I rent econoboxes from Hertz several times a month for business travel. All I need is basic transportation and usually my rental cars don't make any impression on my mind. They are useful for what I need at the time, but are unremarkable, interchangeable, and unrememberable. Sort of like the girls I dated in high school.
This week Hertz gave me a Prius. And for the first time I found myself absolutely hating my rental car.
It's not the pick-up, acceleration or any other car-handling issue. In that category I find the Prius about the same as other nameless econoboxes. As an aggressive driver I had no problem passing and cutting off people, rabbit starting from lights and cutting over two lanes in front of other cars, or doing three-lane exits off the highway at 70 miles an hour. Not as good as my Beemer, of course, but definitely good enough to piss off pansy drivers who don't understand that you never leave open space between you and the car ahead of you.
What is horribly, horribly wrong with the Prius is the control system for the radio, climate control, etc. They all come through a common display, which is "off" until you want to do something. So going down the highway at 70 and weaving through traffic you have to fiddle through a tree of commands just to tune the radio or turn down the AC. And the interior seems cheap, much cheaper than the usual economy car.
Then there is the constant humming noise coming out of the engine block. At first I thought there was a window slightly opened, but then I realized the windows were up and the noise is almost always in the car. Only when the engine is idle (I suppose in electric mode - which was rare the way I drive) does the noise go away. It is truly annoying and even turning up the radio (once I found the controls) didn't make it go away.
So after comparing to any other car, there is no way anyone in their right mind should buy it. But people do, all because they can feel better about themselves about having a hybrid. And don't say that it is about saving money, as several studies have shown that what you save on gas never makes up the higher investment of the Prius over an economy car (say a Hyundai).