Questions I have after test driving a Prius and a Civic Hybrid

Yesterday, I test drove two hybrid cars, a Toyota Prius and a Honda Civic hybrid. I think the Prius was a '08 and the Civic was a '07. I did have some specific concerns, and I was hoping I could get some feedback from anyone here who actually owns either (or has driven either for a not insignificant period of time).

(1) When you look in the rearview, you see a black bar across the middle of the window. I found it very distracting. The salesman said that it’s something everyone notices when they test drive a Prius, but fail to notice after a week. Is he blowing smoke up my ass, or do you really get used to it?

(2) The trunk, although fairly sizeable (especially with the seats folding down flush with the trunk), seems shallow. That is, I feel that if I put a suitcase in the back, even laying it flat, it will really obscure my vision in the rear view (especially coupled with that damned bar). Does cargo in the trunk impair your vision?

(3) The model we saw (and it was a Package Level 2, out of 5 or 6) had a touchscreen display where you access your radio, climate control, fuel efficiency gauge, etc. My wife seems to think that such a display will go on the fritz within a year. I’m of the opinion that touchscreen technology is tried and true, although I concede that I have zero conception of how long a touchscreen can last, and I have no idea if Toyota installed the cheapest touchscreen ever. Do you think the touchscreen will crap out fairly readily?

(4) Package Level 2 included a camera you could flip on using the aforementioned touchscreen display, so you could see behind you when you’re backing up. Does this mean that even Toyota concedes that you get dick for visibility behind you?

Civic Hybrid:
(1) I noticed that the battery vents into the cabin. (It may have also been so on the Prius, but it didn’t catch my attention and therefore I didn’t ask the salesman). Does this mean that my cabin is going to be even hotter on a hot day?

(2) When I accelerated on a highway onramp to get up to speed, I noticed that (a) I had to floor it to get up to speed quickly enough and (b) it still didn’t seem enough. I’ve read that the Civic has limited pick-up, especially compared to the Prius. Do you find that is the case, or am I just too much of a leadfoot?

For both:
(1) What sort of fuel economy should I expect if I have the A/C on?

(2) I’m a “hurry up and wait” kind of driver. That is, I tend to accelerate really fast when the light turns green (not burning rubber, but I beat almost everyone “off the line”). I constantly go ~10 mph over the speed limit. I pass people, I change lanes if I think it will help me get to my destination 0.5 seconds faster, etc. What’s more, I like how I drive. If I don’t think I’m going to change my driving habits to a slow-accelerator, speed limit follower, etc., should I even bother getting a hybrid? Or am I going to get 25 mpg and be really disappointed that I’m not taking advantage of the fuel-saving technology?

To put it another way, how forgiving is the hybrid technology with fuel efficiency? Does it give you 45+ mpg only if you drive like grandma, or would even a NASCAR driver get ~40 mpg?

Thanks for any and all answers!

Well, if you drive like that (or, I should say, like I do) I don’t think you’ll get the magical results that people claim from hybrids, because driving them like that isn’t, er, fuel efficient.
I bought a base 1.8l Nissan Sentra (2006) last year. 5 spd. It has good acceleration, and as I like accelerating, I can tell you that I can spin the tires in 1st and 2nd gear. Not bad for a 4cyl 1.8l lil car. Plus I regularly average 36-38 mpg. And it’s only about 8k cheaper than a hybrid.

I own a '07 Prius, and my wife owns an 03 Civic hybrid. We both drive each others cars, though I drive hers more often than visa versa. We’re both pretty happy with our vehicles.

To answer your specific questions:


  1. Yeah, the bar across the back of the rear window is a distraction at first. But it’s not as bad as the spoiler wing was on my 2000 Celica. Unless you’re quite short, the view above the bar is what you need for safe driving. After a time, you do get used to it and it becomes a non-issue.

