Monday, June 04, 2007

How My Toyota Prius Performs

By Donovan Baldwin

Ads for hybrid cars, such as my Toyota Prius hybrid, tout the fuel economy of the vehicle and almost nothing else, it seems.

So what? After all, that's the big issue behind the design of this type of automobile in the first place, right?

It's how a hybrid car works that allows it to be so fuel efficient and that is the selling point in this era of higher gas prices, and in view of such menacing specters as global warming. With all that as the basis for creating hybrid cars in the first place and with all the emphasis on fuel economy, you would think that would be the first thing people ask about.

Welllll. Sometimes.

More often than not, one of the first questions will be about performance. Sometimes it's the first question, but even when the first question is about fuel economy (I hear you get 60 MPG with these things. Is that true?) very often the next is about performance. They are particularly interested in this with my Prius than with a known model that has been put out with a hybrid engine. They tend to assume that if the sedan, truck, or SUV could do something as a standard model, it will still do it as a hybrid.

However, the Toyota Prius was designed as a hybrid and nothing else and has no other history of performance to fall back on. Since it first appears as a small car (more later), and since people have a certain amount of ignorance about hybrid engines, they tend to assume they are looking at something along the line of the modern equivalent of the old Volkswagen beetle.

People want to know if a hybrid, particularly the Prius, can run at highway speeds, keep up with other traffic, run fast when heavily loaded (they're surprised at the storage space too), and maintain speed on hills.

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

I have just returned from a trip through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. I put over 4,500 miles on my Prius during this time, and drove in almost every type of terrain and traffic situation you could imagine. From Interstate to back country roads, I climbed mountains (Donner Pass for example), cruised at highway speeds, passed slower moving vehicles, and...yes...sat in traffic jams.

My little Toyota Prius had absolutely no problem keeping up with the big boys. The ride was comfortable and did not at all feel like a small car. Actually, by the way, the Prius has a lot of inside room to seem so small from the outside. In fact, that is one of the things that surprises people most when they get inside one.

So, did I find a drawback to the performance of my Prius?

Well, although it can accelerate and run at high speeds, it doesn't accelerate as quickly as a bigger, more muscular car, so you have to be a bit more careful about picking your spots than in my old Dodge Intrepid, for example.

You also have to remember that the design intentions with the Prius were targeted towards fuel economy. As with any car, if you choose to demand the high speeds found on Western Interstates, your fuel economy will suffer a little. I actually saw a drop of about 5 MPG or more when running at 70 MPH or higher. By the way, for those of you not familiar with driving in the states I mentioned, there ARE some 80 MPH speed limits, and most Interstates out West are set for 70 MPH or above.

If you want to get the fuel economy advertised while you are driving on the highway, you will have to cut back your speed a bit. Also, observing other such fuel savers as paying attention to traffic and making decisions ahead of time, keeping your tires properly inflated, and getting regular oil changes will help keep your fuel consumption lower.

Some people like to use synthetic motor oils in their cars. Although the Toyota dealerships I deal with normally have their own petroleum based motor oils that they recommend and use, the use of synthetic motor oils such as those available off the shelf or through an AMSOIL dealer will not void your warranty. However, you may have to provide your own oil if you want to use a specific synthetic lubricant.

Oh, by the way. I averaged about 47.5 MPG on that trip (my wife likes to go 70 and 75...and 80), and gas was averaging about $3.00 a gallon. When I stopped overnight in Abilene I started talking to a guy just beginning a similar swing through most of the states I had just passed through. His pickup got 16 MPG. I bought about 100 gallons for a total of approximately $300.00. He was looking at a gas bill of about $900.00.

I saw his family and their luggage. They, and the luggage, would have fit comfortably in my Toyota Prius.

Need I say more?

About the Author

Donovan Baldwin is a freelance writer living in Copperas Cove, Texas. He is a University of West Florida alumnus, a member of Mensa and the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, and is retired from the U. S. Army after 21 years of service. In his career, he has held many managerial and supervisory positions. However, his main pleasures have long been writing, nature, health, and fitness. In the last few years, he has been able to combine these pleasures by writing poetry and articles on subjects such as health, fitness, yoga, weightlifting, weight loss, the environment, global warming, happiness, self improvement, life and the arts. He is an AMSOIL dealer and has a site dealing with hybrid cars and other automotive issues at He offers several tips on how to save money on gas at

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