The auto press is all abuzz about the 2010 Prius. I already know it’s not the car for me, but I’m not about to let this stop me from offering my thoughts. Ready?
The exterior styling is nothing to write home about. And that’s being generous, looking at the front-end of the vehicle. Only two things save the styling for me. The little window behind the rear door window really adds to the look. This is a carry-over from the previous iteration of the model. A new thing I really like is the ‘split’ trailing design of the headlights. Sweet.
More significant than the exterior styling is the design of the vehicle itself. It’s a liftback. I’m not interested in liftbacks or hatchbacks. I want a trunk. Period. I do understand they went with a fastback-style rear for a reason. Certainly, a notchback configuration wouldn’t allow the stunning aerodynamics the Prius possesses. It boasts a Cd of just 0.25, for goodness sakes!
On the other hand, a trunk offers me a secure compartment not possible when the cargo area is accessible from the passenger area. I can disable the internal trunk release and the stuff back there is secure even if a thief breaks into the car … unless he starts to take the car apart.
The big issue … and the reason the Prius exists. The first generation Prius earned a combined EPA rating of 41 MPG (5.7 l/100 km). The second generation improved this number to 46 MPG (5.1 l/100 km). This third generation continues the improvement with a rating of 50 MPG (4.7 l/100 km). This is pretty impressive given that the EPA rates the 2008 Smart Fortwo at 33/41 MPG (city/highway). The Smart is half the price, but you can carry four people in the Prius.
This will not be a very comprehensive discussion of the Prius interior. Why? Once I saw the dashboard, I was done.
I’ve got two problems with it. First, it’s electronic. The speedometer is digital and no analogue option is available. Second, you’ll notice the vents and centre column controls at the bottom of the image … because the instrument cluster is in the centre of the dash rather than in front of the driver. You know, in front of the driver where it belongs!
Either of these things is a deal-breaker for me. Together? It’s like they’re trying to keep me away.
Despite the improvement in fuel economy, the third generation Prius is more powerful then it’s predecessor. The new model offers a net output of 138 horsepower, up from 110 in the previous model. Yea this doesn’t sound like all that much compared to performance cars, but it’s plenty to get you where you’re going without shredding your tires. For goodness sakes, I’m getting by just fine with 109 horsepower, though I enjoy considerably more torque than any Prius. You can have as much power as you want, but you will pay for it … both when you buy it, and every time you fill up.
A continuously variable automatic is the only transmission. Again, a dealbreaker for me. Can a manual transmission work with a hybrid? I don’t know. Regardless, I think the manual transmission’s days are numbered. That said, I’ll continue to prefer them and I’ll buy cars with sticks for as long as I can, or until the advantages of these auto-only cars are significantly greater than they are now. I’m secretly hoping to hold out until cars can drive themselves so it’ll be a non-issue!
The Prius offers adaptive cruise control as an option. My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I read this. I’ve never seen it available on a car as inexpensive as the Prius. The system includes Lane-Assist, which warns you when you start to wander out of your lane. Nice.
EV mode allows you to disable the gasoline engine entirely for a kilometre and a half, as long as you keep your speed under 40 km/h. Perfect for not waking anyone if you get home late.
Oh, and that coefficient of drag I mentioned earlier? It’s the lowest ever achieved on a production car. Impressive.
The 2010 Prius is impressive. No doubt about it. It’s getting closer to being a car I’d buy, but it’s not there yet. That it’s growing more appealing is quite a feat because it also has at least three deal-breaker features.
I’m still not convinced about this whole electric/hybrid system. It does work. It’s a triumph on engineering and technology. At the same time however, how will the cars perform as they age? Will the batteries last as long as the car? If not, how much will the replacements cost? As marvellous as it appears, there is appeal in something dead simple. Simplicity mean fewer points of possible failure. There’s also risk in something new. I know how my diesel will perform in ten years.
This is an outlook you may be surprised to hear from me. I like new things. I’ve got all kinds of gadgets and want all kinds more. The difference is that I start to change my tune when the ‘gadget’ costs tens of thousands of dollars and I rely on it every day to get me where I’m going. As much as I love my iPod Touch, it’s nothing compared to my car. If my iPod failed, I could go out at lunch and get another for $200. I’d then sync it with my computer tonight at home and I wouldn’t even lose any data. If there were a design issue with my car, or if it failed in a way that my insurance didn’t cover, I’d be cooked.
So for now, the early adopters can take the risks for me, thanks. But keep up the good work, Toyota! And how about a diesel/electric hybrid, maybe?
Exterior photo courtesy of NewCarShow.com and dashboard photo courtesy of gizmodo.com