A self-confessed motorhead who loves her curves discovers there’s more to a hybrid than meets her eye
SINGAPORE — “I like the feel of being behind the wheel and the surge of power when I put my foot down,” says Diana Chwee, 28, a pretty young designer who has modified every car she has owned.
“Yet, what I super love are the twists and turns of corners like those of the infamous 99 Bends, my favorite stretch of road. That’s why my car is modified for cornering maneuvers more than speed.”
That hardly sounds like the right candidate for a fuel-sipping hybrid car like the Toyota Prius.
Then again, the Prius has always attracted an interesting crowd, especially among the Hollywood elite like Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, and Leonardo DiCaprio. All of them, and more, had the keys to a Prius in their pockets.
None of us could find Jennifer Aniston in the phone book, but we had Diana the petrolhead buckle up in a Prius to tell us about her experience in it, and see if it could dispel some of the doubts about hybrids lurking in her head.
And if any hybrid could impress a petrolhead, it’s the Prius — Toyota’s petrol-electric car has set the gold standard ever since its birth in 1997 as the first commercially avialable hybrid.
“Surprisingly, I discovered how a hybrid can be powerful, especially down at the lower end. I like that I can overtake other cars on the road,” said Diana.
A heavy-footed driver, what Diana realised was that during hard acceleration, maximum output was delivered by both the engine and electric motor, with an amount of oomph equivalent to that of a much larger petrol engine.
And in the constant stop-start traffic situations constantly encountered in Singapore, doesn’t instant power from a standstill start make a lot more sense?
“Even with the power, the car was still very quiet, I didn’t even know that the engine was on,” added Diana. That’s the beauty of hybrid drive system — the silent running at low speeds, as well as the free power boost during acceleration made possible by recovering waste heat and energy during deceleration.
Constant help from the electric motor means the engine works less often and less hard, and as a result, more fuel is saved for better mileage. According to one report, real world driving data showed hybrids generating fuel savings of up to 55% in Asian city driving, compared with around 40% in the US. In heavy city traffic like Singapore’s, hybrid cars are often more fuel efficient in the real world than their quote fuel economy ratings.
With light and easy controls, hybrids tend to be a breeze to drive, as Diana found out, “It feels a lot lighter than a regular car, and that makes it easier to drive around in the city and in traffic jams, parking is also easier for the same reason.”
Even a dedicated petrolhead like her could see a benefit beyond her own needs. “Of course the most obvious reason for a hybrid is that they’re definitely healthier for the environment compared to petrol cars,” she said. No guilty conscience for polluting the environment here, since hybrids have been found to emit up to 97% less toxic emissions, and only half as much carbon dioxide as the average car.
While doing something for the Earth is noble, it’s often said that charity begins at home. Here’s where the Prius is notably superior to Diana’s modified car. “I would rather have a hybrid to ferry my family around because I’d probably be driving around a lot. Compared to my car which is a guzzler, the hybrid doesn’t rely on petrol as much and that definitely translates to fuel savings,” Diana mused. “I can think of a few other places my money can go to.”