COAL: 2008 Prius Revisited

In my one-volume COAL from about a year ago, I gave pretty short shrift to our 2008 Prius, which we had bought new in late 2007 when my wife started making a 90 mile round trip to school, five days a week. After she graduated, and later after we moved further from work, it continued as a commuter and in fact became my daily driver at some point. As I said then, it was a fine car for over 100K miles and eventually we passed it on to our son, who has added about 40K more miles in the past three years, including two cross-country round trips.

Our son is back in California now, and I hadn’t so much as sat in the Prius for several years, until we recently traded cars so he could use my Tacoma to haul some stuff. 148K miles isn’t a lot for a modern car, let alone a 2nd Gen Prius, but it’s more total miles than we’ve ever put on a car, and second only to the 175-195K that my second-hand T100 had under our ownership. Since new, it has only needed a 12V starting battery while we still had it, and a water pump replaced in Texas as our son was returning from the East Coast last winter, along with the usual fluids, filters, tires, and wiper blades. It’s also picked up a few dings and scrapes, but I think under the road grime, the paint has held up quite well for car that’s never been garaged, both under the California sun and East Coast winters.

So, what was it like to drive? I know the Prius is the car that car lovers love to hate, but after eight years of driving it regularly I guess I had gotten used to it. What would it be like after a three year hiatus, mostly spent behind the wheel of my Tacoma, but with a few stints driving my wife’s New Beetle and now her Golf, both 5 speed 1.8T’s?

The answer? Pretty nice. Obviously, the Golf is faster, plus it has a manual transmission which always changes the driving experience. But it’s also quieter and plusher, so in a paradoxical way the Prius actually feels sportier: lighter, more direct. Somewhat like the small cars of the seventies (Vega, Pinto, Cortina, VW Rabbit etc) that my friends and I thrashed on canyon roads when we were young. And compared to my V6 Tacoma, it feels far more responsive to both the skinny pedal and the brake pedal (of course, so is the Golf). All with a roomy interior and excellent forward and side visibility.  I briefly flashed back to my 1978 Fiesta.

On the other  hand, ergonomics aren’t great. Yes, the driving position is good, and the seats are OK, but the controls and displays are scattered around; the small, dim and cluttered multi-function display, and the random choice of knobs, buttons, levers and switches as hard controls and touchscreen buttons for soft controls, were difficult to get re-acquainted with. But in summary, still a good transportation device and one which is ubiquitous on our roads, especially considering some are over 15 years old now. I’m probably guilty of profiling, but I see them driven by all types of people, from a broad range of ages and socio-economic groups. In another five or ten years, these will have earned true cockroach status, like an FWD A Body, and in 25 years we’ll wax nostalgic about them like Slant Six Darts, and Powerglides. I see many 2nd Gen’s sporting Uber and Lyft stickers. Hmmm, maybe if our son wants to upgrade, I can reclaim it and start a second career …