in all, I was impressed. I thought that it was a cool little car and was impressed by how smoothly the hybrid drive functioned. Would I buy one? I think so, if I could get my wife to buy off on it. I just might not recommend it as a rental car as the technical features have a learning curve. To fully enjoy the car and all that it has to offer may take a few minutes of reading the owner’s manual. I look forward to trying out the Chevy Volt if it ever makes it to production.