Reviewed: 2011 Toyota Prius – The Hyper-milers Bugati Veyron

The Toyota Prius is an interesting vehicle in that it draws very strong reactions. For certain group of enthusiasts the Prius is a coming sign of the apocalypse, for another group of enthusiasts, it is as if it came down from the hand of the Almighty himself. For yet another group of people, it is a tool for them to shout out loudly that they are morally superior to everyone else in the world, because they drive a hybrid.


Believe it, or not, the Toyota Prius is a hard-core enthusiast machine. It just doesn’t happen to be the hard-core enthusiast machine one would think of if you come from a traditional gearheads mindset. And yet, it is to the hyper milers what a Ferrari 458 or Bugatti Veyron would represent.  Go to a gathering of hyper-milers for any competition they put on, and you will find people who have tricked out Prius’  just like a hot roder might trick out a 5 liter Mustang. The funny thing is, the group of people who would trick out said Mustang to run 10 second-quarter miles on pump gas hold as much disdain for the Prius and its owners, as the Prius owners do for the Mustang crowd. And yet, their passion, their ingenuity, and their commitment to their cause is exactly the same, it’s just that they come from totally opposite ends of the spectrum.


The Toyota Prius has come a long way in the decade plus it is been on the market.  Even in the last couple years, before this current iteration, while one could marvel at the engineering of the car, it felt as much like an appliance, as it ever did in automobile. Because the focus was always on engineering and fuel mileage, everything else took a backseat. The exterior design was often best described as awkward, and the interiors used more plastic than the Fisher-Price aisle at Toys “R” Us. The latest generation of Prius’ has sought to fix some of these issues. The exterior design of the car has certainly been crafted in a wind tunnel with little regard for aesthetics. That said, the unique shape of the Prius makes it stand out, which from Toyota’s point of view, may have been the point from the start. When you see a Prius go down the road, you won’t mistake it for any other car. To the douche bag crowd it screams, “look at me look at me I’m driving a hybrid!” These are of course the same people who drive their Prius Hybrid in the HOV lane, by themselves, at 85 to 90 miles an hour, not exactly being kinder to the environment than the four people riding in an SUV.


Compared to previous generations the interior of the current Prius is light years ahead. While it still contains quite a bit of plastic it is of much higher quality and much more tastefully done. In fact,  the quality of materials inside the Prius are almost up to the level of what  one would expect in this price range. It’s still a bit stark, but it no longer feels like a low-grade appliance, it feels like an automobile interior. Some of the materials feel a bit thin the layout of the center console is still a bit odd the placement of the switches for the heated seats is a head scratcher, placed as they are in an open space underneath the console between the seats.


The dashboard arrangement itself is a bit odd, rather than instrumentation being in front of you, it’s off to the center, not exactly in the direct line of sight. If you are trying to keep an eye on the power meter to maximize your battery usage, or see how high you can keep your instant fuel economy, it’s difficult to both do that, and pay attention to what you’re driving down the road. If any vehicle called for a heads-up display the Prius certainly has to be at the top of the list. The quote enthusiast unquote who try to maximize mileage i.e. the hyper milers, pay attention to this power meter more than anything else in the car. This means, that they aren’t paying attention to what’s happening on the road in front of them. It becomes a bit of the video game, and that’s not exactly what you want going on as you’re driving on the road.


The whole purpose of owning a Prius, is very high fuel economy. In the time that we spent with the Prius, the mileage that we got, was ordinary at best. Ordinary, from what the EPA sticker says it should get, what the hyper miler enthusiasts get, and what a comparable modern clean diesel can get. We put over 700 miles on the Prius during our time with it, and what we saw on our highway runs was a high of 44 miles to the gallon. In the city where the Prius should get better mileage we saw about the same number. While 44 miles to the gallon is nothing to sneeze at, we can think of other cars that can get the same or better mileage, that we would prefer to drive. Our 44 mpg on the highway was with the cruise control set at 75 mph. Some will claim that if you wanted to maximize fuel mileage that speed is too high, and that you should not use the cruise control. Perhaps they have a point, but in us reviewing the Prius, our goal was not to drive it for maximum mileage, rather, it was to drive it like any other ordinary car, and see what the results were.


