automobile industry

Car review: The brave new world of a first time hybrid driver

The new Toyota Prius.

By Kirstie Wielandt

As an environmentalist, I have always felt the switch to hybrid and electric vehicles (EVs) is total common sense, so I was delighted to be given the opportunity to test drive the latest Prius as part of Toyota’s Hybrid Eco Challenge at the 2016 Paris Motor Show.

Call me naive but it never once occurred to me a hybrid car would have a different driving system to a petrol car. But as it turns out, the system is significantly different and it took me a little while to reprogram my mind to accept a few brave new parameters. These are the four main differences that stood out for me as a first time driver of a hybrid

Me driving the Prius.

  1. The first difference is the fact you switch on the car with a power button which looks much like a large version of the button you use to turn on your laptop; there is no key or keycard in sight.
  1. Secondly, hybrids are automatic so there’s no gear stick, instead there’s a dainty up and down lever on your dashboard which you use to switch the car between drive, reverse and parking mode.
  1. Thirdly, there’s no clutch, you have two pedals, the accelerator pedal and the brake pedal, both of which you operate with your right foot; the left foot of a hybrid takes a long deserved rest, it has no function at all.
  1. And finally, in order to drive the car and move it forward once the engine is on, rather than gradually stepping on the accelerator as you’d do in a conventional petrol vehicle, you gradually release your foot from the brake pedal enabling the already charged up battery to propel the car forward. Essentially, the car is already ‘revved up’ and you release it to do its thing rather than command it to do its thing. The accelerators function is only to accelerate the car when you need more power. This final behaviour was the biggest difference for me as it went against twenty years of ingrained instinct and training; you are essentially asking your brain to swap the perceived function of the brake and accelerator pedal which takes a little time to absorb.
A view inside the car.
Learning to drive a new type of vehicle feels much like the birthing of a slightly reluctant new neural pathway, quite like when you try to write with your opposite hand, or scratch your chin whilst tapping your head. Having said that, the switch over is surprisingly quick and it only took me about ten minutes of slightly awkward and apologetic driving before my mind accepted that this was an acceptable course of action, and from there it was relatively plain sailing.
I test drove the latest Prius as part of Toyota’s Hybrid Eco Challenge in Paris, overall loved the car, it felt like a safe, roomy and peaceful space to spend time in and I can well understand why it’s become a firm favourite of global taxi fleets and families alike. Paris drivers, however, are a whole other matter, so let’s leave that one for another time.
Editorial note: A greener life, a greener world was invited by Toyota to take part in their Hybrid Eco Challenge, which coincided with the start of the Paris Motor Show. Toyota paid A greener life, a greener world’s accommodation and travel costs.
Kirstie Wielandt is a writer for and strategic adviser to A greener life, a greener world and works full time for Greenpeace International.

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