Looking for the Goldilocks of Prii
September 17, 2014 10:04 PM   Subscribe

The stars have aligned and I am looking to purchase a new car in the Bay Area. I am drawn to the Toyota Prius, but am confused by all of the different options and models (all the while being distracted by other cars). I've read a lot of reviews and write-ups, but would appreciate an updated ask.me on the Prius!

I've read past threads on the green on the ubiquitous car and appreciated the hive wisdom of years past. I'd be interested in hearing from folks who purchased their Prius new, and especially interested if you've bought a 2014 Prius in the past year.
  • How did you decide which Prius to buy? (Prius C vs. Prius and all the subcategories in their glory)
  • Are the blind spots really that big on the Prius?
  • Do you find the Prius' interior and cargo space adequate?
  • Has the acceleration been a problem for you when merging onto the highway/changing lanes, etc.?
  • What sort of maintenance issues have you run into during your ownership?
  • What do you wish you had known or done more research on before purchasing a Prius?
  • How is parking?

Some factors to consider:
  • I live in the Bay Area (East Bay).
  • This is my first car purchase ever -- nervous about making the right/wrong decision. I am buying new for family/personal reasons and am not interested in used at this point.
  • I would drive a few times a week, mostly for errands during the week and for pleasure on the weekends. I would drive into SF at least once a week, and maybe every other week to the Peninsula/South Bay.
  • I am prioritizing safety, economy and price.
Some less important factors/questions:
  • I've been considering the Toyota Camry (meh) and the Hyundai Sonata (so surprised at how much I liked it!), which are both boats compared to the Prius. I honestly think they're both too big and unwieldy. I did not like the Elantra, which is of comparable size (I think).
  • I'd like the option of being able to take short road trips with my car a few times a year. Nothing crazy...what has your experience been like with a Prius on longer drives?
  • If you suggest alternative cars, please do not suggest a Ford or Honda.
  • I'm not concerned with the cool factor/commonality of the car. Maybe some day someone will mistake me for an Uber driver if I get a Prius. Would make a fun story :)
  • How many times can I repeat "Prius" in one post?
THANK YOU in advance for your help! I am very, very grateful for your answers and help.
posted by sums to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
We have a Prius that we recently purchased which currently has less than 2500 miles on it. I haven't found the blind spots to be an issue, although the rear window is kind of funky (you'll see what I mean). We bought the larger model and the most cost efficient one. I think the differences within the model have to do primarily with features, if I recall correctly, so it would be a matter of figuring out what you would like as extras. We bought the bigger one because we have a few children, although we generally don't have more than a couple of people in this car at a time.

It takes some time to break in we hear, but we haven't averaged more than 40 miles per gallon in city, which is a bit less than advertised. Also, you don't always feel as if you have a lot of power. It's certainly not bad, and there is a power button where you can sacrifice some gas mileage for more power (and also go more econo mode if you'd like), but you don't really buy the car for hauling stuff. We've found truck space sufficient for light transport (like regular day items, groceries, etc.). I've found the car to be very responsive in terms of steering and braking, to the point that I feel safer in it than pretty much any other car I've bought.

It is true, I think, that some of the internal parts of the car feel a bit cheaper. Sort of plasticy. But in general, we are very happy with it. There are certainly some trade-offs to get fuel efficiency, but since it's primarily a drive-to-work car for us and some other things, it works very well.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:03 PM on September 17, 2014

Also, just to add a couple of points: the acceleration is actually quite adequate, especially if you have the power mode on. I sometimes use that mode if I need to accelerate a little more quickly or going uphill. I live in Los Angeles and have taken more than a few trips with it in busy interstate traffic, so my frame of reference might be similar to yours. As I mentioned above, I've found it very responsive and have felt safe. And it's pretty loaded with air bags.

Parking with it is a breeze, because the steering controls well. No mechanical issues, as we have not had it long enough. But it comes with free service for some number of miles, and if you want to purchase a more thorough warranty, it's pretty reasonable.