Because every effort was made to maximize mileage in this car, it’s not the most comfortable highway cruiser. The car is sprung rather stiffly, and the low rolling resistance tires mounted on the car don’t exactly provide a supple ride. In fact, you pretty much feel every expansion joint, pothole, and road imperfection, transferred right into the seat. Also, in an effort to save weight, there is not an abundance of sound deadener in the car.  While level of road noise transferred into the car is not objectionable, it was more noticeable than other cars in its peer group.


One very positive note we have for the Prius is that it can haul quite a bit of stuff. We had our Prius over the Christmas holidays, and it handled not only all of our luggage, but quite a few packages and other related things that we needed to take along with us. With the back seat folded down, which do fold flat, there is a very useful amount of cargo room in the Prius, even with the hatchback cutting into some of the room.


No one can deny that the Prius is a very successful car. In the US market, hybrids account for 2.5% of all vehicles sold. Of that 2.5%, the Toyota Prius accounts for 50% of those sales, 50 percent! In fact, the Toyota Prius sells about 125,000 units a year, that is nearly half of the total volume of sales for the Camry, which is the best-selling car in the United States. The Prius also has a very loyal ownership group. Most of the people who have owned Prius’ have bought or will by another one. So in this matter Toyota knows exactly what they’re doing and is executing well on it. The question then becomes, can they expand sales of the Prius and the Prius brand to more than this segment of the market?  Toyota is certainly going to try as the Prius V will be coming out in the summer and Toyota also looks to expand the Prius brand with other models in the very near future.


The Toyota Prius is certainly a remarkable feat of engineering and a brilliant bit of marketing.  As we have said earlier, to a certain group of its ownership it is the ultimate hard-core performance automobile, just not the hard-core performance automobile that would typically come to mind. The problem for us is that we are the traditional gearhead, so this car is a bit lost on us. While we certainly can acknowledge the feat of engineering, for us, and this is the most important point, we can find no passion in with this car. 


While it certainly has come many steps forward from literally being an automotive appliance, we just cannot find any enthusiasm for the car. That does not mean that the Toyota Prius is a bad car, because it’s not, it does exactly what it’s supposed to do, for the group that it’s intended to.  And, based on the passion and loyalty of its owners it’s right on target. For us, we are not in that target market and no matter how objective you try to be, you are who you are. For us we would bypass the Toyota Prius for several other options, but for the group of people, and they are a large group of people, who view automobiles as nothing more than a tool, the Toyota Prius is an excellent vehicle which has great versatility for hauling the family around, commuting to and from work, and being a fine all-around car, and it also get very good, though not spectacular fuel mileage.  You certainly could do much worse than the Toyota Prius.

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Reviewed: 2010 Ford Escape Hybrid

When we had the Ford Escape Hybrid in for review a bit back, it held a lot of interest for us.  We personally own a 2005 V6 Limited Escape and we wanted to see how the vehicle had evolved, both from an interior refresh and with the hybrid drivetrain.  Making this comparison easier was that we received a loaded Limited model, though this was all wheel drive where ours is a front driver. 

Lets first take a look at the interior.  Interestingly, getting into the 2010 Escape was a lower ride height than in our personal ‘05 model.  We say interesting because again, ours is a front driver and 2010 model was all wheel drive.  At just shy of 5’10” and a 33” inseam, our personal Escape is not a step up to get into, but it does require an upward movement to get into.  In the 2010 model you actually sat down into the vehicle. 

Once inside, the updates are immediately noticeable.  The combination of contrasting colors and textures gives it a nice feel.  The material choices give the appearance of a higher quality than they actually are.  We are not saying that the materials used are cheap; it’s just that we’ve seen higher quality materials used in vehicles the Escape competes with head to head.