  2. I’m impressed with what I can fit into the rear compartment of my Prius. There is actually a small trunk which contains the spare tire, under a flap in the rear compartment. In there I keep a first aid kit, an umbrella, my chess set, two freezer bags for shopping, some rope, etc. You could put jumper cables in there and an emergency flare/light, but that’s what AAA is for. I’ve carried a lot of stuff back there, even with the rear seats up. The bar containing the privacy curtain is easilly removable. With the seats folded down, I’ve been surprised what I could carry (I once bought a spindle sander and a surface planer, and all three boxes fit in one trip). I regularly carry 8’ long lumber with the fifth door closed (though no shotgun passenger in that operation).

You can always buy a box big enough to obscure your rear vision, no matter what you drive. In general I’ve found that unless I’m not strong enough to get it into the car (and then out again at home without the salesman’s help) I haven’t found visibility too troublesome. Go slow on the backroads if that’s a concern.

In fact, it was this carrying capacity with the rear seat folder that broke the tie between the Prius and Civic hybrid when I made my purchase.

  1. I’ve had no trouble with the Prius touch screen display. The hard buttons on the side of the display allow you to get to the different categories, and except for the audio I don’t need to change much. Mostly I use the soft buttons on the touchscreen to get to different radio stations, which I do often enough. And since you have two FM preset groups, quite often the hard buttons on the radio itself is sufficient. In any case, the screen seems sturdy enough, and in the 14 months I’ve had the car I’ve had no indication of looming trouble. Occassionally I wipe it clean so the fingerprints don’t glare at some angles.

I do wish the screen was angled more to the driver’s position, but it’s not a big deal. It’s quite usable as is, and takes only a quick jab to do what you want before returning your eyes to the road.

  1. I didn’t get the backup camera, since I don’t have kids and in this part of suburbia rarely ever parallel park. I believe the idea is that if you’re backing out of the driveway when your daughter is using her hot wheels, you won’t accidentally run over her. This problem is even more accentuated for big SUVs, and I believe some of those incorporate the same camera feature. To me it just wasn’t woth the expense.

I can’t imagine the rear camera is useful while driving - that’s what the rear view mirror is for, and it works fine at that task.


  1. There is a battery compartment vent in the passenger compartment on the Prius too. It doesn’t vent any gases, I believe it’s just there to maintain airflow, and is an intake vent, not an exhaust, but since I don’t sit back there I’m not sure. I’ve never found any problems with the A/C being able to keep us comfortable in either car.

  2. The Civic, hybrid or not, is a small car with a small engine. It’s not made to be a performance vehicle. That said, electric motors are very efficient at low speeds, unlike a regular engine which only produces its max torque at high engine RPMs. So a hybrid will always outaccelerate it’s non-hybrid version from a stop or at low speeds. I do find the Prius a bit “perkier” but I’m not uncomfortable taking the Civic onto the highway. My wife feels that simply leadfooting the pedal is less effective than easing into it - maybe that’s the engine computer doing its thing. Maybe its a matter of expectations and driving style.

For both:

  1. I get a sustained milage of about 53 MPG in the Prius and 47 MPG in the Civic. In both cars expect about 5 MPG less with the AC on - still not bad. If possible, I’ll roll downs the windows first to vent out the heat, but I like the quiet of the car with the windows up so I mostly drive with AC when its hot.

  2. That’s a tough question. My driving habits have definitely changed since I drive a hybrid instead of a sports car. I also collect less speeding tickets now. Of course, milage varies depending on driving style and trip conditions. My daily commute is mostly 40 to 50 MPH roads with a fair bit of lights and (insufferable, interminable) construction. Milage also increases after the car has had a break in period of six months. But the driving style you describe is exactly what they tell you to change to get the best milage. I suspect that when they report the milage of even a conventional vehicle it’s based on “good” driving practices, so you’re likely getting less than the stated sticker milage anyway. If you drive that way in an SUV with all that mass, you’re milage must be really terrible. I doubt that you’ll do worse in a hybrid, but will you do enough better to make it worth the extra up front expense, even when gas hits $5 per gallon? I don’t know.

