Thoughts on Driving a Prius


Car Keys Could Go the Way of Tail Fins – New York Times

So I've finally become a Toyota driver, driving an employer-provided Prius for over a month now. Answer to the first question I usually get, 42.9 MPG is what I'm getting (and that's mostly “around town” driving).

Second question, yes it's an ugly car. It's homely and odd shaped (for aerodynamics). But, it's also distinctive — some of the features I find “ugly” can't have anything to do with aerodynamics (the tail lights). Is the design partly to be a rolling Toyota-awareness machine? It could be uglier.

Generally speaking, it's fine to drive. It's small, so I feel somewhat over matched on Texas roads, but it's peppy enough and is surprisingly OK to drive. Nothing to rave about, but not horrible.

Some of things that have jumped out at me early. First, was the imperfect delivery experience (my license plate frame problem) that I blogged about already.

Second is the process for starting the car. Starting a car is a somewhat standardized experience (with exceptions like Saab's quirky key location). With Prius, Toyota has changed pretty much everything about starting a car, which can be disorienting. I linked to the NY Times article about wireless key fobs — my Prius does not have the “leave the keyfob in your pocket” feature. So here is the process for starting mine:

1) Insert keyfob into dash. The keyfob slot is strangely spring loaded. So, if you don't insert the keyfob far enough, it springs back and flies out of the slot. I've done this twice and, each time, the keyfob has flown and landed between the driver's seat and the center console, landing under the seat in a spot that's not so fun to reach. I'm not sure why it works this way, the springiness, and I haven't figured out how to “error proof” it other than to “be careful,” which isn't effective error proofing.

2) Push the “Power” button. I don't really have a problem with this, but it's a somewhat awkward reach (I usually use my right hand, but I was taking the picture with my right hand). It got me wondering “what if I was left handed?” Not as irritating as #1 though, nor is it as puzzling as #3, below.

3) The picture shows the gear shift. Again, it's not the typical approach. Many people have asked (included a valet parking guy), “What does B mean?” It reminds me of the time Homer Simpson was buying a cheap Russian car and the salesman told him “Put it in H!”. “B” is like a “low gear” mode, I was told, for driving down a mountain. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out what “B” would signify. It means “Brake” mode apparently, which operates like “low gear” but Prius only has one gear. Living in Dallas, I won't be coming across mountains.

The other thing that threw me off a bit (and I've gotten used to thankfully), is pushing “forward” (up) on the shifter for reverse and pulling “back” (down) for driving forward. Is this because “D” is usually down in the shifter after reverse? Maybe that's a dumb thing to worry about (and I'm sure an automotive engineer reading this can correct me). Update: This was questioned two years ago on another blog.

When you put the Prius in R, there are beeps to indicate that you're in reverse mode (like a large truck, I guess). But, the beeps aren't audible outside of the vehicle, where it would actually be helpful (since the Prius is pretty quiet when in battery-only mode, such as just starting out). It would be more helpful as an external beep (especially since many drivers turn off the beep, given this choice of websites that show you how).

My only other comment is that the driver's floor mat is wearing pretty quickly, pieces of fuzz are coming up and off of the carpeted mat. Doesn't seem like it was designed for much use.

Anyone else have comparable Prius experiences? Toyota might have had very good reasons for changing the car starting experience. But, at what point is it better to stay with an older, imperfect standard, as opposed to coming up with a new one? Does that conflict come up at all in your daily work?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Hi Mark,

    I would love to drive a PRIUS myself so I am happy to hear what it would be like to drive.

    Concerning the new key starting procedure with start/stop: this is common at the moment and the main reason that comes to my mind is higher security because you can’t copy the key electronics and there are fewer mechanical parts in the lock itself (no turning any more, magnetical shut as long as wrong key!, etc.). Just had a talk earlier today with a friend who has bought a new BMW series 3 Touring having the same feature and ;-)) question.

    About the falling key on not kept in the hole: that could happen in any car is worthwile to overthink. There is almost no way to grasp a key between the console of shift gear box and the seat (especially when the seat is packed with electronics, heating, etc. there is no space for men’ hands to get down on the floor;-(().

    Best regards


  2. It’s also much more expensive if you lose a key! I’ve never lost one, but I heard the Saab electronic keys were $850 each and it was even worse if you lost both keys (having to swap out something in the ignition switch itself).

    One other “human factors” thing I don’t like with the Prius is the touchscreen. Changing a radio station takes multiple button presses and requires attention to be paid to the screen. Doing it by feel alone would be tough, unlike traditional radio buttons.

  3. Good post. You are lucky you are in Texas and not Georgia: Prius can’t pass Georgia emissions test –

    “When the Prius is set to idle at 2,500 rpm on the tester, it does what it’s supposed to do. It shuts off the engine to save fuel. Georgia’s pre-hybrid equipment issues a failing grade because of an incomplete test.” And Georgia’s DMV takes this as a failed test and requires the owner to go to a center and get a waiver. Just the kind of lame behavior that makes so many people think government’s can’t manage at all.

    Granted this is problem with Georgia government not really Toyota. But if you were Toyota would you be talking to the government about fixing the problem? I would. Also who else would be embarrassed about having 5 “waiver centers” –


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