And it's quiet as a church mouse. When you turn it on for the first time, you'll have to double check that it's actually running.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:13 PM on September 17, 2014

Our 2011 Prius has about 50K miles on it. I love it and I love the good gas mileage while still being big enough to carry adults in the rear seat. I like the storage. Acceleration is not a problem but I do try to remember to turn on Power Mode if I'm in heavy traffic. No maintenance issues except for a bit of excessive dealer upsell pressure for a few procedures.

- My wife hates the blind spots enough that she would not get a Prius again
- The seats cushions seem to be thin and are not comfortable on road trips
- Car people make fun of you and I go to the wrong Prius in the parking lot all the time. :-)

I would buy it again but I am hoping when we replace it many years from now there will be hybrid/electric options that don't have these downsides.
posted by troyer at 11:18 PM on September 17, 2014

I don't own a Prius, but I have driven them many times through Zipcar, and I really don't like them. It has been a while, but the issues I remember were knee pain on longer trips (just from the geometry or whatever not being quite right for me), and yes, the blind spots were really annoying.

I think in general, it would be nice to be able to have an extended test drive period before buying a new car, like, not just a short trip around town. Maybe joining Zipcar for a bit and doing a day trip or two in a Prius would be a good investment to see if it's a car that fits you well.

(I am not affiliated with Zipcar in any way; it's just the only place I know where you can reliably rent a Prius. Conceivably the standard car rental places might have them too.)
posted by ktkt at 11:41 PM on September 17, 2014

I have a normal Prius. I bought it on the East Coast and then drove to the West Coast a month or so later. It was a pretty ideal car for the long trip. The only issue with road trips is that the back seat is not that large so it's probably best suited for 2-3 adults at most unless they're comfortable being really close.

The blind spots are an issue for me. When I get my next car, I will probably get another hybrid and/or look at the C model if they haven't been addressed. You can live with it and I drive on the freeways in LA without any issue, but there have been a few times where fast-moving cars have drifted into the blindspot after I checked it, resulting in some tight squeezes. This kind of thing happens on the freeways, but it still annoys me. You can adjust your mirrors and get add-on mirrors to mitigate this somewhat. I think it's a pretty personal call.
posted by feloniousmonk at 11:53 PM on September 17, 2014

I bought a Prius C 3 when they first came out in 2012. It now has 51k miles and has not had any problems. I chose it over the regular Prius on the basis of price and aesthetics. If I had it to do over, I would have gone with the regular Prius because the cargo and cabin space is so limited in the C. I find it reasonably comfortable, even for long trips by myself, but if there is more than one person in it it lacks space to set things down. The bigger Prius gets the same fuel mileage because it has a more advanced and more expensive hybrid system. I don't find slow acceleration to be an issue. It is easy to park. Crash test ratings are reasonably good for a small car (unlike those for the Prius V). The only other negative is low ground clearance, due to the aerodynamic design. I sometimes like to go on rough dirt roads for birding purposes, and it's not an ideal car for that.
posted by jkent at 4:25 AM on September 18, 2014

The blind spots on Prii are an issue for me (5'5'' with poor spatial cognition to boot). I compensate with an extra large rear view mirror (which makes the mirror unusable for my 6'4'' partner) attached to the main mirror and added blind spot mirrors on the wing mirrors.

Having driven both the Prii family and the Camry Hybrid (2011), I feel like the premium for me on the Camry isn't worth the difference in price. Not a fan of either of their bluetooth / phone interfaces but kind of necessary with the cell phone rules in CA. Alternatively, don't bluetooth sync and use an Aux cord if that's an available option.

The Camry is a slightly more comfortable ride or maybe I'm just used to the ride and road noise on the Prius.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 5:42 AM on September 18, 2014

I have a 2011 Prius (regular base model). The rear window is a non-issue for me (5'11") and my wife (4'10"), but my mother (5'2") can't stand that divider bar.