I will say though I actually enjoy driving more now than I did before. In the Celica, I was always listening for the radar detector to go off, and my heart raced whenever I’d pass a cop on the side of the road even if I wasn’t going 20 over the limit. Now I don’t have that stress, and I honestly don’t notice that 0.5 second later arrival time. Believe me, it feels good driving next to a Chevy Excursion knowing that I can afford more woodworking toys because I’m spending one third on gas what he is. Not to mention what I save on speeding tickets and those stupid safe driving classes!

Wow, thanks for the great answers, this is a subject I am really interested in and like the Op I have a heavy foot.

Can you tell us, which car you think is better suited to a highway commute. I drive the Garden State Parkway daily and it runs over 70 mph. Do you think the Civic or the Prius is better suited to this type of driving.


Wow, BobPi, thanks for the great reply. And for being in a fairly unique position to be able to answer my questions about both cars!

Do you have a favorite, the Prius or the Civic? If so, by how much?

Since I’m the wife mentioned, and **BobPi **is too busy to post right now, I’ll pass on his answer.

He says that there really isn’t much difference in highway driving between the two, and I’ll agree. Both are still fuel-efficient at 70MPG. On the highway, I still think the Prius gets better mileage, but not by much. When we took a road trip back to New York this summer, we drove the Prius, but only because it is roomier. I personally enjoy driving the Civic more, because I think it is easier to handle, and it is easier to get a “feel” for how fast you are going. (I have found myself speeding inadvertently in the Prius.)

ETA: I was answering What Exit?, but in reply to aliquot, I’d say he likes his better, and I like mine better.

Thank you both again. You two are in a fairly rare situation to provide some real world comparisons between the two. It is invaluable to me.


May be a bit late, but why are you interested in a hybrid?

You can be ‘greener’ if you simply purchase a good diesel and use biofuel. The main issue with hybrids that many people dont stop to think about is batteries. When tehy reach the end of their service lifespan, are you junking the car or replacing? Do you know the cost of the battery replacement, what the ‘core charge’ is inclined to be and disposal of the batteries themselves. Also, some hybrids are not designed to charge the batteries with an electrical line, but only by running the motor using fuel.

[I grew up in a town that had as a major employer a battery manufacturer, and I *know* what sorts of chemicals go into making batteries, and the disposal issues of the various chemical residues and the batteries themselves. Blech.]

I want to let you know that Toyota has “used up” all of the available Tax Credits for their cars, but you can still get a $2000+ Tax credit on the Honda.

There are few Diesel cars currently avaiable in America, and in somes States (like CA) the requirement for low-sulphur Diesel runs the price up a lot.

The batteries will last 10 years+.

A good diesel can be an alternative, but you have to keep it good. A deisel that’s not maintained in top shape isn’t clean, especially in production of particulates, a serious pollutant (though aren’t they all). And while diesels can be another alternative for some people, they are not intrinsically superior to hybrids. Witness the number of diesel electric hybrids that are in development, mainly for the European market. For whatever reason, diesels never really caught on in the US, even though the cold weather problems have been more or less worked out. Hopefully this advancement will be available in the US in due course, unless an even better technology turns up.

As to the battery, I don’t see it as a major issue. The battery is guaranteed for eight years, and ten in California. Keep in mind that’s it’s the same battery in all states, just different regulations. The batteries are designed to last the lifetime of the car, from 150,000 to 200,000 miles. I’ve never had a car last me that long, but I keep trying. In any case, these batteries are NiMH, nickel metal hydride, which are not nearly as nasty as the nickel cadmium rechargables you might be thinking of. The hybrid’s batteries are fully recycleable, and Toyota puts a $200 premium on them to insure that recycling is favored over disposal. As far as I know, no hybrid battery has yet become old enough to need replacement.

BTW, the main way of recharging the battery is by capturing the braking energy, which is otherwise simply wasted as heat. This regenerative energy is why hybrids can get better city milage than on the highway. The battery isn’t just charged by burning fuel - if that was the case hybrids would always get less milage than a simple ICE. And of course, the more popular hybrids become, the cheaper these battery replacements will be if and when they are needed.

