There are always fads and sentiments which take root and die off every few years. One which has somehow managed
to grow and even thrive as of recent? "Dorky is the new cool". It's a statement which gets tossed around,
sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally. What exactly are we supposed to make of this? It is cool to be a nerd? When
did this happen, and how?
Well certainly the answer can be discovered by looking at the past 10 years of
this new millenium. All a sudden, if you're a guy wearing highwater pants with thick-rimmed glasses, you might be considered
"cool" by a certain subset of society. If you're a girl who wants to wear "cat-eye" glasses with a chain attached,
and with a tacky plaid dress, such a look is also considered fashionable, as long as these items are "vintage".
The nerdy kid is the one who stereotypically got picked on during school hours, grew up with a complex, and passive-aggressively
uses this complex now that he's all grown up. Now, he's got the killer job making (designing) high-tech computer chips,
or sending satellites into orbit, or lobbying for political causes. His brain has become his main strength, wheras before
he got teased at times because of this. He looks back to that bully who picked on him, the bully who's now barely
making child support while he works in a machine shop, his parole officer just a phone call away at all times, and has a laugh.
If they ever cross paths as adults (bully and nerd) it's the bully who's now trying to save face, if he can face up to his
previous childhood target at all.
I am exaggerating a bit for effect, but suffice it to say there's a
lot of truth here. The geek is sometimes the one who laughs last. So let's talk about the Prius. How is this nerdy
weakling selling in record numbers, Toyota barely able to keep up with public demand?
We can go back to the early
'70s once again, when gas prices started to rise, and gas shortages became the norm for awhile. Suddenly, engineers were scrambling
to create solutions to this problem; one of such solutions would be the hybrid car, a concept which had already been tried,
but died, some 60 years earlier. The hybrid was seen to be a solution in the '70s, and I remember some manufacturers promising
hybrid vehicles would be on the roads by the '80s. This did not happen, of course.
of cars in America were terrible with gas, even after the "big three" (Ford, GM, and Chrysler) attempted to address their
problems. Instead of trying to invent a true solution, they mostly tried horsepower restrictions. In many cases, the actual
engine sizes, not to mention the weight of various models, did not change. We all know about this; but it's been recorded
that even in Japan and Europe there was a push for more efficiency from engines which were already more efficient than our
typical American straight sixes and V8s. All a sudden, these smaller, meeker autos were often on center stage, the
nerd now getting its revenge on all those times it was passed up on the highways and in the showrooms.
the years rolled on, and gas prices stabilized, the small efficient car eventually became secondary. The Toyota Prius
(and the Honda Insight) were born during a time when it seems they'd have no chance for success, at least in my country's market.
Gas in America was below $2.00 a gallon, and huge SUVs were becoming the vehicle of choice for many of us. Despite this, it
seems somebody over in Japan anticipated what was about to happen. There was no need for something super fuel-efficient,
no such thing as a SULEV (super-low emissions vehicle) rating, but somebody, or some group of persons, had the foresight
to see things were about to change.
And so it is that the geek has risen again! And it's smarter than ever!
read that the first generation Prius (which was initially sold only in Japan) got off to a slow start, which is not surprising.
Sales were not as graspy as they are now, so that Toyota basically broke even so far as profits go. But these later generations
have changed this, of course. Once people realized that the hybrid car is not only practical at the pump, but just as easy
to drive as a conventional car (and interesting to drive, in its own way) the Prius started making record sales.
Prices for a base Prius in real-life hovered just below $20,000 in 2003, in some cases they still do.
The "G Touring" package in our game therefore seems to be an upgraded Prius with all the bells & whistles. According
to www.nctd.com these options include...
Seat-mounted side-impact airbags for driver and front-passenger
and side curtain airbags for both front and rear passengers are optional ($650), and strongly recommended. Other options include an intermittent rear window wiper ($180). A package adds the side-impact and curtain airbags,
a keyless entry and start system, vehicle stability control, fog lamps and self-leveling HID headlamps ($2,255).
ultimate package has everything, including voice-recognition navigation system with Bluetooth capability, Homelink programmable
remote transmitter, premium JBL AM/FM/Cassette/6-CD nine-speaker sound system, and immobilizing security alarm ($5,245). Dealer
accessories include floor and cargo mats ($184), cargo net ($49), first aid kit ($29), rear bumper applique ($65) and wheel
Good grief. The Prius, at 2,844 pounds, is not the heaviest front-drive in our games, but
getting all that stuff mentioned above removed is a great idea if you're actually going to attempt to race this oddball. Which
has as of recently made itself not so odd. In GT5, a 2003 model falls to a hot-hatch-like 2,365 pounds. I've never driven
the XW20 of GT4, but since there aren't as many chances to actually race this car, getting full weight removed doesn't seem
Anyways, removing pounds is recommended because...
