Saturday, August 20, 2016

A James Bond-like Car for the Common Man to Save the World

Last month Al Futtaim Motors lent me one of their hybrid car, Toyota Prius and our family of sustainability professionals and an Eco-kid was thrilled to go around in town in this green car! While mommy enjoyed the driving experience, daddy (who's passionate about automobiles) explained all technicalities and curious kid in back seat was totally engrossed watching energy monitor on dashboard.
This time, I requested our in house sustainability as well as automobile expert, my husband, Nandan Tavkar to write about this car for my readers and first time ever in last 8 years of this blog somebody was all ready to contribute!

Initial Reaction

Being an avid car enthusiast, and a sustainability enthusiast, I was delighted when I was offered to review the Prius. There are two trim levels available for the car, Dynamic and Iconic; we were given the Iconic model for review. 

In the first glimpse we had of the vehicle, it was captivating. That night, Ruhaan (our son) and I went down for a pre-review and, a sneak quick drive. Subsequently over the weekend we did several test drives of the car.
Stands out easily – no problems locating it in the Parking Lot
On the inside, the interiors were clearly intriguing. The seats and the consoles were rendered in a classy two tone finish of ivory-white and black. The ergonomics are excellent and everything is where you would expect it … well almost (check the Quirks section if intrigued). The car includes numerous smart (electronic or otherwise) features for making the in-car experience better.

The Prius has two screens, ergonomically placed such that you can be aware of the important information such as speed and fuel efficiency while concentrating on the road.

Regulars such as the Phone charging slot, USB slot and headphone slots are easily accessible and where you would expect them. Interestingly, there is a wireless phone charger pad where you can place your phone and charge it – we couldn’t get that to work with the phones that we have.

Two cup holders are placed between the driver and passenger seats. The cup holders are provided with a spring which adapts to the size of the cup.

Touch Screen Sound Adjustments
The JBL entertainment system sounds good; what appealed to us most, was the choice of Bass, Mid, and Treble sound setting adjustment. You get the center touchscreen for the adjustments, while it’s possible to browse through the radio channels and volume via the steering mounted controls. The set-ups are simple and intuitive. 
The first observation I had about the seats, was that they were so well balanced and comfortable. These seats were definitely designed with significant consideration to science and art of ergonomics. 

The rear seats were comfortable too with ample leg space. However with my minuscule size, I would not be a good yardstick for leg space. With the baby seat fixed on the rear seat, it appeared to be a bit crammed for my son as his legs would touch the back of the front passenger seat. The boot seemed to have practical space in terms of depth, height as well as width. It would easily accommodate the regular weekend supermarket runs as well as the occasional baggage storage for airport runs.
Space wise – there was ample space as much as would be expected from a family sedan. The interior space is similar to that of Toyota’s own Corolla, or Honda’s Civic, but smaller than the Camry, Accord, Altima bunch.

Driving it

The driver’s seat had the right supports in the right places seemed to wrap around me such that I was a part of the car. 
Having driven on UAE’s roads, one feeling I get is that it is necessary for the car to be interesting enough, such that you can drive on the long highway stretches without falling asleep, and without relying on the adrenaline rush from speed to keep you engaged. 

The Prius excels at this. The drive is engaging yet easy. As with the seats, the car seems to wrap around the driver and offers a great driving experience.

As I mentioned before, there are numerous smart features to enhance the drive. One of the features that stood out, in true-blue, diligent, Japanese style is the ‘Rear Crossing Traffic’ warning that flashes when a car is passing by while reversing. 

Our first drive was on an internal colony road, so we had to drive at a limited speed. Interestingly, in this situation, the car runs on the battery (not the engine) and is EXTREMELY quiet.
On a side note it’s useful to sneak up on someone … making it apt as a spy car (hence the title). We had some startled stares from pedestrians (walking on the road) to suddenly notice a car driving next to them.

Theoretically the electric motor is capable of insane acceleration, as seen in the Tesla. In the Prius, the acceleration is sufficient, well adequate to get you out of trouble situations, but not sufficient to scare you. Although we did not drive to the car’s maximum speed of 180 km/h, it got to the highway speed of 140 km/h comfortably and felt very stable.

Coming to the topic of speed, another one of the intelligent touches is that the speed is projected on the windscreen such that driving is not impeded. In fact it makes us pay more attention to the drive.

