Earlier this week, I had a lunchtime appointment downtown, which was going to be a pain to get to by subway both ways. Rather than reschedule or take the day off work, I picked up Zipcar’s Toyota Prius “Patrice” from First Canadian Place in the morning. It was near my appointment, and I thought I would save a bunch of time by driving one way in the Zipcar, dropping it off and taking transit back to work.
What: Toyota Prius hybrid sedan
Again, didn’t check the year. I will have to make a note of this for future excursions, as I’m pretty bad at it.
Generally speaking, getting into and driving the Prius is (I imagine) like getting into and piloting a space shuttle. It is spacious and comfortable, like all Zipcars, but the touch-screen multi-function control and display panel is awkward to use while driving (which you shouldn’t anyway) and the LCD gauge cluster has an 80′s excess, “look-what-we-can-do” feel. A regular dial gauge would have been just fine. It’s also sunk into the dash (likely because of glare) and quite far behind the steering wheel. Rather than a key, the car is powered on by a large fob that sticks into the dash, and starting the car is done by simultaneously pressing down on the brake and pushing the large POWER button on the dash.
The engine starts up after a few seconds, either to charge the battery or just to warm up for smoother starts, but shuts off after a few minutes of idling. This is one of the biggest things to get used to in this car: the engine turns off when you stop. The car is capable of mild acceleration and low speed driving entirely on electric power.
City: This car is fun to drive, no question. The car has an old-style push-click type parking brake, and the shifter is nothing more than a knob where you can select “drive” or “reverse”. No bells and whistles here; more on the transmission later. It feels odd to step down on the “gas” and have the car start out without the engine running, but you get used to it pretty quick. Having the engine turn on when you’re moving 20km/h through the city is surprising at first, too. Although the rear window is small and has some unfortunately placed supports running across, seeing around the car is no problem at all. It handles the streetcar tracks with no problem, and moves and handles like the best economy cars in the Zipcar fleet.
I found backing up in the parking lot a bit unnerving at first, for two reasons. First, the obvious: the large hatch and small window make it odd to look around the car at the back. Second, because of the low speed involved in backing up, the car does it entirely on battery power. That wasn’t difficult, just, weird. More things to get used to with this high-tech vehicle.
Freeway: Ok, it may be a car firmly within the economy car segment, but this car hauls ass. Another thing to get used to that I didn’t notice at all in the city was the continuously-variable transmission (CVT), another high-tech high-efficiency addition to this vehicle. Winding into the straight merging lane on the DVP and stomping on the throttle, the engine immediately kicks up to high revs, and stays there until you let off the gas. By keeping the engine in its optimum high-power range, acceleration is both smooth and fast. None of the rev-shift-rev-shift transition of conventional geared transmissions. One more thing that might turn off some drivers, but very cool if you ask me.
Generally speaking, I like this car, and I am excited any time I get to drive it. As added incentive, since it is a hybrid and uses far less gas than conventional cars in the city, Zipcar charges a significantly reduced hourly rate to use it, although as a consequence of its popularity there is no daily rate available. Although I haven’t had back-seat passengers while driving it, it seems as though four adults would fit comfortably, and there is plenty of cargo room for a car this size. And the electronic touch-screen display and high-tech gadgetry under the hood make this car score very high in geek factor.
Note: this review is a matter of my own opinion, and is not endorsed by Zipcar or Toyota. Use at your own risk.