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Road Test: Toyota Prius in the Snow


Prius_Snow

Prius_Snow

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I hear all of the macho reasons from my insecure male friends that my Toyota Prius is not cool. It looks like a pregnant egg, it’s too small, blah, blah, blah. I’ve also heard the “I’ll bet that thing sucks in the snow” line all too often. And living in Las Vegas, I honestly didn’t know. The car had never seen snow – at least until today.

I’m spending four months working in the Reno/Lake Tahoe/Carson City area of Nevada, where it most definitely snows. The drive from Reno to my office in Carson City takes about an hour and goes over two mountain passes.

The roads were coated with ice this morning. There are several hills and five roundabouts just to get out of my neighborhood, so I had plenty of opportunity to put the Prius through its winter driving paces.

First came the roundabouts. They are almost set up as winter driving tests, because you slow down and turn right as you reach the ice slick that formed when everyone else got to the roundabout and slammed on their brakes. The Prius did ok on these, but just ok. I took it relatively slow and tried to remember Cleveland snowbelt driving. I wouldn’t give the Prius any kind of stellar marks on this, but the ice was so polished that you could see the sun reflected off the roadway. It may have taken a Zamboni to do better.

The impressive run was climbing hills. There is a huge hill climbing out of the residential area where I live, and rear-wheel drive carnage was everywhere. BMW’s were struggling the most, fishtailing back and forth as their rear-wheel drive tried to become front wheel drive. All the while, the Prius climbed slow and steady, almost daring me to go faster.

The drive finished with a final climb through a mountain pass leading into Carson City. The advisory signs in Washoe Valley were calling for mandatory tire chains or snow tires, neither of which I own. Slowing down to use caution, I still passed a few ordinary passenger cars, but was only passed by big 4x4 trucks and the occasional Subaru.

I’m impressed. The Prius does just fine with general winter driving, and had excellent performance with hill climbing. My drive took longer than usual, but at no time was the car out of control or heading toward a ditch. I can finally take one anti-Prius argument away from the macho man lobby. And call it a pregnant egg all you want – I think I drive the smartest car on the block. And no one is going to claim that I’m driving this car to make up for any shortcomings.

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Comments (4)
  1. "MPG?"

    Good to hear, although I'm curious how many miles per gallon you were able to achieve while driving in the snow? I ask because I've heard horror stories of hybrid engines getting significantly worse MPG than expected in cold temps, due to the gas engine running longer than it normally would under ideal conditions.
     
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  2. "No Winter Tires"

    I live in Canada where snow is a fact of life from november to april. I wouldn't drive without snow tires, it makes a lot of difference in icy and snowy conditions. The way I read it, you did just fine especially since you had no winter tires to help you out and no experience dealing with snow and ice whatsoever.
    Most of the time such is the case with a front wheel drive car (and all the BMWs of this world are not FWD so...)
     
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  3. "MPG not affected"

    I've seen no drop in MPG from driving in Las Vegas to driving in the Reno/Carson City area. Temperatures for the morning commute have been in the 20's, and I'm still averaging 45-47 mpg. How much of a hurry that I'm in and how hard I accelerate seems to affect the mpg much more than the temps. I'd be interested to hear from someone where it's really cold - either the Canadian reader or someone in Minnesota or Wisconsin. Anyone have MPG performance numbers in sub-zero temps?
     
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  4. Can you even put chains on a 2002 prius? Nothing in the manual about it, but some places in Cal. require that you put on chains, e.g. the Sierras.
     
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