Of course, somethimes there are additional expenses in the lifetime of the car. On my Celica, I had to replace a clutch assembly, and that was a painful repair bill (OK, my aggressive driving style was a little hard on the clutch, YMMV). I’m comfortable with the battery life and my CVT over that prospect now. The bottom line is that a lot of people have thought about the battery, from the auto engineers to the consumers. I researched the question before making the hybrid decision, so it wasn’t a matter of blind ignorance.

Finally, as far as I know, no hybrids are designed to recharge the batteries off a household electric line. There is a plug in kit for the Prius, but it isn’t worth the money (and of course the mod voids the warranty). I’m not even sure how much that would benefit the environment, given that some electric stations burn coal and the transmission losses involved. It’d be interesting to look into for a particular locale if a plug in electric car was an option, but for most situations I’m aware of, it’s simply not an issue.

Thank you again for the great answers.

Toyota is just rolling out a plug-in Hybrid in Tokyo only. They have hopes of being fully commercial in a year or two. I don’t know if that will mean the US. I hope it does.

It is an option I am hoping for, but then a large part of electricity is generated from the Solar panels on my house. Overall, even most coal burner produce power cleaner than most cars, maybe not cleaner than Prius however. I just do not know.

Wiki has a good summary on Plug-in hybrid timetable:

There is also a massive program in place to make cleaner and cheaper lithium-ion batteries. I don’t know the details.


Well, the same reason everyone is interested in a hybrid, I imagine: great fuel economy and very low emissions.

I haven’t looked too much into diesels, for a number of reasons. (1) I’m not sure who makes diesel cars. I know Volkswagon does, but they’re shit for reliability (the gas versions are, at least; diesels may be a different story) and yet there seems to be a premium for “German engineering,” even though it sucks (IMO) in the case of VW. Also, I believe Mercedes makes diesel cars, but that’s outside of my price range. (2) If you buy an older (say, older than about 2005) diesel, it emits a lot of crap. Plus, aren’t there ~5 states you can’t drive in? If you buy a newer diesel, you need the ultra-low sulfur diesel (which I’ve seen in very few places) or else you poison your catalytic converter. And I’m not even sure if that allows you to drive in CA or a few other states. (3) Biofuel is interesting, but I’ve never seen it at a gas station (and I live in Seattle, a very green city). I’m sure it’s around here somewhere, but I’d hate to be stranded in a strange locale, looking for a specific type of fuel. (Can they burn normal diesel and/or ultra-low sulfur diesel? I don’t know, but I doubt it.)

I’ve thought about batteries. Toyota and Honda have thought about batteries. They’re warrantied for 100K miles (in most places), which, to me, says that they’ll almost certainly last the life of the car. A non-issue for me.

AFAIK, both the Prius and the Civic Hybrid primarily (maybe even exclusively) recharge their batteries by capturing energy during braking.

I’m a chemist, so I also know battery chemicals are just nasty. That said, not all batteries are created equal. BobPi said that Toyota uses nickel metal hydrides (which I’ve actually researched, at a very basic and brief level) that, while not made out of tree bark and deer piss, are a damned sight better than any heavy metal batteries.

. This surprises me. Only 100,000 miles? When I traded in my last Pathfinder, I had over 200,000 on it and it was still running strong. I fully intend to get 200,000 on my new Pathfinder. It will probably only take me 10 years at the rate I drive.

I bought a 2006 Prius in January 2006 . I believe it was option package 8.

  1. The split rear window does take some getting used to, but I really did get used to it. I’ve never really had a problem with visibility.

  2. I’ve never had a problem with suitcases or groceries getting in the way.

  3. Also never had a problem with the touchscreen, but I don’t use it all that much. I generally use the buttons on the steering wheel to control the temperature, the radio, the phone and to swtich between the map and the fuel efficiency stats. I do use the touchscreen to search for or enter addresses for the route guidance system.

I probably drive a lot like you, maybe not quite as much acceleration, but I usually use the cruise control to go 9 miles over the speed limit changing lanes to get around anyone who doesn’t want to go that speed. I usually get between 45 and 50 mpg. That’s with a 60 mile round trip commute to work 5 times a week. Speed varies from 50 mph to 79 mph.

