Tagged: Toyota

The 2010 Prius: One Year Later

We bought our 2010 Prius last year, just around 4th of July. It is the Prius Three line with moonroof + solar ventilation add-on package. I thought I’d share our experience with the car in the past year or so.

(BTW, remember the 2009 Prius recalls? Notwithstanding the short term public memory, I think most of those incidents were blown way out of proportion)

2010 Prius

The Good

  • Great mileage: It has consistently been giving around 48mph, city or freeway driving.
  • Feel good factor: You can debate endlessly whether hybrids are truly green over their lifetime taking into account all factors including manufacturing cost etc, but no one take the “I feel good about this” feeling away from me when I drive the Prius.
  • There are some small niceties like the “hill brake assist
  • Spacious: The interiors have generous legroom both in the back and in the front. The hatchback style trunk can really take in a lot — I haven’t had the need to buy a bike rack yet because we can easily fit our bike in there!
  • Remote A/C and solar powered ventilation is nice on a hot day. But I must admit, I haven’t really used the remote A/C that much. More on this later.
  • Clever UI: Note that I’m not saying the UI is great (or even good). I do believe though, that the Prius UI has slow but steady impact on driving habits. By leveraging subtle signals (like when you floor the pedal, the indicator goes into the “red zone”), the UI turns driving at a safe speed into a game/challenge/curiosity. I’m trying to dig up some evidence on this, let me know if you know of a study.
  • Good incentives: When we bought our Prius, Toyota was giving two years free maintenance and a 0% APR financing for 3 years on all models. Not unusual, but certainly welcome.
  • Built well: (or we’ve just been lucky) Either way, the car hasn’t had any issues whatsoever in the past year and I’ve only taken it to the dealership for routine maintenance.

The Bad

  • Solar panel is frivolous: As much as I hate to admit this, the panel is largely useless and a mostly unnecessary expense. Yes, the solar powered ventilation does help keep the car cool on hot days and yes, the remote A/C is a nice trick to show your friends. I’m sure people in Texas would have more use of them than people in San Francisco, but then again, who buys hybrids in Texas? Overall, I think it’s a lost opportunity for Toyota. If I do have a solar panel, why not use it to help power the A/C at all times (right now the panel only gets used when the car is off and has been standing in the sun for at least 30 minutes).
  • Some of the interior is plasticky: This is not a fair complaint — you get what you pay for. The Prius is not a luxury vehicle.
  • Voice commands are mostly useless: The navigation system is hands-free enabled and capable of accepting voice commands. However, the system is unusable in practice. I obviously don’t expect a Siri but consider this: to input an address takes upwards of 10 voice commands, each interceded with a pause and beep. Arghh!
  • Not for those who enjoy driving: The Prius is a great car but it is not a sports car. Don’t expect a fast, responsive machine.

The Ugly

  • Ancient navigation system: Both the hardware and software of the navigation system are pre-historic. Don’t believe me? Consider this: I sat in a 2001 Lexus and it had pretty  much the exact same navigation system! It’s not funny, it is outrageous. I can’t express how mad this makes me. Working with the nav is an extremely frustrating and slow process — the UI is slow and clunky; I need to press really hard on the screen for it to register the “touch”; Toyota should be ashamed of the refresh rates on these devices. If I’m spending > 25K on my car, the least Toyota can do is spend $500 on a decent display and processor!! I’m not alone in thinking that the car information systems market is ripe for disruption: see #6 on Photomatt’s list.
  • Most annoying “safety” feature of all time: So the 2010 Prius has this safety feature that disables some navigation controls while car is in motion. Now, I can imagine how someone at Toyota decided this was a good idea — we already have laws to prevent people from texting while driving, why let them fiddle with their nav? Right? WRONG, when there’s someone in the passenger seat next to me. Picture this: my wife and I are zipping down on the freeway and want to swing by a gas station to fill up the tank. The nav system is entirely capable of guiding us to the nearest gas station, but no sirree, we can’t even enter the address without having to pull over first. I can’t describe how retarded this is — while I’m focused on the road, there’s no reason why the front seat passenger shouldn’t be able to operate the nav (they typically end up doing navigation, you know). But what is worse is that this “feature” is not even implemented consistently. For example, while I can’t type in an address, I can still use the “Previous destinations”. While I can’t scroll the song list, I can still press the up/down buttons on the touch screen. Just thinking about it makes me mad. MAD! Here’s a suggestion Toyota: you already know when there’s a passenger on board (you can warn me just fine about the passenger not putting on seat belts) — just enable this “safety feature” if you must ONLY WHEN THE DRIVER IS ALONE.

