Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Toyota Smugmobile

I got to take a Prius for a little spin this week. I've been wondering what it's like to drive a hybrid. Now I know. It's not too different from what I'm used to. From the driver's seat it sounds pretty much the same as a normal car. It steers the same, it accelerates the same, except the hybrid may be a bit smoother. No big deal. It's just like driving a car. But it is not your plain old car, and the designers at Toyota have put a lot of work into reminding you that you are driving something different. The key isn't a key, but a little black box you fit into a port, rather like an oversized USB drive. You start it by pressing a power button. Instead of moving the shifter into the drive or reverse position and leaving it there, you move the joystick up or down for drive and reverse. It moves back to the middle when you let go and the lights on the dash tell you that you've moved from neutral into drive. In reverse the car continually beeps, to remind you that you are in reverse. Also, when you are backing up a little screen in the dashboard gives you a view from the rear view camera. That camera is necessary. To make the car as aerodynamic as possible the rear window in the Prius is reduced to a mere slit. You don't notice it so much when you are driving, but when you are backing up it is a bit of a pain. When you change to drive the screen switches to graphic readout that is supposed to show you continually how much gas you are saving by driving this car. It gives you your miles per gallon at that moment and the average of miles per gallon for your entire trip. It also gives you a very pretty and ever changing bar chart. I'm sure it is measuring how wonderful you are for driving this great car, but I never bothered trying to figure out what all the little symbols mean.

Why all the bells and whistles? The Prius constantly reminds the driver how much less fuel he is consuming and how small his carbon footprint now is. It almost whispers to you as you drive; “you are a good person, you are better than those people in the SUVs, because you drive a Prius.”

Not that I was arguing, of course. As I drove along I spoke to the other drivers on the highway. “Out of my way you gas guzzling road hog, can't you see I'm morally superior?” “Move over you polluting bastard, that's my parking spot.” I laughed as I passed by gas stations. I smirked at the exhaust rising from other cars. And when we brought the car back to it's spot in the parking garage I rolled down my window and listened to the echo of my voice shouting “I'm better than you are.”

Well, maybe, maybe not. But I did drive quite a few miles, visited our favorite cheap restaurant, had lots of red meat and fried food, and watched as the gas gauge didn't move a jot off of “F.” I could get used to that.

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