I average about 56 mpg year-round with a mix of city, suburban sprawl, and highway. I leave it in ECO mode and have never felt like the acceleration was insufficient. Power mode doesn't give you more acceleration, it just makes it more responsive to give full throttle at a tap of the pedal. For my driving style, the EPA estimates are way low.

Consumer Reports loves the Prius, and calculates that between the fuel efficiency and the amazing reliability, it's the least expensive car you can own, considering first 5 years of ownership. (At least that was true a year or 2 ago.) They're not fans of the Prius C; I think they felt it was cheap & unrefined.

The interior and cargo space are great. I've owned an '87 Chevy Nova hatchback and a '98 Honda Civic sedan, and this car destroys them both for cargo space and passenger flexibility.

I plan to drive this one into the ground over the next decade, and then buy another in the early 2020's, which I fully expect will be able to photosynthesize and fly.
posted by jeffjon at 6:36 AM on September 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

I love my 2007 Prius - it's great for road trips, acceleration is great, interior size is perfect, and it's reliable. I don't have issues with blind spots.

If you're looking for more opinions and reviews, you might be interested in TrueDelta.
posted by acridrabbit at 7:33 AM on September 18, 2014

We bought a Prius C two in the beginning of summer. We love it.

We had a road trip planned for the week after getting the car, so the first thousand miles were a highway road trip. The trunk space with the seats up is pretty small if you have a two week road trip planned and we were a little disappointed, but in daily life, it's fine. It even suits us when we run to Costco.

We often offer the front seat to guests when we have more than the two of us in the car and I find the back seat plenty roomy. I'm a 6 ft 225 lbs man.

If we flip the seats down, we can easily put a full sized (58cm) road bike in the car without taking any wheels off. When we carry two bikes, we use a hitch mounted bike rack.

The car accelerates well. We leave the car in ECO mode. Like stated above, it doesn't change top end power, just how far you have to mash the pedal to get to the top end.

Parking it is a dream. Our previous car was a Honda Accord and I feel like I'm ten times better at parallel parking the Prius C.
posted by advicepig at 7:54 AM on September 18, 2014

I was going to buy a Prius C earlier this year, but when I test drove it, I wasn't a fan. It felt like there was nothing between me and the road - I felt every bump and pebble, and that's relatively smooth highway driving.

I went with a used 2011 Prius Three with pretty low mileage, and while it's not as cute or brightly colored as the Prius C, it is incredibly comfortable. I get around 55 mpg going 62-65 mph on the highway; at higher speeds, mpg drops down to around 50.
posted by kythuen at 12:28 PM on September 18, 2014

From car talk: if you set your mirrors correctly, then there should be effectively no blind spots. Doesn't matter which car.

Most people set their side view mirrors so they can see the side of their car. The side of the car is not going to move, there's zero reason to have the mirrors set that way - except to generate a second blind spot outside and beyond your side view reflection. If you instead have the side views pivoted outward (I like to have the inside edge reflect the lane markers), you'll have close to a 180 degree view behind you with your rear view mirror.

If you don't believe me, just try it when parked - then have someone walk in an arc behind your car. You'll notice a significant overlap where that person will appear in both your side view and rear view at the same time - and probably behind your c-pillar (or first blind spot if you're one of those drivers that turns their head all the way around to check). With mirrors set appropriately I barely turn my head at all now, and even that's just for the second blind spot I referred to above - which is now tiny because of the way the mirrors are set.

Blind spot tangent aside, if you're prioritizing safety, economy and price, you want the regular prius. The V has some concerning crash test results and the C is too small relative to the average vehicle on American roadways.

>Do you find the Prius' interior and cargo space adequate?

Plenty big.

>Has the acceleration been a problem for you when merging onto the highway/changing lanes, etc.?

Not a problem. You will need to be willing to floor it on occasion, but the torque from the small electric motor is for real. I'm talking a short on-ramp on a busy freeway that often requires merging from a dead stop.

>What sort of maintenance issues have you run into during your ownership?

Literally nothing other than oil, coolant, and tire changes. There's a reason taxi companies use these things. This on a 2008 with ~120K, 50K of which we put on ourselves.

