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Prius again


I called the Hertz rental counter at the San Jose airport last night to ask if they had any Priuses for rent; they said no, but call back in a couple hours. I did; they said no, but call back in the morning. I did; they said yes!

So I went in and rented one. (After some wacky interactions with the wacky rental guy, who decided to tell me his opinions of the looks of various car makes and models; for example, he told me he was glad the Ford Escort was no longer being made, because it was ugly.) The Prius is a 2005 model (I think; forgot to check), black, without any of the option packages.

And somehow the seat is a whole lot more comfortable than the one I test-drove or the one I sat in a couple of weeks ago without driving.

The headrest is still mildly uncomfortable, but not too bad, and I can actually make it pretty comfortable by turning it around front-to-back. Though I'm not sure how safe that is.

The headroom in the back seat is indeed as low as I thought. If I sit in the back seat and lean back, my head hits the ceiling. And I'm not all that tall, not compared to the tall people I know.

But the headroom in the front seats is fine.

I'm not sure yet about the visibility issue. The split rear window does bother me, as does its small size, as does the amount of general visibility that's cut off by door posts and the like. The blind spots on this car are much bigger than I'm used to. Still, I'm a very cautious driver; I'll just have different things to be cautious about than I'm used to.

The keyless entry system (which this particular car doesn't have) looks less and less practical the more I read about it. But it's a fairly expensive extra, so that's probably just as well.

Backing up is a bit of a problem: low visibility, and in daylight there may be reflections on the rear window that reduce visibility further, and I hear that at night it's even worse.

And the "dashboard" area still looks weird to me, as if it's being projected through a distorting lens, like maybe one of those fresnel lenses from Brazil.

Still, all in all I like it. I think I'm leaning pretty heavily toward getting one. I'll keep driving the rental for a few days, and I'll see if I can do another test drive of a Civic (and see if the loud whining noise was unusually loud on the one I test-drove before, and if the seat of another one would be more comfortable), but this is pretty tempting.

At first I didn't like the overall look of the car; it looked kinda buglike. But now I think it looks kinda cool and futuristic.

Anyway, we'll see.


Have you looked at the Scion xB (a Toyota sub-brand)? Very good mpg, though not a hybrid, very cheap car, with incredible head room, decent leg room, excellent driver visibility of the road, and nice design. I just bought one for the Senior Upstairs Tenant, and we're both pretty pleased with it. Though it has neither an armrest nor cruise control, both are available as options -- everything else I wanted in a car was included in the package.

The second revision of the xB looked a lot like the Matrix to me; not sure what the differences are. I like my Matrix a lot, but it only gets 30 MPG.

About the seats: How adjustable is the seat? I've been in cars that had like six different knobs for tuning the seat's height, tilt, angle, lumbar support height, etc. Maybe the rental was just tuned differently than the one you test drove?

Is it possible to get an aftermarket headrest? And how often do you have passengers in the backseat?

(There's very little space in the back of my ugly duckling car. But I figured, hey! It's not like I'll be the one sitting back there.)

As to the reduced visibility... be sure you are comparing the Prius with other 2005 models. New standards for rollover safety and side air bags mean that many cars have wider pillars than those of five or ten years ago.

The last time I had to go car shopping, I did some research on the whole head-rest issue, and it looks like that placement is deliberate, though more for geometry and physics reasons (well, ok, and insurance liability) than to promote driver alertness. To quote from the head restraint ratings page at hwysafety.org,

The necessary first attribute of an effective head restraint is good geometry. If a head restraint isn't behind and close to the back of an occupant's head, it can't prevent a "whiplash" injury in a rear-end collision.... A restraint should be at least as high as the head's center of gravity, or about 9 centimeters (3.5 inches) below the top of the head.

However, that 9 cm measurement is the outer edge of "marginal" on their safety ratings. The safest headrests come to within 5 cm (2 in) of the top of your head--which puts the headrest directly behind the part of the head that sticks out the most. So I'm inclined to say you shouldn't mess with the placement of the headrest: we like your neck the way it is.

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