Living the Hybrid Dream- part 2

The push-button starter is a fun little quirk of the Prius that I have come to love. It makes turning on the car more akin to turning on a computer (a particularly apt analogy, considering the “gas gauge consumption game” one constantly plays with the accelerator) than starting a license-requiring powerful and potentially dangerous machine. With the keyless remote that my Prius came with, you don’t even have to put a key in the ignition. Just open the door, turn on the computer, er.. starter, and away you go…at a silent electric-only glide for the first 20 km/hr.

I have come to learn that while the hybrid car is indeed a fabulous fuel-efficient vehicle, it does have a few quirks, and even (gasp) an occasional drawback.

The fuel efficiency numbers are not quite all they are proclaimed to be, largely because of that wretched quintessential Canadian topic of conversation: winter. Cold tends to reduce the efficiency because the hybrid engine runs during the first five-ten minutes of start-up, bringing the car up to a reasonable warmth level. The length of that warm-up varies by the outside temperature.

When one is used to watching the consumption level like a hawk during driving, always striving to never exceed 5.0 L/100km, it’s very disconcerting to watch the gauge rises to 10, 15, 20 L/100 km during this warm-up and stay there, EVEN when you release the accelerator and coast in neutral or come to a stop. Because of our lengthy education through Green Venture about the evils of idling one’s vehicle, this oddity of the hybrid doing its darnedest to idle makes the veins on my head twitch when it occurs.

Once the car gets up to speed, it generally performs well as per normal. However, I have noticed that I am no longer getting the fabulous 4.0-5.0 fuel numbers I was getting in July (presumably when the car was nice and toasty warm all the time), but instead my numbers are hovering around 6.0 L/100 km on average.

Prius dashboard

The starter button and my fuel consumption after 20 min. Note the downward trend in the graph.

It’s terrifically tempting to do an extra drive across the lower City of Hamilton  (a nice flat uninterrupted run in many spots, particularly Cannon Street).  This would get me a few miles of “zero” consumption: running the car at speed, and only “feathering” the accelerator enough to keep the electric motor turning the wheels without actually drawing any gas. The unfortunate reality is that there is always a stop light, braking for another  vehicle, or other reason for minor slowdowns and the subsequent need to push on the accelerator again and get back up to “cruising” speed.

One other interesting feature about the Prius is that you can reset the average consumption meter when you fill up, or leave it. This allows you to keep an ongoing record of average fuel consumption or a trip-specific one (between fill-ups). Sometimes, after a particularly inefficient trip (driving at high speeds for a long time, driving up the escarpment back and forth, short trips of 5 minutes or less where the car never gets a chance to fully warm up), it’s very tempting to just “push the button” and wipe the slate clean.

All in all, the hybrid experience has been a good one so far. I am hopeful the car holds up well to the abuse it is likely to get in my household.  Keep you posted…

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