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Aaron N. Tubbs

Dragon chaser.

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While my car is getting some attention in the shop, my rental has been a second generation Toyota Prius. It’s an interesting car. It’s extremely practical; it has plenty of places to store stuff, and then a bunch more places beyond what’s necessary. It’s comfortable for four and has a nice rear storage area. That’s all stuff I knew before, but it’s important to emphasize — it’s quite possibly one of the most practical cars out there.

The thing is bouncy as hell, though. Maybe I’ve spent too much time in my Impreza, but it’s comically bouncy. Maybe it’s just a beater rental, but there’s a ton of spring and slow rebound, and I just hate the way that feels. For one, it makes the ride very amusement-park-ride-like; not great for the stomach. More importantly, however, the massive CG swings caused by the bounciness make the handling really shitty. This is exacerbated by the problem that the car responds to wind pretty severely. I still don’t believe that my brother’s Prius was picked up off the road and tossed into a ditch by wind, but I’lll buy that the car certainly gets knocked around a bit, and could lead to some pretty nasty behavior between the bouncing and gust behavior, if you’re not paying attention.

The cruise control has a fatal flaw, and that’s that there’s no indicator of when it’s activated. Really. Just one light, that’s all it would take, and it’s missing.

Because of the way the CVT works, there’s no way to gradually accelerate, such as when you want to inch along in reverse to parallel park; the second you’re off the break it starts aggressively, and the second you’re on it, it stops just as suddenly. I discovered that, in general, there are certain transient behavior regions where there’s no way for a smooth transition; this is one of them. Another is when you’re managing the starting and stopping of the engine at various driving times; the engine starting and stopping makes a not-subtle lurch in the car, and its engagement via the CVT when on pure battery at low speeds is extremely crude.

As such, I find the ability to use throttle precisely at low speeds all but impossible.

Braking behavior is similarly imprecise; the transients between the regenerative modes and discs being engaged are unpredictable. I think this car could cause people trouble in unsure road conditions.

And this brings us to the most irritating feature of the car. It has the absolute worst traction control system in the world. And, as far as I can tell, there’s no way to defeat it. Here’s what happens: You’re pulling out into traffic and suddenly one of your wheels slip. The car just completely turns off for about a second, and then decides to give it a go again.

I’m exaggerating, but the traction control cuts all throttle out for an arbitrarily long amount of time once traction is regained. It’s insane to the point of being dangerous. I cannot imagine driving the Prius in snow. It would be impossible.

The obvious solution is at least to provide a T/C defeat button, but I’m hoping that the third generation models are using a more sophisticated system that responds faster.