“I wish they had this car when you were growing up,” my mother tells me. She’s talking about her new Prius. And she is in love. My mother raised us children in the era of THE BIG FAMILY TANK. She started with a station wagon in the late 70s, graduated to a minivan in the 80s, and then had a “hateful, obnoxious, gas guzzling SUV” in the late 90s. Mom readily admits that she followed the bigger is better—and therefore, safer—car trend.“Unless you were driving a tank, you weren’t keeping your kids safe,” she says. “Being a good mother meant driving the biggest car possible. It was peer pressure for sure.”
How times have changed. My friend Michelle, a Prius-driving 32-year-old mother of two, was horrified at the mere thought of driving an SUV. “Oh God no! I can’t imagine the looks I’d get from the other mothers!” Of Michelle’s closest mami friends, three out of four drive Priuses. (The other one does, in fact, drive a minivan, “but she has four kids so we give her a pass,” Michelle explains.)
According to Michelle and her crew, unless you have four or more kids, you should be driving a hybrid—and Prius is by far the favorite mami-mobile of choice. Why? Because it seems to have everything a mom could want.
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Every mami knows that the most important factor when buying a family car is safety. And the Prius measures up. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the hybrid its highest rating in both front offset and side impact crash tests. The car comes standard with an Advanced Airbag System and Toyota’s Star Safety System, providing driver and passenger airbags, enhanced vehicle stability, traction control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist. At an additional cost, you can install the Safety Connect System, which is similar to OnStar. It provides 24/7 roadside assistance and if you are in a crash, you press one button to notify emergency services.
The second most important factor is, of course, will it fit all of my mami and baby or toddler/tweener, etc. gear? The stroller, the pool supplies, the soccer, baseball, football equipment, the list goes on. The answer, is yes! The trunk is surprisingly spacious. With the rear seat up, it measures in at 21.7 cubic feet. That’s more than enough room for a stroller, a beach bag, a mega haul of groceries. Or, as Michelle’s husband happily discovered, three golf bags! With room to spare! The rear seats fold to increase cargo room, for those heavy-duty hauling days. Children’s bicycles? No problem! The front and rear seats are also comfortable and roomy, which may reduce complaining on long car rides. But that’s not a promise car manufacturers are likely to put into writing.
The estimated fuel efficiency rating is 50 miles per gallon, a plus given the long-term trend of higher gas prices. “I didn’t believe it at first, but after eight full days of driving the kids around, I still had a quarter tank,” Michelle says. “Sometimes I still can’t believe it, and I’ll go to the gas station out of force of habit, only to discover that my tank can only take $9 worth of gas.” Fifty miles per gallon. Believe it. You can put all the money you’ll save towards a well-deserved mami manicure fund. (You do have a mami manicure fund, right?)
“I mean it, this car is smarter than I am,” my mother tells me as we drive around downtown Pasadena looking for a nursery she can’t remember the name of, but swears has the best impatiens in Southern California. It begins with a C. Or maybe a G. She swears it’s about a mile or two from the café where we now find ourselves. We search Points of Interest on the navigation system and within seconds, the Prius comes up with the name of the nursery (which does not begin with a C or a G, by the way) and directs us to “the best impatiens in Southern California.” They are beautiful, I’ll admit, but I’m more impressed with the Prius and its intelligence.
“As a mom, I feel good about driving a Prius, because it makes me feel like I am setting a good example for my kids,” Michelle says. “I am showing them how to be environmentally aware. And in some small way, I am helping to preserve the earth for their future.” As Michelle’s friends nod their agreement, I realize we are living in a whole new Mamiverse—one where the cool family hybrid has replaced the big family tank, at least in our little corner of it.