With the lighter colors used here, along with the large sunroof, our review unit had a very open and airy feel to it.  The shiny black around the touch screen audio/navigation unit and center consoled, was a nice contrast to the tan and grey but, as with just about every use we have ever seen of the material, it is a magnate for fingerprints. 


The touch screen unit is a generation behind in size: Ford has moved to a much larger size in it’s more recent models. The unit is the same as the one in the Lincoln MKX we reviewed last year and while in the MKX, the unit seemed too small, here it was okay.  Sure, it would have been nicer to have the additional real estate of a larger screen, but this one worked just fine. 

The Microsoft SYNC system works as advertised and is the best in the business although it still has some issues with the iPod Touch.  Looking through several forums, others have had similar issues and, that said, since we tested the Escape, Ford has issued a couple updates to the SYNC firmware to address the issue. 

One of the reasons you buy a hybrid, obviously, is to get a bump in fuel mileage but one of the questions is, can that premium you pay for the hybrid pay for itself in improved fuel mileage.  If you go on the premise that figures lie and liars figure, it all depends on how you count. 

The EPA rates the all wheel drive Escape Hybrid at 30 city/27 highway, the four cylinder all wheel drive Escape is 20/26 and the V6 is 18/23.  If you go front drive, it sorts out as 34/31 for the hybrid, 21/28 for the four cylinder and 19/25 for the V6.  We got mid 27’s in mixed driving and we tried to drive the Escape like a “normal” car, rather than a hybrid for most of our time with it. 

If we look at our personal ‘05 Escape with a V6, it returns 22-23 MPG in mixed driving and has been pretty consistent with that number since we’ve owned it.  One point to make is in the interim Ford has upgraded the transmission for the four-speed automatic on ours to a six-speed auto across the line in the Escapes.  If we take a guess, 30MPG would be realistic from the front drive model in combined real world mileage. A 7-8 mile per gallon change in fuel economy is significant.  Now, factor in abut a $4500 premium for the hybrid option, trying as much as we can to outfit the vehicles as similarly as possible, go with 15,000 miles a year for an average driver and you get a 167 gallon difference in fuel used.  Right now, 87 octane gas around Metro Detroit is $2.75/gallon, so that is $459.25 a year difference in your fuel bill.  Depending on how much you financed to purchase the vehicle, that may not even be one month’s payment.  With those numbers, if you are buying a hybrid only on the idea of better fuel mileage, then it’s not really a winning proposition.  If your issues are more with your personal carbon footprint or the usage of foreign oil in our economy, then you have to ask yourself how much extra “voluntary tax” you are willing to pay. 

Even though on straight horsepower and torque numbers the Hybrid Escape is way down on the V6 model, the driving experience isn’t all that different.  That, in part, goes to the electric motor that is part of the hybrid system.  It can, when needed, help boost performance by supplying extra power.  The electric motor proves an additional 94 horsepower when called for to make up the difference between the four and six cylinder in total power.  The Atkinson Cycle 2.5 inline four isn’t the snappiest power plant, but it’s okay.  Passing situations and merging onto the highway, you notice the power deficit somewhat but it wasn’t by a large measure. 

As for the actual driving experience day to day, it proved to be just as competent as our ‘05 model and with some of the updates Ford has made, it rides a little quieter.  The hardest part we found was trying to maximize the hybrid part of the drivetrain. 

We’ve driven the Fusion Hybrid on multiple occasions and driving on just the electrics and batteries isn’t too difficult once you get the hang of it.  The pulse and glide method worked best rather than just accelerating using the electric motor.  This was also the case with the Escape Hybrid, but it seemed that once you were in the glide mode, it took a very, very light pedal not to have the gas motor kick back in.  It, in fact, required a lot of effort to do so.  The difference between the Fusion experience and the Escape experience probably come down to weight, aerodynamics and the Escape being all wheel drive, with a greater drivetrain loss through frictions.

