Archive for Sunday, May 6, 2007

Toplikar: Pimp my Prius, please

Embracers of hybrid technology join auto club all of their own

May 6, 2007


Dave Toplikar peers into the camera on the back of his new Toyota Prius. A live video feed is displayed on the dashboard screen when the car is in reverse.

Dave Toplikar peers into the camera on the back of his new Toyota Prius. A live video feed is displayed on the dashboard screen when the car is in reverse.

"I don't get it. What do you mean, gas and electric? Do you plug it in?" I laughed as I drove my daughter Julie from her dorm in my new Toyota Prius.

Julie had lots of questions. Like many of us, she was pretty skeptical of the whole notion of mixing two power sources - an electric motor and a gasoline engine - under one hood.

But I told her I was pretty convinced that the Prius had finally made the jump. It's gone from being the quirky concept hybrid car (prius means "first" in Latin) to being one that I could trust on a cross-country trip.

And I had taken the plunge and joined the early adopters into the unofficial Prius club.

Wow factors

Here are some surprises about the Prius that I soon discovered:

¢ It doesn't sound like a sewing machine. When I hit the gas, it leaps into traffic just like any of the other cars in my family fleet.

¢ It has a keyless entry system. If I have the electronic key in my pocket, the car knows it. When I grab the door handle, it unlocks. The first couple of times, I found myself saying "Good dog" and patting its roof when it unlocked the door.

¢ When I want to start it, I don't need to put the key in the ignition. I just put my foot on the brake, press the "start" button and the car wakes up and is ready to roll. It has the same kind of symbol on the button that my Apple laptop has.

¢ When I put it reverse - a couple of the guys I showed at Best Buy loved this - a video camera down by the license plate turns on. And a TV screen with a fisheye lens shows what's behind me.

¢ The same video screen also serves as a touch screen for controlling functions such as air conditioning and the sound system. (I could have gotten the package that included a Bluetooth to connect to your mobile phone and a navigation option. Figuring phones and nav systems improve about every six months, I decided not to get those.)

¢ I asked a couple of guys at Best Buy to figure out how I could play the videos from my iPod on that screen. They thought I'd have to get some aftermarket product to make it work - but they also warned me it was illegal to have video within eyesight of the driver. So instead, I bought an auxiliary wire that runs directly from my iPod into my Prius' stereo sound system.

Now my Prius doubles as an iPod accessory.

I'm sure there are other aftermarket products I can use to pimp my Prius down the road.

Working together

Sure, the Prius comes with the cool tech stuff. But the main reason I got it was for the gasoline mileage. It's rated 60 miles per gallon for city and 51 mpg for highway.

I drove it around town for a couple of days and finally hit the 50-mile mark on the odometer. My mileage was 34.7, according to the information on the car's view screen. When I hit 100 miles, I was getting 37.3 mpg.

That's right.

All the fuel consumption information is right there on the view screen, and in real time. That's so you can keep checking it as you drive to get feedback on saving gas.

I'm sure I could do better if I actually drove it with some prudence.

However, I'm kind of used to driving my daughter Bonnie's five-speed Mustang. So I was probably punching the Prius' accelerator a little too hard.

Back to Julie's main question: Do you have to plug it in at night?

No. The battery is recharged during the normal course of driving. The "Hybrid Synergy Drive" system takes care of that.

How it works

If you want to learn how the Hybrid Synergy Drive works, go to Toyota's Web site. You'll see a lot of animation showing that the gasoline engine works in synch with the electric motor to power the car.

A battery powers the electric motor, which takes over at slow speeds. That's where you save gasoline.

When the gasoline engine takes over, it sends a charge to the battery. The battery also gets a charge during braking action on the wheels, which Toyota calls "regenerative braking."

Smug club

I checked online to see who else was in the elite Prius club: Prince Charles, Billy Crystal, Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, Harrison Ford and Angelina Jolie are among the proud owners.

Even Lawrence's own Chuck Woodling and his wife, Carolyn, have joined the party.

"Hey, look there's one! You're supposed to wave," I told Julie, remembering something from Larry David's TV show, "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

"Did she wave back?" I asked, happy to finally be a member of the cool environmental crowd.

"No. She just stared straight ahead."

Hmm. I'm sure she probably was just too busy checking her "consumption" information display to improve her mileage.

Or maybe once you're in the Prius club, a slight head nod is the acknowledgment of choice.

I wonder if there's a secret horn honk?

