Driving a Hybrid · 9 October 2021

Driving a hybrid vehicle is a different experience.

We have two hybrid cars now. A RAV4 and a Camry. I know. They are both Toyotas. There is something to be said for brand loyalty. Maybe they ought to make a commercial about my family. After all, we have five Toyota’s for the four drivers in our household. And our son who lives across town drives one too. Personally, I like Toyotas for their reliability and value. And I have not driven many vehicles I like more than a Toyota. (Too bad this is not a paid commercial.)

At any rate.

Driving a hybrid vehicle is a different experience than driving a vehicle that has only an internal combustion engine. For one thing, they are quiet when stopped. The engine does not run unless it is trying to keep the cabin warm or charge the batteries. That quietness is the easiest thing to get used to. Especially when it carries over to the road. I am sure our vehicles do not have the quietest cabins out there, but not having the engine noise on top of the road noise does make a quieter ride. And the road noise on our two hybrids is less than I have had in any vehicle for a long time. Not less than all the cars I test drove when searching for the right vehicle, but certainly less than most.

One of the nicer things about our particular hybrids is that they have some get up and go. I drove a couple hybrids that I thought should have that immediate acceleration of an electric motor, but did not. I pressed the accelerator and there was a lag in vehicle movement. It was like being in an internet video game or a car without any pep. (One of those vehicles was even a Toyota.) I could not believe I did not have near immediate full power when I stepped on the gas. Both of our vehicles can lay rubber from a stop (not that I have done so on purpose much), and they also have nearly immediate acceleration when moving.

The most interesting thing about driving a hybrid though is that I have had to change my mindset about braking. My dad taught me long ago that when going down a steep grade, I should downshift and use the engine to slow the car instead of wearing out the brakes. I have done that for decades whether the vehicles had manual or automatic transmissions. I did that a few times in my hybrid too. Until I remembered. Braking in a hybrid is regenerative. Which just means that braking charges the batteries. The electric motors are used as generators when braking. That remembrance took a few times to sink in. I had to go downhill using my brakes and see that the batteries were charging to fully appreciate regenerative braking. But I get it. Yes, I understood the principle of regenerative braking before, but driving the hybrids has given me a better understanding and a practical demonstration of the concept.

There is one other thing that has been interesting with driving hybrid vehicles downhill. When the hill is not very steep, you might need to press the gas to avoid slowing down. I was amazed at the concept. I was driving down the hill by our house when I first noticed it. I let my foot off the gas and poised it above the brake like I would in our other vehicles. I wanted to make sure I did not go too fast down the hill. But it felt like the hybrids were slowing down as I went down the hill. Imagine my surprise when I looked at the speedometer and saw that my feeling was correct. I had to press the accelerator just to stay at the speed limit down the hill.

I never thought I would be driving a hybrid as my main vehicle, but I do not know that I would drive anything else now. I just hope Toyota has an option one day for all their vehicles to be hybrid. Because I like Toyotas. And because driving a hybrid is a pleasantly different experience.

© 2021 Michael T. Miyoshi

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