Sunday, December 10, 2006

Our Toyota Hybrids

Hearing about the 2007 Toyota Camry back in April, 2006, I decided to pay a visit to the local Toyota dealership to check it out. The reason for the interest is that the Camry was the first full-sized car that was rated at 40 mpg of which I had heard. They didn't have any then, for the production didn't start until May, 2006. As I was there, they suggested I try the Highlander Hybrid, so I did, and of course, we liked it enough that we decided to buy it.

The salesman wanted me to put my name on the waiting list for the Camry for a $500 deposit. I told him to call me when he had one that fit my desires. I didn't want to reserve a car I had never driven before. He called on their second hybrid Camry they got. Apparently the gentlemen who reserved it didn't have the credit, and so the car was available. I drove it, my wife drove it, we bought it.

Prior to the new vehicles, we owned a 1996 Nissan Maxima and a 2002 Subaru Legacy Outback. I usually tracked the Maxima mileage, and it tended to get between 19 and 21 mpg. This is from a car that the EPA rated at 21 city , 28 highway, and 23 combined. Checking with, from 6 drivers who registered, they got between 21 and 25 mpg--much better than we averaged. This government site is really good for people interested in comparing the fuel economy of different vehicles. Especially good are the actual mileage rates from actual drivers. (It is on my list of things to do to upload the mileage from our hybrids.)

The Subaru was also in the same range, 22 city and 27 highway with the combined at 24 mpg. We generally got a little better mileage with this car, probably around 23 mpg. This is from memory, for it wasn't tracked as often.

Before replacing the cars, I figured we'd get the Camry to replace the Maxima. After driving the Highlander, I concluded we could replace the Subaru too, although that perhaps wasn't so pressing. Just as an aside, I didn't even consider the Prius. Don't know why exactly. I think it is because I'm looking for the same or improving driving experience and didn't want to down-shift to a smaller car unless it is absolutely necessary.

Driving our new cars has four pleasant advantages over the previous cars. The first is the GPS. This is probably one of the best additions to cars in years, and I highly recommend it, even though it doesn't help with the fuel economy. The second one is the regenerative breaking, i.e. the hybrid nature to the car. You feel good pushing on the brakes on these cars, for you know you are saving energy by doing so.

The third improvement is the pick-up. The best-kept secret of these cars is that they accelerate fast. This is a true advantage of an electric drive, and it represents a real improvement over just internal combustion. The gas only Highlander has 215 horsepower, but the hybrid has a combined value of 268 horsepower, and it gets better gas mileage. The gas-only is rated at 19 city, 25 highway. The hybrid is rated at 31 city, 27 highway. Same for the Camry. The combined output (V-4 plus electric) is higher than the V-6 Camry. These things have great pick-up. There is no contest.

Finally, the best part is that we go farther between fill-ups. Gas mileage is rated at 40 mpg for the Camry. Our mileage, while better than our previous cars, appears to be less than the people who have uploaded their data to Most Camry hybrid drivers are getting between 32 and 42 mpg. We are getting just over 30 mpg. For the Highlander, we are getting just under 25 mpg, while the average on the website is 25.2 and a range of 21-31 mpg. I think the primary reason we aren't doing as well is that our trips are short (under 10 miles most of them), and generally speaking, one gets better mileage on longer commutes, because the mileage improves as the engine heats up. That's my guess. Frankly, I don't really know.

We can estimate what we are saving by a quick gas mileage comparison. The Camry replaced the Maxima, and the Highlander replaced the Subaru. The Camry represents a 50% improvement in mileage [(30 - 20)/20 = 0.5] over the Maxima, but the Highlander represents only a 10% improvement over the Subaru. It wins more in larger space and newer equipment (including the GPS). The third row in the Hylander is a major plus.

Replacing the Maxima was a great idea, but frankly, I like the Highlander better. We are driving the Highlander more than the Camry, but we drove the Subaru more than the Maxima. On average, we are probably using 25% less gas than before, or about 180 gallons a year savings.

No bad? Frankly, I think it is inadequate. We need to use 80% less or even less than that. If only we could plug these vehicles in and use solar, wind, or even nuclear power for that matter. Any would be better than sending the money to people who don't seem to like us.


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