>What do you wish you had known or done more research on before purchasing a Prius?

Mileage will depend on length of trips/terrain. We're in Hawaii, so most trips are around 15 minutes (so the engine doesn't spend much time at the most efficient temperature), and up/down hill. Even in that environment, we still get ~38 MPG. We regularly got ~44-48 in the bay area. All on the gen 2 - the current gen 3 is even more efficient. Conventional cars would still do worse.

>How is parking?

The exterior is actually smaller than you'd think given the interior. Space is fine. The steering geometry is a little different compared to regular cars due to packaging/layout - but something you'll get over quickly.

We bought purely because of a long bay area commute, not because we're hybrid fans, necessarily. Now I'm actually thinking about buying another prius, or a plug-in prius, or plug-in converting our current prius. It's a great car.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 12:44 PM on September 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Not a Prius owner here, but I live in SF and just recently went through the process of buying a new car, so the whole decision process is still fresh in my mind. I was in the market for a compact SUV and ended up getting a Subaru Forester, but I'll try to share all the relevant things I learned while shopping.

Given that you're looking at a Prius and what you've said about the Camry and the Sonata, you're most definitely in the market for a compact car, which is why the Camry and Sonata seem so big to you (they're considered full-size). I think other than the Prius, there are two other cars in the segment that you might want to consider: the Mazda 3 and the Subaru Impreza. If you're concerned with storage, the hatchbacks are probably the versions you should look at. In terms of the priorities that you've stated, here's a general breakdown of how the cars compare:

1. Safety
Almost all new cars fulfill the basic requirements for safety these days in terms of crash safety, airbags, ABS brakes, etc. Where these cars differentiate themselves is in more advanced safety features, which are making their way into cars primarily due to Euro NCAP Advanced requirements. The Mazda 3 and Prius (Five) feature adaptive cruise control, crash warning/avoidance, and lane departure warnings as part of optional technology packages. Adaptive cruise control allows you to set cruise control at a certain speed, but the cruise control system will slow down the car (via throttle management and even braking for you) in order to maintain a minimum distance from the car in front of you. Toyota calls it "Dynamic Radar Cruise Control" and Mazda calls their version "Mazda Radar Cruise Control". As the names imply, both of these systems use radar to detect cars in front you. Subaru has their own system, called EyeSight, that is based on stereoscopic cameras, but it isn't available on the Impreza. The same systems are used for crash avoidance as well; the Toyota and Subaru systems will actuate the brakes for you if they detect that a collision is imminent at any speed, while Mazda's system will brake for you when you're driving under 18mph. At higher speeds, it provides an audible warning. An additional feature of the Mazda system is that it will detect and warn you about cars in your blind spot when you signal a lane change, as well as cars behind you as you're backing up.

I got the EyeSight package for my car for the crash-avoidance features, but it turns out that the adaptive cruise control is mind-blowingly revelatory for both long road trips and dealing with stop-and-go traffic.

I should add that the Impreza is more or less the only car in this market segment that comes with all-wheel drive (AWD). The Prius and Mazda 3 are both front-wheel drive cars. All Subarus (except for the oddball BRZ) are AWD vehicles and the Subaru AWD system is very well-regarded. If you ever plan on going to Tahoe in the winter (or whenever this drought ends and wet winters return), the Subaru will handle considerably better in the snow/wet, as well as on dirt roads.

I personally consider car handling to be a safety issue as well, for various reasons (being able to confidently pass, merge into traffic, maintain control around turns, etc). Mazdas in general have very zippy, sporty handling, and I would consider them probably the most fun/engaging to drive. Subarus aren't quite as sporty feeling, but they feel incredibly sticky and grounded on the road, which I attribute to the AWD system. Toyotas, well, drive like Toyotas. Some people would call the ride and handling "comfortable", but I feel like they're a little too mushy and "boaty" for my liking.