-------------ENGINE / DRIVETRAIN---------------
Well, its look may have changed, its demeanor, stigma, and statement to the world may have become
much more obvious to those still stuck in the 20th century. But one thing that hasn't changed?
Yup. We're still being
pulled around by that puny 1.5 liter 4 cylinder engine, matched by a 500 volt, 6.5 amp motor. And there is no such thing
as a Prius with a V6 engine upgrade.
While some cars in Toyota's line-up (the Camry and Supra, for instance)
receive or have received regular bumps of horsepower with each new generation, and in some cases could be equipped with
one or two larger engine sizes, the Prius seems to be on a different path. In other words, there is no significant
upgrade of power here from the Prius's first generation to the second. This is comparing the XW10 (the Prius
sedan also reviewed on this site) to the XW20 (the dorky hatchback). There is only a small bump of power to the Prius's latest
(XW30 generation), a bump of about 10 horses.
Most real-life Prius drivers are not complaining. They don't care about
horsepower, really, they obviously have different goals in mind. Getting as many miles between fill-ups is a huge
"for-instance" for this segment of the population. Driving a multi-tasking vehicle which is possibly smarter than the driver is
another. These people want a vehicle that is "smart". Not necessarily fast, loud, or big. This vehicle does not necessarily
have to be good-looking, apparently, or what the majority considers as "good-looking".
buyers are mostly the Baby Boomers, the generation born after World War II, and for the next 20 years
or so afterwards. Ages 45-ish thru 65. Many of them have already seen their mid-life crisis, many of them have already
been thru the part where they have the affair with the secretary, seen the kids off to college, and drove the fast car or
the big SUV that didn't get very good gas mileage. Some of them get stuck in mock-childhood; they get stuck at the
part where they NEED the Corvette and the trophy wife beside them, and the McMansion with a zillion rooms which never get
But there are plenty of other Boomers who find themselves in a more altruistic phase of life. Who are more
practical and...um...responsible about getting older. These better Boomers don't care if their Prius is
faster than the previous generation. Who cares about speed and horsepower, when the car itself dazzles such drivers in many
These Baby Boomers want to know they're "doing their part" to save the planet, as they spend
$180 for a week's worth of groceries at Whole Foods, send donations to Greenpeace (instead of actually protesting in-person), and
shop online for an orthopedic surgeon who embraces a more "holistic" approach to anesthesia.
enough with the Boomers, what about us gamers?
Most gamers also really don't care if the Prius gets a more forceful
powerplant or not...most gamers could really care less. Why? Because they're all too busy racing other cars!
Any other car than the Prius, that is! Who wants to go slow all the time?!?
Despite this supposed lack of power, the
Prius isn't necessarily a total slowpoke. Well, it is a slowpoke, but it doesn't always feel as slow
as it is. Its electrically-driven side virtually guarantees the car gets moving right away, even from a dead stop or
while leaving a tight turn. Electric motors often make their peak torque figures the moment they start to spin, you see. Peak
torque = immediate response. It is this "response" that the driver feels as the Prius is being driven or raced about, especially
leaving that hairpin.
This car may have its lacks, it may be ultimately slower than a host of others, but
notice there's never a feeling that its engine is struggling. Nor is there any true period of down-time when the engine is
caught with its manifolds down (heh heh, get it?), its RPMs fighting to get to their best zone.
For instance, I just
did a bunch of FF Seasonal races. I was amongst a group of cars rated at around 200 horsepower, while my Prius had anywhere
from 120 to 135. When I managed to get the Prius properly aimed out of corners, it's noticable how effortlessly
it can pass others. The Integra I just passed by has just shifted gears, and is now in a down-area of revs. Not my Prius,
which slips right on by...its engine already peaking with revs. Underneath this noisy engine, of course, is a silent motor
which barely (if ever) gets noticed while its doing its job.
This is Toyota's fabulous
Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD) system doing its job. I've driven Prii (that's the plural of Prius :facepalm:)
in real-life, and raced them about in GT4 and GT5. When driven in real-life there are often long periods when the car's engine
isn't even on, or it'll be idling. Rolling about a parking lot is an example here. There are three modes to the HSD system.
