To Prius or not to Prius?

29Jun08

Everyone in the city of Portland, OR owns a Toyota Prius. Before you say to yourself, “Hey now, Kristin, I live in Portland and I don’t own a Prius,” just don’t. You own one whether you think so or not.

The Prius is an automotive fashion epidemic that has officially swept the northwest and the people who live in it. After an incident involving a blue Prius, a freeway exit lane, and a driver who never met a blind spot he cared for, my awareness of Priora has heightened considerably. It’s not that I’m against environmentalism or buying a Toyota: I recycle CO2 into oxygen while driving my little red Matrix all the time. It’s also not that I’m opposed to mass consumerism. Everyone buying one of the same thing is not always a bad thing, especially if everyone were buying a Mac or a puppy.

But there’s just something about the whole thing that makes me want to throw up in my gas tank a little.

According to the EPA, the Prius is the most fuel efficient car that Americans have to choose from, clocking in at an impressive 46 MPG (miles per gallon). It’s also the highest rated hybrid vehicle reviewed by Consumer Reports. Jesus gave his endorsement as well, but Buddha and Xenu are still on the fence, so it’s not really well-publicized. Going off of MPG alone, the Prius is definitely the flame to boil your kettle on, and I’m not even going to argue on that point.

Okay, well there was this one study conducted in the UK that clocked in a BMW 520D SE at 50.3 MPG over the Prius at a mere 48.1 MPG over a 545 course that encompassed both urban and rural driving. Jeremy Clarkson and the gang from the (albeit entirely yet entertainingly biased) crew at Top Gear had a test of their own:

Now these are a bunch of Audi-loving, fast-driving, fish-and-chips eating car fanatics, and this test is likely not the most accurate or scientifically sound you can get. Jeremy brings up a great point, though: it’s not what you drive, but how you drive it.

I’m not going to get preachy, and I’m not going to come down hard on Prius owners. At least people who own a Prius are even thinking of the environment pure and simple, right?

I say that the Prius is just as much a fashion statement as it is an “investment” in the environment. This car comes from the company that brought us the Scion complete with underground artwork. The Prius looks the way it does not because it needs to, but because it looks like a hybrid. Cars, like any other accessory or brand that we associate with, tell the world something about us. A Prius says, “I’m environmentally concious,” in a way a bumper sticker just doesn’t.

A Jetta turbo-diesel gets 45-50 MPG, and the new turbo-diesel regulations mandate that diesel burn 100 times cleaner than it did 30 years ago. Like the Prius, it’s a mid-sized car from a well-known quality brand. But when people see you driving your shiny new Jetta, the only thing they think is, “Slug…oh no, never mind.” The Jetta doesn’t look like a hybrid – this is the same problem for the hybrid Civic. Even the Honda Insight tried to differentiate it’s look, but the sardine can feel of the tiny two-seater didn’t exactly sit well with many people.

So why pick on the Prius? At least Toyota’s trying, right? At least people are being conscious about a big buying decision. The hurdle is one of alignment: if the Prius’s avant garde fashion appeal convincing more people to buy were properly aligned with an untarnished reputation for reversing our severe dependence on classical transportation inputs, then fine. I’d leave it alone and blog about buying a Mac or a puppy instead.

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One Response to “To Prius or not to Prius?”

  1. 1 Truman

    I think I speak for my entire family when I say that we care less about being considered environmentally friendly when we’re seen in our Prius than we care about inspiring envy in the tiny brains of SUV owners.


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