Two years ago my Citroen Saxo was written off in an accident and I had just come into a handy inheritance. As a committed eco-campaigner and someone whose full-time job does (genuinely) require the use of a vehicle, the brand new eco-car on the block – the Toyota Prius – seemed a good option. I would never normally spend anything like £18,000 on a car, but I could afford it and, if it did what it said on the label, it was just about the best eco-option out there.
The Prius is certainly a sleek machine with all the mod-cons: a sat-nav; air-con, which I religiously never use; and, most useful by far, a fuel consumption gauge that tells me literally second by second how I’m doing. It has a hybrid petrol/battery powered engine controlled by an ingenious computerised system seamlessly switching between petrol and battery and more often than not a combination of the two. The battery charges itself up constantly through the braking system.
The manufacturer’s claim is that the Prius can average 65 mpg (miles per gallon) and that its emissions are 104g CO2 per kilometre. I drive for 90% of the time in Birmingham, usually quite short journeys of 8-10 miles and invariably in fairly heavy traffic. My average is around 52mpg which isn’t at all bad but short of what I’d hoped. On long journeys the mileage is better but rarely above 60mpg. I believe that, generally speaking, I drive in a very eco-way; laying off the accelerator whenever possible, braking gently, keeping to the speed limit on motorways etc.
In truth, a similar performance could probably be achieved by driving a small energy- efficient diesel car (in an eco-friendly way), at least in terms of mpg. Interestingly, there are cars in all categories, including SUVs (Sports Utility Vehicles), with emission figures below 150g CO2 per kilometre. Such a car would probably be £8000 – £10,000 cheaper, allowing saved funds to go, theoretically at least, to other carbon-cutting measures.
The verdict: I think not an eco-criminal, maybe a victim of hype, but if you genuinely need to use a car there are few better choices. However, I am seriously considering the small diesel option and recycling the difference in more domestic fuel saving measures.