Engine off, electric motors doing all the work.
2. Engine idling, providing energy to the motor, which still does most
of the work.
3. Engine now spinning more forcefully (during acceleration, for instance), aiding the electric motor.
In addition, the car also re-generates energy while braking and coasting, and this energy gets stored in the car's
massive battery packs. Since the Prius can actually use its electric motor solely as a source of movement (engine off) it
is considered a fuller hybrid than some other hybrids (known as "mild" hybrids), which constantly have their engine running,
or at least idling along.
The HSD found in Toyota's XW20 and XW30 generations is slightly different from
the Toyota Hybrid System (THS) found in the original Prius. It's hard to explain without getting too technical how THS is
different from HSD, so here's a Wikipedia quote to the rescue:
There has been a continuous, gradual improvement
in the specific capacity of the traction battery. The original Prius used shrink-wrapped 1.2 volt D cells, and all subsequent
THS/HSD vehicles have used custom 7.2 V battery modules mounted in a carrier.
Called Toyota Hybrid System for initial
Prius generations, THS was followed by THS II in the 2004 Prius, with subsequent versions termed Hybrid Synergy Drive. The
THS relied on the voltage of the battery pack: between 276 and 288 V. The Hybrid Synergy Drive adds a DC to DC converter boosting
the potential of the battery to 500 V or more. This allows smaller battery packs to be used, and more powerful motors.
Thank you, anonymous writer #3,108,720 for clearing that up. :-)
Why am I bringing this up? I want
to see if there's a difference between the original Prius when it's raced, in comparison to later ones. In the game, it's
difficult to really notice a difference between the original Prius sedan with its THS, and the hatchbacks featuring
HSD. I'm only noticing a slight difference in mid-corner points when the engine cuts on and off, but this could be my imagination.
The bottom line is HSD is supposed to be more efficient than THS, so perhaps there is a small difference in fuel-efficiency
from generation to generation. I will not be testing for this, however. Sorry. ;-p
Notice all you Prius
drivers out there that we cannot buy an aftermarket transmission for these cars. They are equipped with CVTs (Constant
Variable Transmissions). Like the rest of the car (its heater, its water pump, its steering) this transmission is electrically-controlled.
I'm guessing that the Prius sedan in GT4 could be equipped with conventional trannies on the aftermarket due to the fact that
the Echo's transmission housing is being swapped for the Prius's CVT. The Prius's gas-powered twin used to be the Echo, you
Peak power for a G Touring in GT5 does rate slightly higher from
first generation cars to 2nd gen: 135 hp versus 127 with all upgrades applied. This is,
of course, still pretty weak, and I'm not completely sure if the electric motor's power is factored in here or not. Turbos
cannot be equipped in any game the Prius appears in, I'm guessing this is due to the fact that there is no room for them in
the Prius's cramped engine bay. But forget turbos, it would be nice if we could upgrade that motor and/or its batteries somehow,
There's not much we can do with a Prius in GT5, and even less to do in GT4, where the XW20 in this
game can't even crawl from the Beginner's Hall. At least GT5 has occasional Seasonal events to give these hybrids a workout.
One final note on the Prius of GT5. It has this weird habit of raising its revs from about 4,000 to
about 5,000 after a few minutes of racing. I have no idea what PD/Toyota are supposed to be simulating here. It's obviously
some sort of weird computer-controlled decision.
Despite this, it's sad to say the Prius never makes its peak RPM
area. In other words, if I've got all the goodies loaded under the hood and down the tailpipe, and the car is supposed to
be making 135 hp @ 6,400 rpm, it'll never actually make this full power, since the computer is limiting RPMs to 5,000 at the
It sucks, I feel shortchanged, but hey, what can ya do? Well...I know what I'm about to do. I'm
about to go for a ride, on the hybrid side....
-----------CHASSIS / HANDLING----------------
Lately I've been in the habit of testing cars from game to game, but in this case there isn't much to report.
Though I haven't actually driven it yet, I'm guessing the Prius in GT4 drives pretty much the same as it does in GT5. There
are no significant handling differences with the Prius as there are with dozens of other automobiles, especially since we
haven't got much additional power to play with in either game.
Let's assume the car's "stock" tires are equipped.
185/65R-15. That's the tire size for the 2003 G Touring model. The 2009 in GT5's Premium lot has slightly
wider tires (195 versus 185). This is the first nightmare.
