I have been reading negative reports about Prius mileage and cost effectiveness for years. Here is one called “The Hybrid Hoax,” written about a year ago. The author propagates misinformation by referring us to another article written in 2004 by a USA Today reporter (Kiley) who drove a Jetta diesel from Detroit to Washington, D.C., and a Prius back from Washington, D.C. to Detroit:

Kiley had to stop to refill the Prius, which ended up averaging 38 miles per gallon, compared with 44 miles per gallon for the Jetta

What this idiot failed to mention is that the Prius actually got 51.7 MPG on the computer mileage gauge, which measures tire rotation and fuel flow precisely and accurately. The accuracy of the computer MPG calculation has also been verified by the EPA, which tests car emissions by measuring similar parameters. The reporter got 38 MPG when he manually checked the mileage. Toyota gave him several reasons to pick from as to why his manual MPG numbers were in error.

The bottom line is this: No Prius gets a mere 38 MPG on the highway (unless you load it up with five people, which explained away one complaint I found by a guy in five person carpool). The idea that Toyota has duped consumers by giving them a rigged mileage computer is asinine in the extreme. A Prius will go 12.5 miles on one quart. So if the amount of gas you think you put in your tank is off by just one quart you would* by enough, you could calculate an MPG of 62.5 or 37.5 instead of 50, which is just what this reporter did. *Note to self, never post after third glass of merlot.

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What would he have done if his mileage calculation had been off that day in the opposite direction? How confusing would that have been?

“What the …? The computer shows 51.7 MPG and my calculations show 62 MPG but it still ran out of gas before the Jetta, which only got 44 MPG? My editor isn’t going to like this.”

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Welcome to the real world Mr. Newspaper Reporter, where a real test would have put together a statistically significant number of test runs and your result would have been part of the scatter.

Here is a road trip report by a guy who hauled himself and a passenger 5,000 miles in a Prius and cross-checked the computer to the manual method. He found the manual method inconsistent, sometimes off by 10-11 MPG one way or the other, whereas the computer was consistent.

And to ice the cake, I now own a Prius and guess what? It really does average in the low fifties on the highway (without passengers). It varies a great deal in the city depending on variables like hills and the number of passengers, but we have never seen lower than 48 MPG on a tank of gas. So put that in your pipe and smoke it.

This is starting to get long, so I will address the cost effectiveness issue briefly. Since the Prius does not come in a non-hybrid version, you can’t really compare it to other cars, so I will discuss the Civic instead. Some results show you will save money over the car’s lifespan buying a Honda Civic Hybrid over a regular Civic, and some don’t, as usual depending on your choice of assumptions.

It is a moot point because in both scenarios, the amount of money involved when spread out over the life of a car is trivial. Anyone who buys a hybrid Civic purely to save a few hundred or thousand bucks over the car’s lifespan has not done his or her homework. Few people buy a Civic to save money. They buy it because they like it for all kinds of reasons. If you want to minimize car expenditures, buy a cheap economy car and live with the lower status and reliability. Buying a hybrid version of the Civic (like opting for a power everything, automatic transmission, and leather interior package) will give you greater prestige for that extra money, not to mention you will truly use a lot less gas.

The beauty of the hybrid package is that it will eventually offset all or most of the premium you paid for the status associated with the hybrid logo. I know several wealthy individuals who have traded their luxury car for a Prius. The question now becomes, will a Prius produce less CO2 than a Hummer on a life cycle basis? Sorry, this article is too long already. Stay tuned, you haven’t seen anything yet.