Bourgeois Deviant

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Prius vs. Civic

Now that the Deviants live in suburbia, the lifestyle adjustments are sinking in. One of the big adjustments is the need for a second automobile. At present, Mrs. Deviant's employer provides us with a company car that has served us in terms of our urban living. It has certainly had its liabilities (parking, size and parking) but with public transit so readily available and most things within walking distance, a second car wasn't required.

Suburban living has strongly determined that we get a second car for reasons of lack of walkablity to most stuff and schlepping the BFD when the parents Deviant have disparate schedules or commitments. Being on a budget and green minded, getting a hybrid car was an easy decision. Past that, narrowing the field was fairly simple as well. We have a budget and must consider the actual size of our garage. Its very small.

On a bit of a whim, we decided to look at Nissan. They now make an Altima hybrid that is brand new to the market. We went to the local dealer and took a test drive. It was NICE. The car drove wonderfully, had a very comfortable interior. The efficiency was better than the pure gasoline models and comparable classes, but not as good as the Civic or Prius. Strike one. Upon getting back to the dealership, we checked out the spec sheet and found our strike two. It was too big for our garage. It was officially out of the running. Mrs. Deviant was bummed.

Our next foray into test driving took us to the Toyota dealership to check out the Prius. We had done a fair amount of research on the car and knew the mileage benefits and that the federal tax credit on hybrid vehicles had already expired for the Prius. Sharing this with the sales person helping us was either prohibitive or the guy was a shmoe. He did very little to sell the car and the test drive felt like we were imposing on his time. So, the experience was tainted, but we thought the car drove relatively well for what it is. I.E. an economy-ish car where efficiency is the selling point as opposed to comfort or performance in handling.

Its worth it to note that I thought the Prius was just fine. I liked it and found it roomy, comfortable and covered all my bases for features, etc... Mrs. Deviant, who is a driver by virtue of her job and is consequently particular about her demands from a driving experience. She was luke-warm at best about the driving experience and really did not like her perspective in the driver's seat. She felt a bit too low and disliked how far away the dash components were relative to her position. She's petite and perspective when she's driving is important. The Prius has an adjustable seat, but does not shift vertically. That is 1/2 of a big strike. (I say only a half because whatever we get, I'll be the primary driver.)

Finally, we sought out the Honda Civic hybrid. Firstly, it was a great sales experience. The fellow we dealt with was wonderful and we walked away feeling like we could buy the car on the spot. Never doubt the effect a good salesperson can have on your thinking. Relative to the Prius, the Honda Civic hybrid (HCH) does not get as good city mileage (40 mpg vs Prius's 48). It is equivalent for highway mileage (45 mpg). The Deviants both agreed it drove fine. This is to imply that Mrs. D. liked it better that the Prius. The orientation of the interior was more like a standard car and was comfortable. This was a plus for both of us. Again, a bit more so for the Mrs.

When we returned from the test drive, our sales person gave us a comparison sheet listing the HCH and the Prius. Having done a fair amount of comparing ourselves, his literature did not overly favor the HCH one way or the other. They really are very comparable automobiles. It seems more a matter of what your needs or interests are from a car. This is where the house Deviant is divided. But more on that in a bit.

Speaking strictly of cons, the HCH only has an obvious few. In 2007, it was still eligible for the federal tax credit. A casualty of the legislation process means that as of right now, that tax credit is not active until they renew the legislation. And Congress is too busy with other things, so HCH's column gets a phantom strike listed. Next, the seats do not fold down to increase cargo space. This is prohibited in its design by the battery for the car. The trunk is fairly small, but enough if you pack modestly and efficiently. This gets a half strike from me as I am more concerned about schlepping the BFD's stuff than Mrs. D is. Lastly, I have read a lot on the 2007 HCH in forums and the like and they complain repeatedly of rattles and the car not feeling well made. I have not seen similar complaints of the 2008, but its relatively early still.

As a counter and redirect, I did speak with a friend of the family who has had an HCH for 2+ years and he hasn't observed anything like that to complain about. What he has noted is that his model year ('06?) is vulnerable to temperature. Apparently, when the outdoor temperature dips below a certain degree (near freezing, it seemed), the crossover switch from gas to electric did not function as well and he lost efficiency to the tune of about 8 - 10 mpg. I have no idea if the '07s or '08s have progressed beyond that issue or not, but will follow up on it with our Toyota guy in the weeks ahead. If it is still the case, its a big strike even if suburbia is fairly temperate relative to our friend's northern example.

Cons for the Prius are firstly, that it is a hatch back. This is just something we're not used to as the sight lines take some adjusting to. Also, the camera in the back is a nice safety feature, but the screen at the center top of the dashboard is a bit distracting from the driving experience. Again, I am sure you get used to it pretty quickly. As mentioned before, the driver's seat is not adjustable vertically, so shorter people are more constrained by the different sight lines. The Prius doesn't have as good a pick up as the HCH. This isn't to say that its a turtle off the start, but its definitely appreciable. Some people like the way it looks. I am ok with it, but I wouldn't say I am thrilled with the aesthetics.

So, with the Prius, the complaints are more aesthetic and design oriented. The HCH has some significant question marks and is shorter on space (by approximately six cubic feet). The difference in engines is significant as well. Aside from an efficiency and power difference, its important to note that the HCH has a larger gas engine that is helped by the smaller electric engine while the Prius has a larger electric engine that is assisted by the smaller gas engine. Both cars meet the California emissions standards with the Prius being slightly better than the HCH. Similar warranties are offered and the service is comparable. Honda has a one point better safety rating, though both have excellent records.

As far as neat-o bells and whistles, both have mp3 ports and nifty, frilly whiz bang gadgetry by way of GPS, etc... Though the HCH does not have blue tooth standard, I think. The Prius has it as part of some of the upper tier packages.

Breaking is fine in both cars. The chief difference is that the HCH battery is charged off the breaks solely. The Prius can charge off a down shifting option that is standard on all models or off the breaks. The advantage to this saving wear and tear on your break pads. This, to me, is appealing.

It may be abundantly clear which car is the better choice, but the differences, pluses and minuses, have different values. Marriage is a two way street and time will tell. FYI, anyone facing a similar question, I've found quite helpful in getting general questions answered. Finally, any motor heads out there in the know with knowledge of the Ritz Power Shift, if you would drop me a line and tell me if it actually works to your benefit, it would be much appreciated.

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