In GT4, we can assume N2 tires should be equipped to get
this car as close to real-life as possible. GT5 actually starts us off with cheapie medium-grade "Comfort" radials, the
equivalent to the Prius's real-life Goodyears. The Prius in real-life has tires which obviously have nothing to do with
performance, instead, even this car's ground-rubber have been shod to help its overall geeky cause. How so? Toyota
has given this car such narrow, non-aggressive tires because they want it to be efficient with gasoline.
It takes less power to roll a tire which is narrow and has a more consistent tread-pattern, after all. To aid the
Prius, to keep it from driving dilemmas such small tires could create, Toyota has made sure to equip all the other junk we're
getting so used to hearing about: traction control, electronic stability control, ABS, electronic brake distribution,
and brake assist are all standard on later Toyota Priuses. So yup, I made sure to have all this junk on when I initially drove
the Prius for my first road test at Tsukuba.
It's these tires which are mostly to blame. We can't blame excessive
front-drive power, after all. Tires protest so much entering turns, you might think they're about to start carrying picket
Understeer on-entry is definitely one of the worst faults of this car once it's being pushed, even somewhat
mildly. The car hunkers into the turns, its goofy stance seeming to wonder why the driver is making it go so fast. "Hey,
don't you want to save gas and therefore money, Mr. driver? Why are you pushing me so hard?" it seems to quip. The
Prius is definitely not a Celica.
But when exiting turns, understeer isn't really as dramatic as I thought it
would be, even after systematically turning off the TCS and ASM. This is true whether or not the Prius is fully-powered.
It's that understeer we're seeing while entering turns, therefore, which is really ruins everything. Lots of other cars understeer
when entering turns of course, front-drive or not, but the Prius really seems to take offense. "Let's go to Trader Joes
like we always do! Why this racing nonsense?"
Things change rapidly once some sport
tires are equipped. All a sudden, the Prius becomes somewhat confident. Grippy. The understeer on-entry is still there,
but it's easier to predict and avoid. And amazingly, tuning does make a difference. Again, I've yet to drive the GT4
Prius, but in GT5 I've been able to make my hybrids handle a lot more efficiently. Braking is usually pretty stable and predictable
once the car has some Sports tires, which means it's possible to get this car to exhibit a "riding on rails" sort of
feel, assuming it's braked in due time.
Overall, more questions get raised than answered when we ponder what the Prius
is doing here in Gran Turismo. Not counting occasional GT5 Seasonal events, there are just just nine races we can safely
finish in GT5, and ten in GT4. Even a Demio can do better!
1). Not a bad price,
considering all the gadgetry that's included.
2). Kinda fun racing a dual-powered car around, in the few races we can
actually race it in. Novelty is always a Pro in my book.
3). Watching that HUD system can be hypnotizing for
awhile. All the pretty colors (especially in GT4) fascinate the driver, distracting him or her from the fact that this is
actually a rather boring car.
4). 2009 models in GT5 are Premium. I don't care what others say, I love having
a full Prius dash to gaze over as I'm racing.
5). Fuel-efficiency can be attained in our game to advantage. I'm not
exactly, surely how yet, but it's gotta be a possibility. Perhaps during some online racing.
6). Decent movement out
of slower areas, thanks to that electric motor.
7). CVT gearbox. Driving a car that never requires shifting,
and never runs out of revs means one less thing to worry about.
8). It's hip to be square, as the saying
power upgrades cost a bundle, yet rarely get us over 130 hp (depends on model).
2). Making a profit margin from
racing this vehicle can take some time, assuming the gamer dumps a bunch of money into this silly car.
3). Just about
as dorky as can be. Do these hybrids truely belong in a racing game?
4). Enormous understeer, especially
entering turns on cheapie tires. Cornering strategy often equals "ditch me for a more applicable vehicle, please!"
Somewhat heavy, especially considering the lack of power / power upgrades.
6). Speaking of power upgrades, why can't
we get a stronger motor to compliment the engine? Or somehow augment the other side of this car's performance?
Since this car's engine management computer limits revs, we can never get to those peak RPMs the power grids in the tuning
8). Accelerating up to higher speeds sometimes feels like waiting at the DMV. Waiting.... and waiting......and..waiting....
Noisy, like a hive of bumble bees is about to attack.
10). Once you get past the cool power displays, you may finally start
to realize what a dull, clumsy car you're driving.
May 29, 2011