When I first heard that Al Gore III was caught going 105 mph in a Prius, I was most impressed by the fact that a Prius can actually go that fast. You must really have to floor the Prius engine – all 110 horsepower of it – in order to get the car into triple digits. But it turns out there are other factors at work: speeding isn’t just about the size of the engine. Dan Neil explains:
The question remains, why is the Prius such a screaming hot rod?
In part, it’s a reflection of the state of the automotive technology, which, as it has raised benchmarks for handling, safety and comfort, has also driven up — perhaps inadvertently — absolute performance levels.
“If I went 100 mph in my 1983 Oldsmobile Delta 88, it would probably shake its bolts loose,” said Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “Cars are much better now.”
But for Prius advocates, the Gore affair underscores a point they’ve tried to make all along: Efficiency is just another way to spell performance.
The Prius is, for example, one of the most aerodynamically optimized vehicles on the road, with a low 0.26 coefficient of drag. That means the car doesn’t require a lot of horsepower to push through the air.
The car also rides on tires with low “rolling resistance,” which lessens friction between the rubber and the road. It’s also a bantamweight at only 2,932 pounds, among the lightest cars on the market.
“The way the car is optimized,” says Michels, “from aero resistance to rolling resistance, cooling systems, the powertrain itself, all of those things any hot-rodder is interested in as making the car go faster.”