I guess I should read the manual - and get plugged in.


Moderateguy 10 years, 8 months ago

37.3 is a far cry from 60. The math is pretty important to someone wanting to justify one of these. Anybody else have long term experience with in town mileage?

Cheap 10 years, 8 months ago

For anyone who is interested in Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) that get upwards of "100MPG" for most commuters, or if you would just like to learn more about what goes into a Plug-in conversion, I'm building one and have been posting my progress with pictures. Parts are gathered and I'm almost finished. All that remains to be done is to buy a charger and install the parts. Follow my conversion at;

Cheap 10 years, 8 months ago

Moderateguy, I get 55mpg. I have driven my Prius for over a year. I know a lot people that get 65mpg all the time. Much of it depends on your commute, the weather, and the traffic. For myself, I would speed all over the place, but now with that video dash screen the Prius has judging me every few seconds, I see how much my driving was wasting gas and I drive the speed limit.

Christine Pennewell Davis 10 years, 8 months ago

I agree with his summation of the screen that is a big distration, but thanks sigmund I love funny in the morning.

Richard Heckler 10 years, 8 months ago

Driving habits definitely impact the most costly driving,city driving,in terms of the environment as well as dollars and cents. Due to driving habits the Prius lost 25% of it's projected mileage under Toplikar which sometimes is on electric. Any other type of vehicle mileage loss in city driving must be frightening or too scary to want to know = bad news. ======================== Ford company said profit suffered because high gasoline prices have caused consumers to abandon big sport-utility vehicles -- which carry the heftiest profit margins -- more quickly than anticipated. ======================== SUVs are enormously popular with consumers, and extremely profitable for carmakers. The profit margin for some models is as high as $15,000 per vehicle. Despite its admission of safety concerns, Ford has no plans to stop making SUVs. ======================== Profit margins at California's gasoline refineries are soaring. And they're taking pump prices along for the ride.

Sigmund 10 years, 8 months ago

If you like funny, perhaps the Prius's handling, or lack thereof, will tickle your funny bone. While not the worst, it ranks in the top three.of Top Gear's Comedy Handling Awards Want an eco friendly car you can enjoy driving? Get a VW diesel Golf (Rabbit here in the States).

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 10 years, 8 months ago

Sigmund's theme for the day: If it isn't perfect in every way, attempts at energy conservation are futile and useless.

JohnBrown 10 years, 8 months ago

I'm waiting for data to come in on value vs life cycle. I'm concerned that once the batteries need replacing that that will be a huge cost, and the resale value of used Prius' will, literally, be down in the dumps.

Anyone know different?

Sigmund 10 years, 8 months ago

Theme for the day, don't BUY into the ecomentalist hype, the price is too high, There new new fuels and technologies that will be both eco-nomy friendly as well as eco-system friendly and you don't have to drive an expensive, slow, poorly handling, flimsy, Hollywood hyped hybrid to get a benefit.

"With a hungry European market to feed, diesel development has continued, creating turbocharged diesel engines that perform better and pollute less. Today's diesel cars are virtually indistinguishable from their gasoline-burning siblings. Except they use a lot less fuel."

Consider the 2005 Volkswagen Golf

And they will be getting cleaner as the new ultra low sulfur fuels come online.

Finally, the Volkwagen that could save the world and is fun to drive in that it actually handles.

compmd 10 years, 8 months ago

My 5000 pound diesel sedan still outperforms the Prius in acceleration, handling, top speed, safety, AND fuel economy, making 38mpg. And yes, I can use renewable fuels. Mercedes 617 Oelmotor Power!

Janet Lowther 10 years, 8 months ago

I just re-ran the numbers and gas prices would have to average upwards of $4.48/gal. for a hybrid Civic to pay off in 100,000 miles compared to it's conventional counterpart. I used a simplified case that is not charging interest on the price difference, difference in re-sale value (I generally drive cars 'till the wheels are about to fall off) or the eventual cost of replacing the battery pack. (which some of the early hybrids are already needing.) Toyota doesn't make a conventional counterpart to the Prius, but comparing it to a Yaris, it would take even higher prices to make up the ~$10K difference.

Now, I did compare a Civic the way I would order one (pretty plain: AC, 5-speed) with a Civic Hybrid which has a CVT, which I suppose would be more comparable to a automatic, but I'd just as soon shift for myself.

I used's TMV prices: $16,746 for the conventional vs $22,537 for the hybrid.

