Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Princess and the Prius

Mercedes ML500 just like mine, but without the smeared up windows and crumbs,

So a week or two ago, I was suddenly seized with passion for the environment mixed with outrage over the high cost of gasoline.  Now that I'm on sabbatical and no longer need to fit 54" bolts of fabric in my car on a regular basis, perhaps my gas-guzzling SUV was no longer necessary?  My father had been gloating about how his new Lexus hybrid CH200h hatchback gets 42 miles to the gallon, whereas my Mercedes ML500 gets, um, well -- somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-18 miles to the gallon.  And of course, the Benz is a picky eater who only eats PREMIUM.  I entertained fantasies of saving hundreds of dollars in fuel costs every month while flaunting my Holier-and-Greener-Than-Thou attitude in a stylish, luxurious Hybrid of One's Own. 

Lexus CT200h Hybrid, just like my Dad's
In a fit of inspiration, I drove over to the Lexus dealership to look at their luxury hybrids.  I quickly came to my senses about the CT200h as I mentally packed my sons into the back seats, with their bookbags, piano music, school projects, and my purse piled on the front passenger seat, a violin and a trombone in the little trunk area, and the groceries and giant sacks of dog food -- where, strapped to the roof?  Then the nice Lexus man showed me the Lexus HS hybrid, a 4-door sedan with more head room for back seat passengers and space for more junk in the trunk.  The HS hybrid gets 35 miles per gallon of fuel, though, not quite as good as the CT, and when I went home and told Bernie about it he complained that there were plenty of cars that got 30 miles to the gallon without being hybrids.  He humored me by going to the Lexus dealership to test drive the car, then (loudly, embarrassingly) proclaimed "You will HATE this car, and I will have to hear about how much you hate it EVERY SINGLE DAY.  No!!"  The car salesman meekly offered his opinion about the "peppiness" and "driving pleasure" of the hybrid sedan, and my darling husband ticked off the flaws I had overlooked in my own test drive: the much slower acceleration, the increased road noise interfering with my classical music, the jarring jolt of every bump in the road...  He even complained that the door of the car didn't feel heavy enough.  Who needs a heavy door?  Me, apparently.  "She's used to driving a rocket ship that's built like a tank  -- Hey, what's this one?" His eyes had alighted on an even bigger hybrid sedan with even lower gas mileage (and a much higher price tag), some LS or GS something or other that looked like it should be packed full of men in suits on their way to a business lunch.  Nope; not the car for me.

We drove home, Bernie victorious, me sulking ever-so-slightly.  Then Bernie talked to his sister, who sang the praises of her Toyota Prius.  Bernie said, "If you really want great gas mileage, you should at least test-drive a Prius."  Oh, fine.  So we went to the Toyota dealership.

First off, the Toyota dealership is on a separate planet from the Mercedes and Lexus dealerships.  It's in another galaxy, far, far away, populated by salesmen named Vito (I am not making this up!) who shoo you into a little cubicle and insist on "getting some information first" before they will show you the car you came to see.  Then, when you protest that you are pressed for time and really just want to take a quick look at the car, Vito enthusiastically declares, "I can sell you a car in FIVE MINUTES!!"  Oh, goody!  The girl at the reception desk of the Toyota dealership is playing with her phone and never greets us or even makes eye contact.  No one offers me a complimentary beverage or snack.  It's like the difference between shopping at Nieman Marcus and shopping at Target, except that Target has much better customer service than the Toyota dealer. 
The UnSexy, Uninteresting Toyota Prius V
Bernie asks Vito to skip the formalities and let me drive the Prius V, because it's the biggest Prius model and, when you are 6'8" tall like my husband, you firmly believe that BIGGER IS BETTER.  I open the driver's door to this car, and immediately I smell the weird chemical smells of pleatherette upholstery.  I ask Vito, "Is this real leather upholstery?"  Unbelievably, Vito launches into a nonsensical spiel about how "you can't get real leather upholstery anymore unless you're buying a Rolls Royce."  Whaaaa?!  Do I look that stupid?  Whatever -- I told Bernie I'd drive the car, so I get in.  The Prius V drove a lot like the Lexus hybrids, which makes sense since they are all part of one big, happy car family.  Now that all the burled wood trim and posh interior detailing of the Lexus was stripped away, I was much more aware of the difference between how these cars feel to drive versus how my big SUV drives.  Ugh -- Fine, Bernie, YOU'RE RIGHT.  Once the giddy new-car excitement wore off, I would be very unhappy with a car that didn't take off like a bat out of hell when I stomped down on the gas pedal.  And yes, I DO need to stomp, because I like to drive like the Batman on the interstate.  Ah, Prius V, how did I hate thee?  Let me count the ways: 1. Your stinky fake leather upholstery and chemical fumes.  2. The lack of instrumentation near the steering wheel.  Why did they stick everything in the middle like that?  For the benefit of backseat drivers?  3. Your overwhelming stripped-down station wagon vibe.  4. The horrible Toyota dealership, which I will happily never set foot in again.

Inside the Toyota Prius V
See that weirdness?  There is no spedometer, no displays whatsoever anywhere near the driver.  Everything is in the middle and you have to crane your head to the right just to see how fast you're going.  I'd be zooming down the road, and my kids would be scolding me for speeding and I'd just have to take their word for it and turn up the radio to drown their protests.  And they're calling this the Mama Prius?

Inside the Mercedes ML500
Toyota, take note: This is what the inside of a Mommy Ride is supposed to look like.  Pretty wood trim on the console, doors, and steering wheel.  Spedometer located sensibly where only the driver can see it, because the passengers should mind their own business and quit telling Mommy how to drive. 

This princess can't tolerate the Prius, so I'm keeping my Benz.  I'll just have to make up for my planet-trashing SUV by buying organic produce and bringing reusable shopping bags with me when I go to the store!


Beadboard UpCountry said...

Car hunting.... Like furniture but it goes placs.... and of course what Bernie would like because of his comfort issues being so tall and cute.........Will differ from yours.... Great call on that glance at the info screen... I agree keep the Benz. xo to you both Maryanne

Pigtown*Design said...

I drove some chevrolet suv thing this weekend and hate every.single.second of it. i will keep my volvo wagon, thanks!