Toyota Prius. Click image to enlarge
By Jim Kerr
With well over a million Priuses on the road since their introduction in 1997, the iconic teardrop shape has grown to symbolize hybrid vehicles for much of the motoring public. There are many other hybrids on the market, but none with as long a history nor as instantly recognizable as the Prius. What surprises many new hybrid drivers is that the Prius, although it is a showcase of hybrid technology, feels like it drives almost the same as any conventional car, with the exception that it gets incredible fuel economy.
It is hard to imagine, but Toyota invests one million dollars every hour in research and development worldwide. Many of the research projects never see the light of production, but even the discarded ones help shape the quality and technology seen in Toyota vehicles like the Prius. For example, while other cars may have remote starting, the Prius has remote air conditioning. Push a button on the key fob and the electric air conditioning compressor cuts in to cool the interior before you enter the vehicle. Once the interior has cooled, the system automatically turns off.
Another innovative and useful feature is the solar panel sunroof. The front part of the roof opens like a conventional glass sunroof, but the rear half contains a 36-cell solar panel that can provide 50 watts of power to ventilate the interior automatically on hot days. With a push of a button on the left side of the dash, the system adjusts the vents and after a few minutes of sitting in the warm sun, an electric fan starts up to reduce the interior temperatures. It won’t cool the car like air conditioning does, but it does lower those baking hot interior temperatures so the air conditioning doesn’t have to work so hard when you do start the car, and this saves fuel.
For those who wonder about hybrids in the winter, the Prius, like every other new Toyota model, undergoes winter testing right here in Canada during its development. My experience with them in the winter is that there is less operation in strictly electric mode, but they still sip fuel sparingly.