Yes, you have to retrain yourself how you drive to maximize any hybrid experience but with the Escape, it seemed even more so.  We also wonder if the typical consumer who buys it will take the time and effort to do so.  Yes, some will but we are talking about the 60-80% in the middle of that bell curve who think that having a hybrid just nets you more mileage with no change in driving behavior.  We also wonder what their thoughts are two, three or four years in to the buying experience.

I let my wife drive the Escape since the ‘05 is her primary vehicle and while she thought the changes to the interior were nice and that it drove fine, she didn’t get the hybrid system to engage even though we had gone out before and I had instructed her on how to use it.  I bring this point up just to drive home the point about the average driver, because I think she typifies that.

In the end we can look at the Escape Hybrid as a competent vehicle that stands up well to others in it’s category, hybrid system aside.  The Escape, in its current form, is at the end of it’s life cycle and it’s been a good ten year run for it.  The decision to go with the hybrid system will not be one of dollars and cents we think, but rather one of personal conscience.  On straight money, the hybrid system doesn’t really pay for it’s self, at least in the current environment where gas is sub $3/gallon.  It would have to be more than $5/gallon for it to make economic sense.  The real question then is, can we recommend the Escape Hybrid?  The answer is, it depends on what your goals are in owning the Escape.  If you have the extra money to spend and you just want a vehicle that gets good mileage, but you aren’t worried about a pay back period, then the Escape works.  If you are concerned with the environment or the geo-political issues associated with the amount of oil we import, then the Escape could work for you.  If you are interested in a hybrid that makes financial sense then, while a good effort, this, like every hybrid at this moment in time, is a pass.

Five Days With The Ford Fusion Hybrid

When we drove the Fusion Hybrid back from DC, we liked the car very much as you can see from out earlier review, the question was how would it be on a day in and day out basis.  While five days isn’t very long, driving it more surface streets, running errands and such gave us a clear view.  Have a look.

Interviews With Sherif Marakby & Wayne Gerdes

Last week when we were in Alexandria, Virginia for the Ford Fusion Hybrid “1000 Miles On A Tank” event, we had the opportunity to sit down with two people who were very important to the event.

First was Sherif Marakby.  Sherif is the Chief Engineer for Global Core Hybrid and Propulsion System Engineering for Ford.  He not only quarterbacks much of the development for the Ford hybrid systems, he also drove over 10 hours as part of the team in the event.  Sherif stated that there were many reasons for not only doing the event, but doing it in the shadow of the nations capital.  Ford were out to make a statement that (a) they ARE a different kind of car company and (b) that CAN compete with the worlds best on the world stage.

Ford took a car off the dealership floor and with no other special prep than inflating the tires a bit higher than than normal and removing all the stuff from the trunk, they went for it.  There was some neutral coasting, but no key off moments.  He also stated that the metric of how long they could go solely on battery wasn’t a major issue for them.

Have a look at the video portion of our interview:

Next we spoke with Wayne Gerdes.  Wayne is a legend in the hypermiling community and was brought in by Ford to lead the team for this event.  He spent time with all the team members training them in his way of driving to maximize milage, and drive them to reach for a higher goal than even they had looked to achieve.

Here is the video portion of our interview:

After 10+ years of interviewing people you think I would learn my lesson, but I’m sorry to say that after we stopped rolling the video portion of the interview we spent twenty minutes more talking with Wayne, getting to know him, and I didn’t record any of it! DOH!!!!  

It turns out that Wayne is a big proponent of modern clean diesel technology, even though he “made his bones” with the hybrids.  Wayne is a hardcore enthusiast, just in a different manner than we would normally associate that term with car people.  He is as hard core as the guy who drive a high 8 second street strip car with a .750+” solid roller cam on the street.  It takes a special kind of person to do that since many times it’s not the most comfortable ride, but you are doing it to prove a point.

You can find out more about Wayne, his adventures and his cause at