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Green Test Drive: Toyota Prius

October 1st, 2007

The engine read out could be distracting – at times coasting down the toll way I was getting 99 mpg! Whee! – because watching it could become an obsession. But its virtue is that you can periodically check your driving. Could this be the first car that has tried to educate its driver? It certainly could help my husband who carries that male gene that compels you to speed toward the waiting traffic at stoplights.

The car handled well. I felt it was a nice peppy drive – but then I drive a van. Photographer Robert Hart deemed the ride “unremarkable.’’ This seemed a little unkind, given what he drives during the day. But he admitted that the tight ride was better than a “squishy” one would be.

Both of us were pleasantly surprised by the console technology and the cabin space. Robert fit nicely into the backseat and he’s over 6-feet-tall. David looked comfy in the co-pilot seat, but then he’s a sales guy. Was he acting? I don’t think so. I felt nicely enveloped in the driver’s seat, but not boxed in.

All the helpful technology arrayed in front of the driver included several controls on the steering wheel and an LED panel at the base of the windshield where you can see your speedometer, odometer and a few other details that are normally tucked on the dash behind the steering wheel. This change drew our eyes forward and out the wide windshield, making this an effective safety improvement.

toyoya_prius_shifter_3.jpgThe gear shaft, which has morphed into a gear knob, was a bit confounding at first. It operates more like a switch than a gear shaft. After you select your transmission mode, it snaps back into a home position. I’ve been using regular old gear shafts for about 30 years now and this knob was initially discombobulating. But I got used to it. I’m not sure if that’s a victory for Toyota or my aging brain synapses.

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