Safety and Handling:

I have had a love for cars that handle well (and loathe for those that don’t), and I absolutely loved the Prius. The handling is excellent, very predictable. In fact, behind the scenes, the car has several features (including the Electronic Stability Control, and other accident avoidance features) which makes it extremely safe. The car bagged the maximum 5 stars for safety on Euro NCAP on account of its accident avoidance features as well of its structural rigidity and air bags. 

Delight Factors – Hybrid Drive and Smart Features

Sustainability is implemented in two key areas – systems and behaviors. You may have all the systems but if not accompanied by behaviors, the effect will not be as pronounced.
The Prius excels in both departments, excellent systems as well as setting the culture of good driving with scores and motivational messages.
In terms of the systems, the car’s drivetrain has an extremely efficient 1.8 lit Atkinson Cycle petrol engine, and a hybrid system, which includes hybrid batteries, electric motors and a power unit. The car decides smartly when to use the hybrid battery operated mode and so this car can be used in existing fueling infrastructure.  
During the initial idling and low speeds, when the petrol engine is inefficient, the car runs on the electric motor powered by the hybrid batteries. The petrol engine is most efficient around cruising speeds, and this is when the car automatically switches to the petrol engine. While on the petrol engine the battery gets recharged. The battery gets recharged even during braking with a system which converts the kinetic energy in the wheels to electric energy. 
This is demonstrated in real time by the Prius’s Multi Information Display system which shows exactly when the car is using power from the battery, the battery getting charged from braking, and the moment when the petrol engine kicks in.
The Prius’s engineers have not stopped at the Multi Information Display. The smart bit which introduces the ‘culture’ is the drive score, and the motivational messages at the end of the drive. The motivational messages show the score and provide recommendations for better (more efficient) driving. In fact we saw our driving getting better after we started keeping track of the scores.
As a result of the Hybrid Drive system, the Atkinson engine, and the Motivational Messages, the particular Prius we drove was at around an average fuel consumption of 5.4 lit/100km (43.55 mpg / 18 km per lit), while one of my hour long drives in the Prius returned around 4.8 lit/100km (49 mpg / 20 km per lit).
In comparison, the average fuel consumption for the non-hybrid compact sedans (Corolla, Civic, Elantra) bunch can generally hover around 8 lit/100km (29 mpg / 12 km per lit), while that for the non-hybrid mid-size sedans (Camry, Accord, Altima) bunch can generally hover around 10 lit/100km (23 mpg / 10 km per lit). These figures suggest that the Prius can be generally 36% more fuel efficient than compact sedans and 46% more fuel efficient than mid-size sedans.

Quirks - Things that are not as they seem

Parking - We could not find the Parking Gear on the gear lever. Evidently there isn’t one on the gear. It’s on a button.  
EV Mode – Initially we thought it is a fully electric mode, where we use the car as an electric vehicle. However the Toyota engineers at Al Futtaim clarified that this wasn’t the case. The EV mode lets the car run for longer on the battery/electric motor until the battery drains, after which the petrol engine automatically kicks in.
B – Drive – There is a mysterious B-Drive gear option on the gear lever. This option introduces engine braking, such as is useful when descending a hill, but reduces the fuel economy. This option is generally not selected in normal driving in the UAE unless you are handling the steep Jebel roads in the North.


Our experience with the Prius could be summed up as fun, exciting, brimming with technology and with even more awareness of fuel efficiency. Our toddler son, Ruhaan, was so excited, he did not want to let go of the car. Ruhaan was excited and was narrating the whole battery – electric motor – engine switch-over routine. He now recognizes the Prius hybrid in car magazines, and inquires if there is a similar system in other cars (which, I think, is good benchmark to compare cars). I think all new cars should be at least hybrids, if not all electric.

If we were looking to buy a car, I would definitely go for it. It makes great sense with the things that are important to us as a family – safety, practicality, ease of driving, availability of maintenance, and of course – sustainable culture, and fuel economy.

With the new Prius, Toyota have done a great job at making hybrids normal yet, not boring. The car comes with a great thought, environmentally savvy, comfortable, fun, yet with serious technology, and well executed in a way that engages the user. The car, with its smart focused thought and technology, wraps around the needs of the driver, much like The Tuxedo … or even more appropriately, like James Bond. The car, very much so, belongs is a sci-fi movie, one about saving the world from global warming. 


AOS Product said...

Hi, really you have shared here genuine post as well as unmatched quality of pix. So may i join your community?

Amruta Kshemkalyani- Tavkar said...

Thank you, glad you liked the article! Yes sure, you are welcome to our sustainability tribe! Let's build a better future together!