A few weeks ago, Danielle and I test drove a Toyota Prius. I prefer Volkswagens but gas mileage is key now that we live further out. More driving equals more fuel and the under-thirty-miles-per-gallon is no longer acceptable. Yet, there’s also the cool technological aspect of hybrids in general and the Prius specifically. I like the idea of staring at the touch-screen in the most feature-laden model, watching a graphical representation of what the engine is doing. I’m not sure I understand how the energy captured from braking recharges the battery if the car drives on the highway, across the country, but the brochures indicate that it happens. I’m a sucker for technological hype. But, again, the fuel savings is most important, which is why I’m turning against the diesel Jetta. That attention to gas mileage is probably more a side-effect of me being an earth-crunchy vegan than a capitalist, but I’m still delaying the decision because of the selfish, non-earth-crunchy vegan part of me that still wants to drive a manual transmission. Toyota doesn’t offer a manual transmission in the Prius.
Instead, they offer this:
Oh, it’s a thing of beauty, but without a clutch, it makes no sense to the untrained driver. With the Prius, the driver pushes start, followed by using that knob to shift the car into gear. When parking the car, the driver, brakes the car to a stop, pushes the park button, and pushes the off button. There is no need to involve the gear knob in the process. This makes no sense to me, of course. I’ve driven cars with manual transmissions since almost the day I received my driver’s license in July 1989. I forget to put automatic transmissions in park when I park them. I stomp the floor trying to find the clutch. The mechanisms of a manual transmission are ingrained into my knowledge of how to drive a car. Without them, I’m lost. So I think I can be forgiven my logical yet incorrect instinct to shift the car out of Drive. I would be wrong, though, for this is what I heard when I did exactly that at the end of the test drive.
No! I told you not to touch that! Hngggggggtt¹
I sat still, as stunned as a four-year-old caught playing with his toy battleships in the toilet. Did he just yell at me? Would the car blow up because I shifted the gear knob? Perhaps, I concluded. This new-fangled technology was hard, but I wouldn’t be so stupid if they’d built the car correctly, with a manual transmission and a clutch. Granted, most people interested in hybrids for fuel efficiency are too busy talking with Greenpeace on their cell phone to shift gears, but some weird folks like me have control issues, eliminating any potential joy offered by the convenience of an automatic transmission. And I hate cell phones, so the Bluetooth feature is wasteful. Less Bluetooth and more clutch next time. But I digress.
Like I said, I still haven’t decided whether or not to buy a Prius. I like the idea of it, but I’m not sure I’ll enjoy the reality of it. No manual transmission is a poor marketing tool. And don’t get me start on the lack of built-in Sirius. Throw in a snorting, yelling salesman and I don’t know that I’m willing to sign over that many dollars when there will be a greater choice in hybrids within a few years.
Did I mention that the salesman yelled at me?
¹ – Imagine excess phlegm snorted from the throat into the nose with a sound mimicking snoring. That’s what that is.