I used the worst EPA figure for each: 30mpg for the regular and 49mpg for the hybrid.

In 100,000 miles they would consume 3333.33 gallons vs 2040.82 gallons.

The price difference is $5791, The fuel difference is 1292.52, resulting in a break-even average gas price of $4.4804

If, as in Mr. Toplikar's case, your economy does not meet expectations on the hybrid, prices would have to go even higher. I have had pretty consistent results of getting the EPA city number on my mixed city/highway (commuting to Topeka) driving.

I'm glat there are folks who will pay a premium for new gas saving technology, which I hope will allow volume production to bring down the prices to where it actually makes economic sense, however I can't justify it for myself 'till the price comes down a lot more.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 10 years, 8 months ago

Toplikar primarily writes "gee-whiz" articles about his latest consumer purchases, and they are not in-depth investigations.

Hybrid vehicles are not optimal as commuter vehicles. They are only really useful for city driving where the brakes are used a lot, which is what charges the batteries. And if they are to get maximum efficiency, they shouldn't be designed to function as commuter vehicles, which means they are overpowered (to achieve highway speeds and good "merge" acceleration.)

There are new forms of hybrid vehicles about to come on line, which use compressed air, and are even more efficient than electric motors on large vehicles such as city buses and garbage trucks.

CaliforniaJoe 10 years, 8 months ago

Thanks for the very enjoyable, informative article. I can't believe anyone would really compare Hummer's and Priuses. By the way, the Gubernator (who first popularized Hummers with the public) realizes his mistake and has converted his to bio-diesel. As to the idea that the Prius (or any other car) is not perfect, well, ya, DUH! There is no perfiection. If you believe in evolution, then like me you are hoping that the next generation of cars will continue to get better. The Prius and the Golf and the Civic are in many ways more economical and more eco-friendly than what we used 10 years ago. If we are still around to see what things look like in another 10 years, the only thing we can be sure of is that things will be different. "Looney Left"? Really, after all that has happened recently, you have the nerve to go throwing around language like that? You should be ashamed of yourself.

gerbilsniper 10 years, 8 months ago

4th grade ed...

Ya know, usually i cringe everytime i read one of Dave's articles, aside from this one being a big "i bought a hybrid, pat me on the back" article....this one is far less annoying than most of his....almost .....ALMOST i said...informative.

Sigmund 10 years, 8 months ago

I reread Dave's review and surprise of surprises, I rather liked it! Still wouldn't buy a Prius, but the article is well written and really quite clever. He loves his "iPod accessory / puppy dog" and I can understand that kind of emotional attachment. How many of you have given names to your cars, come on be honest. At least he doesn't own a Saab or a Boxter.

One last video clip review, but this one is of the Saab 9-5. Be prepared to be amazed, not by the car but by the quality of BBC2 television. Makes me seriously think of packing up and moving to the UK.

CaliforniaJoe 10 years, 8 months ago

Hey, it's a free country. If someone wants to believe something without a factual basis, that is their right. Heck, some people still think "W" is an honest politician, and Saddam was behind 9/11. Didn't mean to go in this direction with the conversation, but I didn't start it. As to keeping cars as long as possible, I couldn't agree more. We still have the '65 Chevy Impala that Dad bought used in 1966. It will get passed onto the Grandkids some day, I hope. Sold the '64 Chevy II that I had, in 1982. Am sorry I sold it. Although, if I still had it, I would "pimp" it up with some more modern gadgets. The point is that most of the cars made today get better fuel economy than most of the cars from the past, and put less pollution into our air.

Godot 10 years, 8 months ago

My 1999 Buick gets 34 mpg hiway and 29 mpg city. And it is paid off. Why would I trade for a $30K plus prius that advertises 60 mpg but only nets 34 mpg?

So the sticker on Toplikar's Prius declared that he could get 60 mpg in the city; when his actual experience was only 34 mpg, he blamed his driving habits, rather than the false claims of Toyota! What a joke. Were the stats created by Toyota based on the driving habits of an 80 year old?

blessed3x 10 years, 8 months ago

I don't see what the big deal is? If you're worried about the environment just buy a carbon offset or two and then you can drive whatever vehicle you want with no associated guilt. You can crank that AC down to 65 and burn all the fossil fuels you want. Algore said so.

texascarl 10 years, 8 months ago

That's the ticket to fast cash, Dave. Sell some carbon offsets to pay for pimping the Prius. Hey, I think I ordered that for dinner last week. Prius Carbonara.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.