Monday, April 7, 2014

Take That, Smugmobile!

The most fuel-efficient vehicle in America is a luxury car
I can't decide what's more annoying about the Toyota Prius: the people who buy it, or the fact that the car does such a good job of delivering ridiculous gas mileage. Seriously—the harder you beat it, the less gas the damn thing uses. It's infuriating.

Discounting the fact that the World's Worst Drivers Club somehow managed to get 75 percent off pricing on the purchase of a Prius, and evaluating the car on its actual merits, the hybrid nerd-machine is an amazing piece of engineering. Its sole mission is fuel economy—so it's not particularly fun to drive, but it's not a bad car, either. Yes, it's ugly. But it's amazingly inexpensive given what it is, reasonably comfortable, impressively roomy, and even surprisingly lightweight. And it's actually more than quick enough to keep up with traffic.
Now, I was curious about the price, so I checked it out. The 2014 Prius starts at $24K. This is $4K less than it was selling for in 2007. For comparison's sake, the 2014 Corolla is $17K, which is about the same price as 2007, give or take a grand or so. Isn't competition wonderful? As more hybrid vehicles have entered the marketplace, the stranglehold the Prius once had is gone, and now it's being sold at more reasonable rates.

It's still $7K more than the Corolla, which gets 28 MPG city, 37 MPG highway mileage. The math still doesn't really work out - unless you drive 20K miles of city driving a year, you're unlikely to recoup the difference in price. Showing the math:

Prius: 51 MPG city. Corolla: 28 MPG city. 20K city miles a year = 714.25 gallons in the Corolla, 392.16 gallons in the Prius. The Prius will use approximately 322 gallons of gas less a year. At $3.50 per gallon, that's $1,127 a year savings in fuel. At a difference of $7K in price, that's more than 6 years before the price difference breaks even. And that's if you drive 20,000 miles of city driving every year. Cut that in half, you double that time to around 13 - 14 years. Simply forget recouping your money if you drive mostly highway miles - at a difference of only 11 MPG on the highway, you'll save ~ $400 a year with the Prius over 20K miles a year. That's a 16 year recoup time

Bottom line: If you're driving a Prius to save money, you suck at math.

With all that said, the results of the quasi-scientific test are interesting, but not the least bit unexpected. The Mercedes is a smallish car with an efficient diesel engine; it's hardly surprising that it would put out excellent gas mileage. 20 years ago, the Volkswagen Passat diesel was getting very similar mileage - the ads for the TDI Passat claimed it had something like an 800 mile range. Efficient diesel engines in medium-sized cars will perform exceptionally well in regards to fuel economy.

Personally, I blame General Motors for the general public dislike of diesel engines in passenger cars. In the late 1970s/early 1980s, after two gas crises, GM had the brilliant idea of building a diesel engine with gas engine parts, not training techs properly, and generally acting like GM. The end result was a diesel-powered car that belched smoke, achieved 0-60 times measured by a sundial, caused the motors to melt down faster than a Chrysler 2.2L Turbo, and cratered the resale value harder than finding a trunk full of rotten carp.

With crap like this foisted upon the American motoring public, no wonder it's taken the better part of a generation for us to start thinking about  diesel power again...

That is all.


Dave H said...

California emission standards don't help diesel's acceptance in passenger cars either. I can't buy a Golf TDI here in NY because they subscribe to CA's standards, which have extra-strict limits on NOx emissions.

Anonymous said...

Just keep the damn Prius out of the left lane if your going to do 10 MPH under the speed limit.


Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

"And that's if you drive 20,000 miles of city driving every year. Cut that in half, you double that time to around 13 - 14 years."

And that's not even considering the cost of replacing the battery array, which you will have to do if you keep the car for long enough to make up the purchase price difference in gas.

But, like most enviro-weenie schemes, it's less about actual results than it is about feelings.

B said...

Of course, that is IF you get the 37 MPG out of a Camry (I have family and friends who own Camrys)...Whereas the 51 MPG IS a realistic number (I own a Prius)

Geodkyt said...

B -- I was getting 35+ mpg out of Corollas and similar Japanese sedans built BEFORE the Prius was introduced. In cars that were at least ten years old when I bought them. Learn how to drive a 5-speed, and drive it correctly, and you can too. {grin}

My sister gets 45+mpg in her VW Passat TDI, and it starts, accelerates, and performs as if it is a 6-cylinder gas powered car. Not like a 1981 diesel Rabbit.

Dave H said...

The manager of a repair shop near here told me that Jeep is introducing (or maybe already has?) a 3 cylinder diesel model with a Kubota engine. I can't find anything online about it, just a bunch of people who've swapped engines after the fact.

Considering the job that shop did on my brakes, it's entirely possible the manager is seriously misinformed. But I'd sure like to see a diesel Jeep.

Gene in NC said...

All this talk about the Prius reminds me of the accurate South Park episode about the Prius and their owners...LOL

Robert said...

And, of course, this assumes that gas will be 3.50 a gallon for the next 8 to 16 years, which I doubt. Not that I'd drive a Prius anyways.