The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 30, 2004


Hybrid Cars: a Breed Apart

(Part 2 of 2)

Last week's article was an overview of hybrid car technology. (Late news: in addition to winning Motor Trend's Car-of-the-Year award, the Toyota Prius has just won the North American Car-of-the-Year award at the North American International Auto Show. The Prius has had the fastest sales start of any car in the company's history.) This week we'll present comments from Carlisle residents about their hybrid cars.

Glenn Reed says about his 2003 Toyota Prius, "It's really been great — handles well for a smallish car, comfortable ride, the gas/electric interface is completely seamless, and it's fairly good in the snow. My only complaint would be that it's slightly underpowered — both acceleration and highway hills, e.g., the western half of the Mass Pike. I'll also note that I know of several Prius owners, including myself, that have run out of gas in their cars. The blinking fuel reminder doesn't kick in at one or two gallons like most cars; it kicks in at about 20 miles before your gas tank is empty. In my case, the car died on the Natick exit ramp on the Mass Pike, but I was able to start it up again and just run it off the battery until I got to a gas station. The only really "different" thing about the car is that you're never quite sure if it's on sometimes - the gas engine will turn off at a long light or if you're parked with the engine on. I would recommend the car completely."

Ann Woodard likes her 2001 Prius, except the batteries take up some trunk room, and the special tires seem to wear prematurely. She prefers to drive a four-wheel-drive car in the snow.

Another resident just bought a 2004 Prius. "I was impressed with the Prius approach, which combines electric and gas-powered propulsion in a very efficient way. The two power sources are combined smoothly in a power train which permits direct electric motor use when needed and battery charging when needed (and recharging when you are slowing down). All of this can be displayed, with animated arrows, on a very bright and readable screen at the center of the dashboard. Various other screens can be toggled to show energy consumption, climate control, audio formats and so on. You have to resist the temptation to let it be distracting when it is on, and the best thing is to have a co-pilot. One of the display screens shows the proportion of power coming from battery or engine as conditions change. Another screen shows the instantaneous mileage (and also cumulative trip mileage), which is instructive as you learn to drive more efficiently The front wheel drive automatic transmission is very smooth, although you can tell minor surges as the propulsion mode changes. I was not expecting the four-cylinder engine to start and stop so frequently (all under computer control, of course) but it is very quiet and unobtrusive. There is no manual transmission option.... The only time you are guaranteed to be operating only on electric motor is when you are backing up (accompanied by a mild beeping which is heard inside the car only, to remind you that you really are moving.) Other times, depending on temperature and other factors, you may pull away from a stop using the battery only. So far, the car seems like a great solution."

Bob Luoma's comments on his hybrid: "I've had my Honda Insight for almost four years now the second Insight sold from Herb Chambers Honda in Burlington. It has almost 45,000 miles, and has a lifetime fuel economy of 59 miles per gallon. The car has had regular maintenance, and has been absolutely trouble-free. It's a terrific commuting car. It has a five-speed manual transmission, is as much fun to drive as the Austin-Healey Sprite I had in college, but is far more reliable. Purchasing this car was clearly a moral decision for me. Given the connection between fuel consumption and global warming, I had no other choice. I only wish more consumers felt the same way."

Janet Hentschel and Greg Schmidt get 52.2 mpg with their 2003 Honda Civic hybrid, more than the EPA rating, and like that it holds their three kids in the backseat. They also like educating people about their hybrid because many have misconceptions about its performance. "We love living in Carlisle but one of the things that we feel tremendously guilty about is having to drive everywhere, knowing that we're polluting the air and wasting the earth's resources. The hybrid makes us feel as if we are living on the earth a bit more lightly. Our next car will definitely be a hybrid. We are hooked."

2004 The Carlisle Mosquito