So there you go. In summary, the Prius is still one of the best hybrids on the market but Toyota really needs to fix their navigation system.

I’ll talk about the future of hybrids and technology disruption in cars in another post.

How to buy a new car

A few weeks ago we were in the market for a new car. Now, I like to think of myself as a cautious buyer: I like to do my research, I’m not much of an impulse shopper and I’m generally suspicious of sales people. A new car is a significant investment; naturally I felt extra prudent. Of course, all my friends kept wondering why I was making such a big deal: you go into a dealership, pick up the car, do the paperwork and walk out, as simple as that. I say good for them! But I sleep more peacefully knowing that I had my bases covered.

Courtesy http://www.flickr.com/photos/ericrobinson/

A quick Google search on “how to buy a new car” led me straight to the very comprehensive CarBuyingTips.com. It is probably a great resource for many people. But after spending a few hours clicking through the numerous links on there, I almost felt exhausted. There was way too much (redundant) information, perhaps badly organized and overall just not very easy to consume. As they say, hindsight is 20/20. So, with the experience of having just purchased a new vehicle, here is my attempt at a concise, five step guide to buying a new car.

  1. Figure out what you want: You should know exactly what make and model you want, down to the last detail — this includes the interior color, upholstery and exterior color, as well as any other options and accessories. The more precise you are in what you want, the better off you will be. My first impression while researching new cars was that I could get whatever configuration I wanted — if the dealership doesn’t have it in stock, they’ll simply order it in. Unfortunately, most dealers will only work with what stock they have. So checking for availability is critical. Go ahead and schedule those test drives, but let the dealers know upfront that you are not looking to buy just yet. The dealers will ask for your contact information though, so be prepare for a barrage of emails and phone calls from them, until you’ve made your purchase.
  2. Get the numbers: Once you have identified the configuration you want, find your car on Edmunds.com. Edmunds will give you the invoice price of your car. Go ahead and add all the options and select the colors to get a final estimated invoice price. The more informed you are, the better your chances are when negotiating with dealers and making an informed decision.
  3. Get a quote from CarsDirect: Buying a car online these days is not only possible, but highly recommended. You save the hassle of driving to dealerships, wasting time over the phone etc. Start your hunt for the best price by getting a quote from carsdirect.com. They partner with local dealerships and have very competitive pricing. My experience with CarsDirect was fantastic and I’d have definitely bought a car from them had a local dealer not given me a much better deal.
  4. Get quotes from local dealers: Open a spreadsheet, fire up your browser and start calling your local dealerships. Ask for the new car sales department and let them know exactly what configuration you are looking for. Ask them for price and availability. Always ask for out-of-the-door price, including taxes and rebates. This way there will be fewer surprises on the final bill. Make a point to let them know that you are talking to other dealers. Jot down the dealers quote in the spreadsheet (add the CarsDirect quote here as well). This process can take some time because you may not be able to reach them in the first attempt and there might be some back and forth while they get back to you with details. I recommend setting aside 2 slots of 2 hrs each for these phone calls.
  5. Decide and Buy: Once you have all competing quotes, you can make your decision. The final decision will probably depend not just on the price, but other factors such as availability, location of the dealership, your experience with the dealership etc. If you finance your car, most car companies typically have their own financing arm which usually provides great APRs. If not, talk to your bank. For the final paperwork, you should make a visit to the dealership. Be sure to read the fine print and know exactly what service (if any) the dealer will provide above and beyond the warranty and services provided by the manufacturer.

That’s pretty much it! I read a lot of horror stories online about swindling and cheating in dealerships. My personal experience with at least the Toyota dealers in the Bay Area was pretty good. Most of them were very straightforward and to the point. They did not want to waste their time or mine, and did not try to pressurize or hoodwink me into a bad deal. You might also find this guide useful.