My first impression of the third-gen Prius left me wondering what was cool about the vehicle. There aren't any growing leaves on the instrument panel, there's no sound that plays when you "boot up" the car (ala the Mac start-up sound). Yesterday, though, I had a mini-epiphany at the grocery store. Yes, while buying peanut butter and soup, I had a Prius-related ah-ha moment.

I picked up one of my daughter's friends, a recent high school graduate who is shopping for a car. I thought the Prius would be a good choice for her, a college student and burgeoning eco-warrior. As I drove, she poked around. When I dropped her off, she said, "This car is so cool. I totally want one. And it so fits you. Like, I bet whoever drives this car has those tote bags for their groceries instead of paper or plastic."

There, in the trunk, was my supply of tote bags, specifically for my next stop, the grocery store.

So perhaps the "cool" thing about the Prius doesn't really need to be a feature or a gimmick or a doo-dad. Maybe the cool of the Prius is its EPA fuel economy estimates: 51 city MPG, 48 highway MPG. Its estimated annual fuel cost of only $750 (15,000 miles per year with gas at $2.50 per gallon). If that didn't just make your eyes bug out of their sockets, consider the estimated annual fuel cost for my boyfriend's 2002 Chevrolet Blazer — $2083. Or my 2002 Oldsmobile Alero — $1704.

Then consider the cruise around the parking lot at the grocery store, searching for a space that's not too close to any of the cart corrals, or the diagonally-parked Corvette. Since I was going far less than 20 MPH, I was running in pure battery mode, so quiet I felt like I was just coasting. I was in total stealth mode. I passed four or five people in the parking lot that looked up, surprised, when I drove by them. They hadn't heard me approach. I felt a little like James Bond.

While there's something incredibly cool about the low grumble of revving a big-block engine, there's also something cool about not making any noise — stealth mode.