Pondering Prius: Psychology and the Toyota Prius V

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The eco display on the 2013 Toyota Prius V

That bar to the left? Probably best not to pay too much attention to it, lest you drive yourself– and your fellow motorists– insane. (Lyndon Johnson photo.)

Toyota has given us its biggest Prius, the Prius V, and I’ve been trying to overcome the psychology of its dashboard.
The centrally mounted information display includes a speedometer, a gauge showing the state of the hybrid battery pack’s charge, and all the other information you might expect to see in a gauge cluster over your steering column– where the Prius V has nothing but smooth dashboard. Another piece of info the dashboard has: a power usage gauge.
The gauge is intended to help the driver see how hard he’s asking the car to work. As your right foot lays into the throttle, green bars light up on the gauge. The more throttle you give it, the more green bars illuminate. There’s a line about three-quarters of the way to the top of the gauge that seems to demarcate the point beyond which the gasoline engine is required to run, as even when the Prius V switches over to “EV Mode” around town, if I give it enough throttle to cause the green bars above that line to illuminate, the gas engine kicks in. Mash the throttle hard enough, and you’ll see a fat, singular orange bar appear at the top of the gauge while the green “ECO” light turns off.
But here’s my issue: I’ve been paying entirely too much attention to that gauge. Wanting to see just how good I could do on fuel econoy for the test week, I’ve naturally been very careful to try to keep the car out of that orange zone marked “PWR” on the gauge, and have tried to keep the green bars underneath that 3/4 demarcation as much as possible so the Prius V has as many chances to switch over to EV mode as I can give it.
Full-on shot of the digital dash display in the 2013 Toyota Prius V

Here’s a full shot of the digital dash display mounted in the center of the dash of the 2013 Toyota Prius V. (Lyndon Johnson photo.)

The thing about doing that is the car is slow when treated in such a way. And I’m not talking “slow” as in the typical autojournalist’s “anything that can’t get to 60 MPH in 6 seconds is slow” attitude. I’m talking being left in the dust at stoplights by fully loaded gravel-hauling dump trucks while a queue of agitated commuters stack up behind me and hunt for the first opportunity to get in the left lane so they, like the dump trucks, can leave me in the dust.
There’s something else to note about the negative side of driving with such a timid right foot: It may very well be worse for fuel economy. Even under light throttle pressure, the Prius V displays much lower MPG readings during acceleration than it does once cruising speed is reached. Spend longer accelerating, and that’s just more time you’re sucking down gasoline in the mid-20s MPG range instead of cruising at the Prius V’s rated 44 city, 40 highway EPA fuel economy. So far, I’ve found the car hews pretty close to those EPA numbers in real life cruising, even among the Tennessee hills.
After a few days of that slow, nuisance-to-traffic experience, I’ve decided I’ll try to treat our test Prius V the same as I would any other car, doing my best to ignore the gauge unless I happen to notice it telling me the car is in EV mode– in which case, I might still go easy on the throttle just to see how long I can keep it rolling gas-free. The owner’s manual says EV mode is only usable for a constant 1/2 mile at speeds of 25 MPH or less, though I have seen the “EV Mode” light illuminate at speeds as high as 48 MPH and have managed to cruise close to a mile solid without the gasoline engine turning on.
Disclaimer: Toyota provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.Pondering Prius: Psychology and the Toyota Prius V
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