Maiden voyage of the Prius

Toyota Prius in 'millenium silver'

More than a few tricks up its sleeve

I drove my brand new Toyota Prius from Palm Springs to San Jose and back for its maiden voyage. It performed superbly and demonstrated many of its tricks, not all of which were fully appreciated.

I first started thinking about buying a Prius last summer (2004). When I contacted the auto broker that partners with my credit union, they said it would be at least a year. I put my name on the list and basically forgot about it. In February, however, one of my friends expressed surprise that I didn't have it yet because, he said, "In the Bay Area the Toyota dealers have them sitting on the lot." Hmmmmm.

Out of curiosity — expecting to be disappointed — I called the local dealer to ask about availability. "We have three sitting in the lot," was the answer. "What color do you want?"

It turned out that the dealer didn't have the color that I wanted ("Tideland Pearl"), but they did have one in "Millenium Silver" with the option package that I wanted (the one with all the bells and whistles!). Silver was a perfectly acceptable color; it's just that I used to have a silver Toyota Tercel, and I wanted a different color. To make a long story short, I went down that afternoon to take a test drive and picked up the car the two days later.

hybrid system

The Prius is a wondrous car with both a gasoline engine and an electric motor. As you drive, it switches automatically between them to suit conditions and minimize gas consumption. synergy system It makes you feel oh so environmentally virtuous to look over at the video display and see that current gas mileage is around 80mpg, or even higher! While braking or coasting down hill it often shows 99.9mpg. While the gasoline engine is turned off at a stop sign, of course, the consumption is 0.0mpg. energy monitor

My Prius knows an amazing number of tricks, several of which I discovered on the trip.

  • At night, the rear-view mirror senses glaring headlights from behind and automatically dims the mirror
  • The CD player holds six CDs that it manages without the need for any kind of cartridge
  • When you signal that you are going speak to it, Prius turns down the volume on the stereo system so it can hear your commands
  • It can be taught to perform useful functions at your house, like open the garage door, turn on the lights, or cook a pot roast, all at the touch of a button on the mirror

Then there is the navigation system: As Ricky Ricardo used to say to Lucy, it has some "'splainin' to do!"

My first attempt to use the navigation system was to have it take me to my friend Craig's office in Palo Alto on Forest Avenue. But for some reason I did not understand at the time, it kept directing me to "proceed seven tenths of a mile to US 101 south" toward San Jose. It insisted on this, even when I was finally parked outside his office, thanks to Craig's coaching by cell phone.

My second attempt to use the navigation system was to have it take me from Craig's office to the house of my friends Carolyn and Hal. This time it began by directing me down the correct street (I knew were I was going), but at the point where it should have told me to turn left, it directed me to take the "next right, then right." It repeated these instructions three times in succession, which, if you're visualizing, simply takes one around the block. There were many Priuses on the street in Palo Alto, and I'm sure they were talking to each other. I could just hear my Prius calling to the others, "Hey, check it out! This guy will do anything I tell him!"

bug smears
Prius collected a few bugs!

I later figured out that there is a difference between giving Prius an address and telling Prius that you mean to go there now.

My third attempt to use the navigation system was to have it find a route from Paso Robles over to I-5, a task that it handled with dispatch.

After stopping at Redlands for a coffee, I decided I would give Prius one more chance to show its stuff. "Go home," I commanded authoritatively.

"Destination is now home," Prius replied. But instead of directing me back onto I-10, Prius sent me the opposite direction over all sorts of byways and back roads. I decided to play along. I was willing to believe it knew of some alternate route that would avoid a section of the freeway at rush hour and join up after the congested area. (This morning my physical therapist told me that Prius did, in fact, send me over the shortest route.)

However, when Prius avoided sending me onto CA-60 and a few moments later insisted I cross I-10 instead of taking the entrance ramp to that freeway, I took matters into my own hands and pointed the Prius onto the freeway.

Now, if you make what Prius thinks is a wrong turn, it immediately starts planning how to get you back on what it thinks is the right track. As I approached each exit on I-10, Prius would announce, "Next exit, then left" or "Next exit, then right."

I have figured out now, I think, how to start Prius giving "guidance" on the route, but I have not learned how to make it stop giving directions. "Cancel guidance." "Voice guidance off." "I know where I'm going!" "Stop nagging!" Nothing worked. "Repeat command," it would say. Or it would do something else, just not what I wanted it to do. In exasperation, I finally swore at Prius, "Just shut the f*k up!" That worked!

It turned out that Prius was under the misapprehension that I wanted to be taken home but not by using any freeway. I suppose I'll have to read the blankety-blank manual.

Meanwhile, back in lovely Saratoga, the cherry trees were all a-bloom and dropping petals on the sidewalk "like a light powder of snow." And I did find fellow traveler Jim reading "one of the quaint local English papers" while sitting with his "back to the sun" at a small shop offering "several kinds of coffee."

cherry trees
Cherry trees lining the street dropping their petals like snow (Click picture to enlarge)
Jim reading
Jim reading a local English paper telling him more of the world than he cares to know (Click picture to enlarge)
Paul at Blue Rock Shoot Have laptop, will travel
Jim's Inn
Jim's Inn at Saratoga where I really did have a room on the eastern side of the building
Inside humor. If you don't get it, read More Travel.