Like most people who work or live around Reading, my car developed a bad case of cellulite after the big hail storm in May. It’s in the shop now getting an extreme makeover – new hood, new roof, new trunk, and a whole lot of dimple-removing surgery on the doors and trim.

So, I have a rental car.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. When I made the reservation, the Enterprise rep told me they’d get me into something “very similar” to my current car – a 2009 Camry sport model with 100,000 miles on it. 

When I pulled into the shop, I saw a Corolla sitting in the lot that I figured would be my rental. It wasn’t – it was the rep’s car. My rental was tucked further up the lot – a 2014 Prius with 2,500 miles on it.

Here’s what went through my head when I saw it:

It’s small.

It’s ugly.

(Deep breath)

It will get good mileage.

It will be kind of cool to drive a hybrid.

I can legitimately park in the “low-emission vehicle” space at the office.

I’ll really fit in at the Rodale CSA Farm.

It’s only for a few weeks.

I’m 10 days into the rental now, and have determined that there is a business to be built called “two-week test drive.” How cool would it be to try out a car for two weeks before you buy it?

Here’s what I’ve learned about driving a Prius in the past ten days that I never would have learned on a 15-minute dealer test drive:

  • The mileage varies depending on how many hills you go up and down. On my 18-mile downhill drive to work yesterday I got 65.5 miles per gallon. On my 18-mile ride back home, I got 45.5. I’m sure the mileage varies in my regular car, too, but I don’t have real-time data to tell me that.
  • The little car gets up and goes when you need it to. There’s only been a time or two when I wanted to downshift to pick up speed –when I merged on to the Penn Street Bridge and when I had a lot of weight (i.e. passengers) in the car. 

  • It has horrible sight lines. There’s a black bar across the rear window that blocks just about everything, and the hatchback makes it hard to see out the sides when you’re backing up. The window frames are thick so they cause blind-spots, too.

  • On three occasions I’ve neglected to turn off the car. It’s a push-button ignition, so when you park you press a “park” button and then you need to press the “power” button to turn the car off. The thing is, when you park the engine switches to electric mode, so it’s silent. In all three cases I was close enough to the car (at the ice cream shop, for instance) that the near-field technology in the “key” stayed engaged, so the car stayed on. 

  • I’m having fun driving it. I like the real-time data that shows mileage and whether the car is using electric or gas power.  I also like the other technology upgrades that have nothing to do with the Prius, but the fact that it’s a newer car – the built-in Bluetooth connection is dreamy, for instance.

  • There are subsets of people who don’t like Priuses. On Saturday I was waiting to cross the Fleetwood-Blandon Road, windows down, enjoying the beautiful day, when a big old pick-up truck with extra tall tires came by, stomped on the gas, fishtailed, and sent a huge plume of black smoke into my car. I thought it was odd and probably just a coincidence, but my husband assured me that blowing the black smoke like that is a “thing” and people do it on purpose. 

Despite the passive-aggressive smoke-throwers, I’m generally enjoying the Prius as a rental. It’s still a bit too small and the sight lines and payback would keep me from buying one, but when the time comes to trade in the Camry (I’m hoping for another 100,000 miles out of it – with its new makeover and all), I’ll definitely check out one of the larger hybrids. Maybe by then gas prices will make the higher up-front cost make sense.

Happy driving!    


Heidi Williamson
Vice President for Programs and Initiatives