Seriously. This actually happened. Toyota dropped of a fully gassed up (fully charged?) 2016 Prius Two Eco for a week. I was sure that I was destined to hate this car. It’s slow. It handles like crap. My ex-wife has one. But I drove it…and didn’t really hate it. The main reason is that the Prius, regardless of some foibles, is basically just a car. It’s actually a practical hatchback that just so happens to get almost 60 MPG. But how does it work in rural Pennsylvania as a camping utility vehicle?
This review won’t be about politics, but it will include some mild references. We’re a DC-based automotive outlet, it’s hard to avoid. It’s everywhere. I figured I would pack up the camping gear and take some of the offspring out to the woods for a few days to get away from it all. Only, we went to a “battleground state”. If you don’t know what that is, basically it’s a state, in this case Pennsylvania, that is contested and isn’t necessarily a lock for either candidate (yes, we have a two party system, it sucks, I’m sorry).
The guy with the hair was having a rally in nearby Altoona, and I decided to not go anywhere near it with my little-blue-eco-sissy-car. I can assume you that it was not overlooked at gas stations—only one of which I was getting gas, the rest were bio-breaks and picking up goods—several passengers in jacked up trucks peered down in disgust at out Toyota. Maybe it was the Jersey plates?
As I admitted last week with our Avalon test car, I actually care about my car’s image. I’m more of a tire-smoking V8 kinda guy, not being braggadocios, it’s factual. So I wasn’t quite driving with a bag over my head, but only because I wasn’t likely to see anyone I knew. It’s not that I’m anti-eco. However, save for a few times where my gas gauge was at naught, I’ve never attempted to “hypermile” or manage my miles per gallon in any meaningful way. Thankfully in a Prius, you need not care about such things.
Well, actually, that’s not entirely true.
It’s quite true if you do not pay any attention to the gas gauge at all. Which, when it starts at somewhere around 560 miles of range, you really don’t. You fill up the tank and just keep driving. That’s twice as much range as some cars I’ve owned, so I really didn’t pay it any mind; until I noticed it said “16 miles to go”. I was on a highway and the next gas station was 15 miles away.
This is where I started playing with buttons. Power mode, well that’s gotta be switched over to Eco now. A/C controls, they have an “Eco” mode as well. Switch that on. I was lifting on all the downhills, trying to feather the throttle back up the other side. My range plummeted, you could almost tick off the miles-to go with a Mississippi count. Or Pennsylvania in this instance…
Waze said the next exit was 11 miles away. I said to my passengers, “uh guys, you think the battery works in this thing?”. A worried look stared back at me from the faces in the rear of the Prius. I wasn’t that worried, I mean most of those range estimates are conservative, so morons like myself don’t run out of gas. And I’ve only done it once, in my then-2-week-old Saab 9-2X, just outside Pittsburgh. Hmm. We’re not that far from there.
— William Byrd (@WilliamByrdUSA) August 15, 2016
Long story short, I didn’t have to click the “EV mode” button and limp us into the gas station. I coasted into the local fill-er-up station on fumes. A pretty blonde in the passenger seat of a lifted Chevy truck stared over her aviators at me as I got out to fill up the bright blue hybrid. I imagined that she was picturing herself in another life, riding shotgun in a Toyota hybrid instead of her boyfriend’s gas guzzling environment killer. That didn’t happen actually, I filled up the Prius as fast as I could and got the hell out of there before someone gave me a wedgie.
Other than that little adventure, which was caused by my own inattentiveness, the Prius is as eco as you have heard. I drove it hard—mostly in POWERRR mode, which seemed to help on hills and merges—and managed to drop the average MPG from somewhere near 60 to much closer to 50. Kudos to the last auto-journalist for keeping with the spirit of the hybrid, but I drove it like I would drive my own car for a week. Oh and I loaded it up with stuff too.
I’m not breaking any ground reviewing a Prius. Our man Clavey drove a similar version recently. It was even the same color. While this generation is new, it’s the same concept. Hatchback 4-door with a gas engine and an electric engine. Formula has been the same since it came out. This 4th generation Prius is bigger in every measurement though, and as I alluded to earlier, what struck me was just how normal of a car it is. I got a lot of crap into the rear hatch area. What you can’t see in the Twitter pic below is the tent, cot, sleeping mats, folding chairs, and other kit that was subsumed into the rear of our tester.
— William Byrd (@WilliamByrdUSA) August 11, 2016
Along our trek, I picked up some additional stuff, some food, drinks, etc. That meant pilling some items on a seat, but overall, it performed admirably as a camping conveyance. I typically bring all of this stuff in a midsize SUV or bigger, so the overall usable space inside of the Prius is a huge selling point. But again, parked alongside big diesel trucks, and other more outdoorsy fare, it still felt a bit like a fish out of water.
Which brings me to my final thoughts and the big question, would I buy one?
Not a chance.
I’m way too much of an enthusiast snob, and the Prius’ front tires protested harder around tight corners and on-ramps than a HRC supporter in Altoona last week. There’s a reason why they are so much fun on a RWD FRS/BRZ, but in a 95 horsepower front-drive hybrid (yes ninety-five) they make a bad situation worse. I would have to be in a dire financial situation, with $6.00/gallon gas to even consider such a car.
However, if you, like many, see your vehicle as just a mode of transportation, and no more, this is the perfect option.
It’s inexpensive, our Two Eco (the most economical of the lineup at 58/53 city/highway) starts at just $24,700. With some different 15″ wheels ($899), body side moldings ($289) and something called the Preferred Accessory Package ($343) it rang in at a reasonable $27,131 MSRP including $835 dealer processing and delivery (always try to have that charge removed, they had to “deliver and process” the car whether you bought it or not).
It’s practical, you can fit a lot of your stuff in it. It’s likely reliable, being a Toyota and all. And in its new form, it’s not terribly ugly. I actually like the futuristic exterior for the most part. It’s much less bland than previous generations and sort of looks like it’s from the future. Cool. Well, not cool, but less uncool.
So if you are a regular visitor to Right Foot Down, you’re probably not in Toyota’s target market for this eco car, and likely are just reading this out of boredom or to humor me. Regardless, thanks. But if you found your way here via the Google machine, or Bing, or some such method, I hope I provided some consumer advice that was useful. It’s rare, you’re welcome.
We now return you to our regularly scheduled burnout.