By kevinschmidt on Sep 29, 2007
To start, I had to figure out how to, well, start the car. I found the key, actually a fob, and inserted it in the dash and was then able to press the start button which didn't actually start anything but caused the dash and display to light up. I then went to look for a gear shift and found a very small version of one in the dash just to the right of the steering wheel that is used to "shift" to go forwards or backwards.
Once in gear, pressing the accelerator begins moving the car forward silently using the electric motor alone, but once you try to accelerate at any significant pace you feel a slight shudder as the gas engine is started and begins to assist with propelling the car forward. When you come to a stop, there is a slight sensation of things shutting down and sitting at a light or stop-sign is a pleasantly quiet experience.
There is a display in the dash that shows a variety of things, the most interesting being one that shows what power source is being used and when the batteries are being charged. When on the freeway, it appeared that the source was entirely the gas engine and when traveling on surface streets or in stop and go traffic it alternated back and forth.
I have to say I was a bit surprised at how often the gas engine was involved. I had expected, particularly at slower speeds, that only the electric motor would be used but it seemed like the gas engine would be used at anything over 10 mph or so or when any significant acceleration was requested.
Despite some of the non-standard controls and way of operating, I was able to figure most things out pretty quickly. However, when "starting" it to leave the office and head back to the airport, I thought I had everything on but when trying to shift to move the car, just got an unfriendly beep. I saw the brake light was on and so I made sure the parking brake was off but that didn't help. I finally opened the glove box and read the book (thanks Avis for having it there!) and discovered I was supposed to have my foot on the brake when pressing the start button. I don't recall doing that when I picked it up but perhaps I did, but in any case it could be a bit more user friendly.
Performance was ok and I suppose as expected for an econobox and was perfectly suitable for traveling around town. I have ridden in a Nissan Altima Hybrid recently and it certainly seemed to perform better although it too seemed to have the gas engine kick in pretty quickly.
So, would I buy a Prius? I'd certainly consider it but would look at other hybrid's as well. I hope I get to rent another soon to experience it some more.