Getting some altitude on a Prius road trip

US Route 89 by Wolfgang Staudt

US Route 89 by Wolfgang Staudt

I’ve had my shiny red Prius from the Prius Challenge about two weeks but my driving so far was in the Phoenix area. It seemed time to give this thing more of a challenge and decided to throw some mountains at it.

I love Arizona, or specifically different places in Arizona, but I am not a fan of driving. I get grumpy sitting for so long in one place, especially on our long, boring freeways. Having the new Prius gave me an excuse to get out and put down some miles.

Prius parked on the freeway

Prius parked on the freeway

We went with two other couples, and had two cars between us so swapped people around as we went. We initially drove from Phoenix to Prescott, where we spent the first night. The Prius did great on the climb, up the hills but did switch into Power mode a few times when things got steep. We sadly had nearly a 90 minute break when a semi caught fire and closed the whole freeway. I’ve never seen anything like it – the entire thing melted down to the engine block. Fortunately the driver go out safely. We things were being cleaned up we turned off the car and hung out chatting with other bored motorists.

The second day we took the super-winding US Route 89A to historic Jerome, over to crazy Sedona, and up to cool and relaxed Flagstaff. Oak Creek Canyon was pouring rain, and the Prius handled like a champ. We rode a brief stretch on famous US Route 66 while we were there, but mainly checked out the local eateries, breweries, and stores. I think the only chain place we spent any money on the entire trip was the gas station when we filled up on our way out.

I’m a huge fan of supporting local businesses. Not just to keep money in Arizona, but also because that’s where I find the most interesting things to eat, drink, and buy.

The Cherry Bomb (the nickname for this shiny red Prius) even managed to get 48 mpg over our 365 mile trip. I was a little surprised by this as it seems to do much better in the city than on the mountain roads, but I’m guessing the long downhill run from Flagstaff (7000 ft) to Phoenix (1124 ft) helped that number out. We did the entire trip on less that one tank of gas and had a great time.

Don’t forget to enter to win!

If you haven’t checked out the Prius Challenge AZ web site yet, get on over there. You can see what the other Prius Challenge Team is up to, and register to win a brand new Prius c. Get your picture taken with the Cherry Bomb and get 4 more entries in the contest, so bug me about it if you see me driving it around!


  1. we drove our diesel VW Jetta from Pagosa Springs, CO to Longmont, CO, went up to 10,800 feet, down to 7,000 feet at times, up again to 10,000 feet up and down, through some traffic, a few high speed passes at over 80 mph, and averaged 52.2 mpg. The Prius could never have had the power of our diesel on those long, high altitude mountain grades, and its battery will die (at great replacement expense that will negate its good fuel economy) years before the nearly indestructible diesel engine will wheeze its last gasp.

    If you want to save money and really enjoy your driving, go diesel.

    1. If VW wants to loan me one I’d be happy to do a side-by-side comparison! I wish diesel had made more inroads into the US automotive market. I’ve known a few people with diesels and some loved them while others didn’t care for them.

      As for the Prius battery, they are fully warrantied (not pro-rated, they will replace them outright) for a minimum of 8 years, 100,000 miles which is more than most people keep a car these days. 

    2. Minus federal gimmicks (that is, on a level field), diesel is far and away the best motor fuel. It is also renewable since diesels run fine on nearly any clean light oil (think soy bean oil). And the effluent of production is feed cake, which you feed to stock. For these reasons it’s a surprise and a disappointment that so little respect is given the lowly diesel engine. 
      For instance my Land Rover has a fuel gulping (15 MPG) V8 in it that needs replacing. There is a bolt in replacement turbo-diesel that would exactly double the MPG, but EPA rules make it impossible. The saving in fuel would pay for the conversion in 36 months. That’s HALF the consumption with NO federal subsidies. How did we allow stupidity to be dressed up and sold as environmental stewardship?   

      A Fracking Good StoryCarbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. are at their lowest level in 20 years. It’s not because of wind or solar power.By Bjørn Lomborg|Posted Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, at 6:30 AM ETsigh, what a world