Jumping into traffic in a Prius makes any regular car seem like a slingshot. Big, grateful tears stream down your cheek, the white-knuckle fear of 110 horsepower on a freeway entrance ramp gone. The Prius saves fuel like it's 2020, but drives like it came from 1987.
Acceleration numbers may seem like the quibbles of car enthusiasts, and for the most part they are. Without a stopwatch, no one can tell the difference between bombing to 60 miles per hour in 3.9 seconds versus 4.1, and everyday situations don't require a Bugatti Veyron to merge on the turnpike.
Prius drivers are too busy bragging about mileage and keeping up with the latest Barack Obama bumper stickers to be concerned about speed. But I'll bet their hearts pump faster when they're about to enter I-93 North during rush hour - as I did - with the pedal floored, the engine groaning like a lawnmower, and a train of cars rushing past as the lane ends right about NOW. That's not adrenaline kicking in - it's instinct telling you that zero to 60 in 10 seconds can be flat-out dangerous.
Now I know how my mother used to feel when she roared her 1987 Volvo 240 DL at full song, her body leaning forward as if she was coaxing a horse. That car boasted 114 horsepower and a 3,000-pound curb weight (about the same as a Prius), and couldn't keep up with traffic 10 years ago. (Read Car Lust's fantastic take on a 350,000-mile 240).
Today's economy cars get to sixty in around eight seconds, family sedans average in the sixes and sevens, and today's 65 m.p.h. speed limits require reaching highway speeds of 70 and 75 m.p.h. just to enter safely.
Indeed, the Prius is admirable as a city car. Even with my eager foot, I still averaged 40 miles per gallon around Boston, where its whisper-quiet operation helped it feel light on its feet. But there's no getting around a 1.5 liter gas engine in a car this size, even with electric assist. Toyota has promised more power for the next Prius, due late 2009. Surely buyers could sacrifice a few miles for greater driving confidence.
(For more Prius envy, check out this Globe video of the state's modified plug-in Prius that claims 100 miles per gallon).
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