2. Economy
Without a doubt, the Prius is the winner here. 51/48 mpg highway/city is nothing to scoff at. Mazda, however, has done some pretty amazing engineering with traditional internal combustion engines and a holistic approach to car design and fuel economy, achieving 41/30 mpg with a 155hp engine and 40/29 mpg with the 184hp version of the car that uses regenerative braking to power in-car electronics. The Impreza trails behind with 36/27 @ 148hp, which is still pretty good for the segment, particularly for an AWD car. They all take regular unleaded gas.

3. Value
This depends on how you would prioritize fuel economy vs. just about everything else. With the Prius, you're going to pay a several-thousand dollar premium for the hybrid drivetrain. The most basic trim model of Prius starts at $25,420 MSRP, which is more than the highest levels of trims for the Mazda 3 ($25,045) and Impreza ($23,195). If you want the advanced safety features that I mentioned above, the Mazda 3 offers it as an option at the high-end $25k trim level, while you would need to get the $31k Prius Five for that option on the Toyota. Of course, with the high-end Impreza and Mazda 3 trims, you would get quite a few additional interior and exterior features (leather seats, better stereo, HID headlamps, seat heaters, dual-zone air conditioning, self-dimming rearview/sideview mirrors, fog lamps, etc) that won't come on the most basic Prius.

Wow. Looking back at this post, it really did turn out longer than I thought it would. I hope you'll find some of it helpful. You can't really go wrong with one of these three cars; Consumer Reports recommends all three in different categories (Impreza in
"Sedan" and "All-Wheel Drive", Mazda 3 in "Sporty", and Prius in "Fuel-Efficient"), so it all comes down to test-driving and figuring out which one is the one for you.
posted by strangecargo at 5:52 PM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you suggest alternative cars, please do not suggest a Ford or Honda.

*No* problem, let me assure you. More seriously, I wanted to reiterate what strangecargo said as I just bought my own car and it very much came down to the Mazda3, the Subaru Impreza, and the Prius.

There's something about those three cars that really spoke to me and I think based on your description to you as well (and of course to strangecargo, too!). I also live in an urban area, bought new for the only the second car I've ever bought (the first was from a friend of my dad's), prioritize safety, economy and price, and drive relatively light miles. For what it's worth, I ended up with a 5-door Mazda3.

Things I did not like about the Prius:
-the regenerative braking was a huge pain in the ass when I wanted to pull out of a stop into a faster speed (merging onto a freeway, for example)
-yes, the blind spot is a pain
-the setup up front, with the weird space between the panel which has the gear shaft and nav and the plug area? I really hated how that functioned
-Prius regular flavor is the only choice that makes sense (the V is too big and the C too small) and it's a good chunk pricier than either the 3 or the Impreza and yeah the gas mileage is good but it's not that good
posted by librarylis at 8:37 PM on September 18, 2014

Most people set their side view mirrors so they can see the side of their car. The side of the car is not going to move, there's zero reason to have the mirrors set that way - except to generate a second blind spot outside and beyond your side view reflection. If you instead have the side views pivoted outward (I like to have the inside edge reflect the lane markers), you'll have close to a 180 degree view behind you with your rear view mirror.

Small derail; some older cars cannot be set out that far. Yes, I realize this is a discussion for newer cars.

A valid reason to have mirrors set to show part of the car is also to assist those with lousy depth perception or poor spatial relations.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 9:59 AM on September 19, 2014

Response by poster: Hi folks, thought I would come back and update y'all. I originally decided to go with the Mazda3 given that I really, really disliked the partition on the back windshield and blind spots of the Prius (even though I loved how quiet it was...). I then ran into two major hiccups with two different Mazda dealerships that resulted in me throwing up my hands and giving up on my car search.

A few months later, I found myself the owner of a 2015 Hyundai Sonata SE. The price point, availability, and changing life circumstances made it a compelling choice, especially after I found myself nixing the Prius and Mazda3. I'm very grateful for all of your answers; they really helped me focus on what I was looking for in a car. Thank you!
posted by sums at 11:29 PM on December 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

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