I had to take my Toyota Land Cruiser in for service today. After dropping it off, I had the opportunity to get a Toyota Prius for the day. I have a friend that raves about his Prius. I’ve had a Prius rental car twice before, but never understood the attraction. So this time, I decided to spend the day running errands to get more experience with the Prius. After about 200 miles of city and highway driving, I thought I’d pass along my thoughts and opinions.
Just to set expectations, I’m not going to spend a lot of time discussing all the great reasons for owning a Toyota Prius. Talk to any Prius owner, and they can go on forever about why they love the car. I’m mostly going to focus on why the Prius isn’t the car for me.
I’ll start with what I least like about the Prius — the dash position and design. The dash position and design was my biggest annoyance the last two times I drove a Prius. I was hoping that after 200 miles I’d start to get accustom to the speedometer being located on top of the dash, in the middle of the car. Well I didn’t.
With a traditional car speedometer behind the steering wheel, I only see it when I decide to look at it. I found the Prius speedometer position to be distractingly in my peripheral vision when I simply wanted to look out the front window. The most distracting was the car image, with its constantly moving graphics showing charging or discharging of the batteries. The human eye is designed to detection movement. In the distant past, it was to detect a lion or other animal about to attack. Today, it detects moving arrows and other graphics sitting in your peripheral vision.
I had another big problem with the dash. During the day, I found it an annoyance. At night, I found the glow from the dash actually irritated my eyes much the same way that using a computer screen in a dark room irritates my eyes. For me, the dash is a show stopper. I don’t think I could ever like it.
My other issues are mostly quirks, but they were distracting enough to annoy me. On the highway, I found it very difficult to maintain a constant speed. I was trying to drive at a constant 70 mph. In other cars, I can do this without much conscious effort. Glance at the speedometer every few minutes. Compensate by a couple miles per hour. No problem. In the Prius, I was driving at 70 mph. A couple of minutes later, I noticed that I was traveling at 64 mph. I had slowed down a lot, without really sensing it. I sped up to 70 mph again. Several minutes later I was doing 78 mph. Again without sensing the changing speed. I don’t know why. It felt like the Prius was subtly downshifting and speeding up, then upshifting and slowing down. I don’t know if that was the hybrid system trying to optimize fuel economy, or just my imagination trying to explain why the car varied in speed so much.
Normally when driving, I become part of the machine, with my mind and body reacting to the changing environment and road conditions with little conscious effort. In the Prius, I was far more aware of what the car was doing, and compensating for things I didn’t want it to do.
The Prius clearly has a huge following, so I may be in the minority. But, I’d like to see some better human factors design in a future Prius, such as a completely redesigned dash, and an unobstructed rear window.
review: Car Reviews