Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
I’ve completely changed my mind about driving.
Well, almost completely.
For two weeks I’ve been using an innovative new car that has radically changed my experience of driving. The 2013 Prius Plug-in prototype we’ve borrowed from Toyota provides a very different experience from the traditional Prius or any other car I’ve ever known.
I’ve driven hybrids before: three generations of the Prius; the Toyota Highlander Hybrid; the Nissan Altima Hybrid; Honda’s Civic Hybrid and CR-Z hybrid sportscar; a Lexus SUV hybrid; and even Chevy’s (now defunct) hybrid pickup. Each of them was impressive in its own way. They all made big gains in efficiency over their conventional gas-powered peers.
But the newest generation of green cars seems to be setting a new automotive benchmark with gasoline/electric hybrids that are using technology to create much higher expectations than ever before.
The car’s efficiency is simply on a new level. If I plug the Prius in overnight and again during the day while I’m in the office, I can maintain fuel mileage in the range of 75-80 miles per gallon on my 60-mile daily commute. That average is computed using an equivalent of 99.9 miles per gallon while I’m on electric power – a calculation whose validity we’re going to investigate later this year. We’re also planning to put a meter between the car and the wall socket to measure the actual amount of juice (and money) that’s going into the batteries.
But for now, what I know is that if I put 350 miles on the car in a week, I pump about $13 worth of $3.30-per-gallon gas to refill the Prius’ tank.
Going to the airport and back is a 110-mile trip for me. Now the $3.80 in tolls I pay on the Kansas Turnpike could be a little more expensive than the fuel.
Running a few errands around town, so long as I stay under 50 miles per hour and 14 miles between charges, I don’t use any gasoline at all. So on the weekends, I’m basically not burning fossil fuels, except whatever percentage of my electricity is generated in a coal-fired plant.
We’re going to hook the Prius up to a solar charger soon to see if it’s practical to run the car on home-based sun power. We may even experiment with pedaling a charge into the car with a stationary bicycle.
I wonder how many miles we’ll have to pedal in order to put a 14-mile charge in the car. Hmm.
I think I’m going to find it very difficult to go back to driving something that gets only 30 miles per gallon. But more surprisingly, I’m really enjoying the car as a ride, too. The silent electric drive is smooth and steady, generating the same amount of torque at any speed. The continuously variable transmission moves seamlessly through the whole range of velocity. I like the stability of the car. It’s logical that the massive lithium-ion battery pack over the rear wheels would balance the motors at the front, creating a stable, sure-footed feel.
And I’ve discovered the “Power” button. Hoo-boy. When you push the button the car seems to bring both the gasoline engine and the electric motor online simultaneously, and the car really hauls. My guilty pleasure is accelerating past conventional cars and trucks.
I think the Prius deserves to show a little testosterone now and then, don’t you?