This site shows you where yu can get biodiesel fuel. THere is no change needed to go from regular to biofuel in a diesel. Dio actually cleans the tank and lines so if you use regular for a while then go back to bio you need to change your filter after a tank or so.

I have had no issue with my VW Jettas, and I have owned VWs since 1996, and in fact mrAru rolled one at 70 and walked away with a very minor injury, the safety details are wonderful. I will admit that I have had issues with idiots in the city snapping off the radio antenna, and the cup holders suck. I know of no state that you cannot own/drive a diesel. If so, national trucking and transport must seriously be fucked because of fines to the drivers moving goods into the area. diesel can be expensive in alaska and hawaii but everything is expensive there. Old diesels can be returned to running clean with a quicky rebuild, if properly maintained they remain clean burning.

Got to run to an appointment,I may be back afterwards for more commentary

I love my Prius. I’ve actually had two. The first was unfortunately killed in a crash. I walked away, but the car was toast. I had 30K miles on it, and my combined mileage for the life of the car was just north of 50 MPG (yes, I did record every single trank of gas, because I am a nerd). On the new one, the mileage is hovering around 48-49. I haven’t run the total recently. I think it’s lower becuase my driving pattern has changed a lot. I went from drining 45 miles each way to/from work to driving 4 miles in the city. Even though the EPA estimates for city driving are higher than for highway driving, I believe that driving a block at a time and stopping at every light is bound to lower the mileage. Anyway, 48 MPG is still pretty good. I am, however, a more “conservative” driver than I think some of the previous posters. I accelerate easily, leave long following distances, and brake gently. On the highway, I hang out in the slow lane and follow the limit. So, for what it’s worth. Anyway, to answer your specific questions:

(1) When you look in the rearview, you see a black bar across the middle of the window. I haven’t really gotten used to this. In general, I’m kind of a stickler about visibility, and my biggest complaint about the Prius is that the visibility, either straight out the back or over-the-shoulder, is not very good. I’m 6’0", so it might differ for drivers of different height. I did not find this bad enough to make me reject the car, but it still annoys me.

(2) The trunk… There is a surprising amount of room back there. I’ve pushed the envelope a couple of times (the storm door took some doing), but for the most part, I’ve never wanted a larger cargo space. A few suitcases? No problem for me.

(3) touchscreen display… I dunno about the expcted life of the display. It does take some getting used to. I miss the traditional knobs-and-button climate controls, but overall I don’t have any complaints about the display.

(4) Package Level 2 included a camera you could flip on using the aforementioned touchscreen display, so you could see behind you My current model has this. It comes on automatically when you put the car in reverse. There is no way to turn it on otherwise (AFAIK). In any case, I ignore the camera, for two reasons. 1) It has a little too much of a fisheye effect, and I find it difficult to gauge distances. I don’t like it for parallel parking and the like, because objects in the camera are closer than they appear. 2) Ever since I learned how to drive, I have been in the habit of turning around and looking when I back up. That is, I don’t even use my mirrors to back up – I put my right hand behind the passenger seat and turn to look. So, the camera has never held any appeal for me. I only have the camera because it was the model that was available, and the cost was not significantly higher, at least the day I was buying.

I really like the car. If I were buying now, I would also look seriously at new diesels, and biodiesel. My understanding is that several European makers are going to release diesels in 2008 that will comply with the new, stricter smog standards. If so, and if you can fill them with biodiesel, you’re probably doing better from a greenhouse gas perspective. The EPA has a green vehicle rating site that is pretty handy, if that’s your primary concern.

Good luck on your search.

These are the batteries that are used in the Tesla. I’m getting ready to do an analysis of the Tesla company for an MBA class. There are concerns that Lithium is a relatively rare resource, and that large-scale use of it will start to drive the price up. I have not yet verified that. Maybe someone with more expertise than me can chime in and save me the trouble of reading the whole USGS Minerals Yearbook. :slight_smile:

I traded in my VW Golf TDI for a 2005 Prius. I live in California. I’m not sure if they’ve tightened up the rules on diesels in CA since I bought the VW, but I was able to get one, and had no issue finding diesel fuel.

