One of the perks of my job is that I travel to exotic destinations. A few years back I ended up in Edmonton Alberta in the dead of winter with temperatures hovering around -25C.
At the car rental counter I was given the choice between something and a Toyota Camry Hybrid. I jumped at the chance to drive one of these new technology cars.
I'd always been intrigued with the hybrid concept but was not ready to scoot around in a Honda Insight, something that looked like a sci-fi project.
Once I figured out the 'starting' procedure and got the controls set, which included a driver info centre with wheels, battery, motor and lots of flashy arrows, I was off.
I quietly whirred my way out of the parkade and by the time I hit the road, the heater had the car nice and toasty. The motor finally fired up at about 50kph (30mph) and highway speed was not far away.
I was impressed. For the next couple of days the car performed flawlessly, heated up without the long waits normal with watercooled engines and had V6 acceleration when needed. When the gig was over, and it was time to fill up, I was surprised at how little fuel I had used.
I was hooked.
The next time at a rental counter I asked for another Hybrid and when available, drove it.
Then the disappointment set in. This one didn't run on electricity much at all. Neither did the next two that I tried. I adjusted everything I could: AC on, AC off; ECON on, ECON, off. This, that, nothing seemed to get that battery icon to point to the wheels. The battery only worked in reverse and forward when creeping, but as soon as I put my foot on the gas, the motor started and the electric drive shut down. Power was down to four banger punch as well.
Was something wrong? I don't know. There were no lights, telltales, scrolling messages, nothing except a fuel economy readout stuck around 10L/100km. Fill ups were back to normal.
Was the battery faulty? Does it only charge when going down hills? Not good in the flatlands of the midwest. Do you need to drive on the highway for a while to recharge the battery? Who knows.
So are Hybrids hype? I'll try more as time goes on, just to see. But right now, I'm sure not going to shell out extra money just to be disappointed after 10000km (6000mi) which is what the rentals had on the odo.