I’ve had no issue with the visibility in my Prius, and no issue with trunk space. Granted, I don’t use my trunk for much other than groceries, but compared with other cars I’ve owned, trunk space seems similar.

I’ll address the Golf vs Prius - the biggest difference is the noise. I didn’t realize how much noise a diesel engine makes until I started driving my Prius. At a stoplight, your Prius will switch to battery and be completely silent. In the diesel, you’d hear that throaty rattle (which I admit I still kind of hear nostalgically).

I think that the interior my Golf had was a little bit nicer than the Prius’ - both have cloth seats, but I liked the VW cloth better. My Golf, since it was so hard to come by, didn’t offer me any choice on options, so I got a car that was pretty loaded up with bells and whistles, so its sound system is better than what I’ve got in the Prius. I have the base model that you can buy in CA, and it doesn’t have an anti-theft system like my Golf did.

You do pay a premium for a VW diesel, but you pay a premium for hybrid, too. I only had my diesel for 3 years before I couldn’t wait to buy a hybrid (probably the most frivolous thing I’ve ever done with my money is to only keep that car 3 years but OH WELL), so I can’t address VW reliability - during that 3 years I had absolutely zero problems with the car.

Anyway, if you want a hybrid, you want a hybrid, and don’t let anyone talk you out of it. I wanted a hybrid when I bought my diesel, but felt like the technology was still “too new” so I wasn’t sure I wanted to own one yet (I know nothing about cars, and didn’t want to have to deal with buggy technology). In retrospect, I should have just bought the goddamn hybrid since that was the car I really really wanted.

Well, I just bought an '08 Prius last week so I’ve got a bit of the new car fervor, so I’ll try and temper it for my responses.

1)The rearview, I’m getting used to it. It seems that after a while, your mind puts together the rest of the picture. It’s not a blindspot at all, just a little odd.

2)The trunk I haven’t used all that much. I upgraded to the Prius from a PT Cruiser so I’m apparently not really into a lot of trunk space. There’s a hidden spot for storage in the trunk too. I don’t care for the cheap pull-over to hide the trunk’s contents though. The cruiser had a flat shelf which allowed extra storage that I would have opted for if it were available.

3)My car is package level 2 (it was all that was available that didn’t have leather seats at the dealership. I can’t stand leather seats). I don’t know about its longevity (although, my friend’s mom has had her Prius for 4 years and hasn’t had a problem with it). It does attract smudges though and if you have the headlights on during the day time, it’s quite difficult to read. I’ve seen shades available on eBay that I may get.

4)The back-up camera is neat. First: if you noticed when you were test-driving, when you throw the car into reverse, it has a garbage truck back-up noise. Beep.Beep.Beep. I found a really easy hack online that shows how to easily turn off that sound. The camera for me is nice when I back-up out of the driveway to make sure that the kids aren’t behind the car, but I haven’t gotten used to its fisheye display yet. I’m having the opposite experience from Bayard and I’m seeing the objects in the display further away than they actually are.

As for fuel economy, well, I’ve gone from an actual average of 19.5 MPG in the PT Cruiser to my first tank on the Prius with an average of 45.4 MPG. I do mixed city and highway driving and I’m not a speed limit driver either. I have played games with the car though, I see how far I can go without having the engine turning on during that first tank (400 miles)…but I’ve also gunned the car to get onto the highway. I’ve also done a lot of short trips in the car, which on my old car, would’ve used up much more gas with the starting and stopping of the engine but not so with the Prius.

I did test drive the Honda but IMO found the Prius to handle and ride better and had more room for the 3 kids in the backseat too. If you get package 2, you’ll also be getting the smart key which is really nice, just grab the handle or trunk and it unlocks for you when you have the key on you.

Of course, there’s the huge difference in the fact that the Prius is an ugly car and the Civic, while not pretty, is passable.

I understand if you don’t want to, but can you tell us what you paid and how you haggled?