I've read a good bit about the technology previously and figured I'd take the opportunity of needing to rent a car to try out the Prius.
Monday night, when I got it, we had to figure out how to start it. The key is RF-based and you plug it into a socket; Then a push of the power button puts the car in accessory, or if your foot is on the brake, starts the car. Starting means only the car claims "ready", not that the motor turns over. Putting it in gear means only throwing a spring-loaded stick which presumably throws a microswitch. Putting it in park means pressing a button (which also takes it out of gear).
On Tuesday, I crossed the bay and headed for Altamont Pass, east of Livermore. The grades through the pass weren't severe, and I didn't really get a good opportunity to test the capabilities of the car there. I did take pictures of the car while I was there. Later, I headed back east, through Niles Canyon and back across the bay.
Observations at that point: the car had 44.something mpg showing when I picked it up; By the time I was crossing the bay for the second time, it had dropped to about 42. The car was quiet enough that when in traffic moving that fast I quickly got up to 80 and didn't notice (I'd traveled no serious grade through that time). When stopped at an intersection, the engine might shut off, and it was disconcerting, but you could always pull away fine. Finally, when backing up, the "beep beep beep" was very necessary as often the engine didn't run and only the electric motor would be powering the car.
Later, I took a twisty road up the ridge which separates Palo Alto from the Pacific coast, crossed Skyline Blvd, and stopped to see someone with a friend. The car handled well both up and down the hill, but the trip was laden with rapid switching between gas and brake, picking up on short straightaways and then slowing down as it curved back on itself. I probably never bested 40 on the hilly part of the trip.
On Saturday morning, as I returned to the airport, I lamented that I hadn't taken a drive along the coast; I got off I-280 and followed CA 92 over the ridge to Half Moon Bay, where I picked up the Pacific Coast Highway. The road over the ridge was considerably less twisty, but the car handled fine, and I was never wanting for speed. The trip up the coast was everything I wanted but entirely too short, and soon I was at the airport, dropping off the car. The mileage had dropped as low as 38.5 but recovered to 41.1 when I dropped off the car. Indeed, something like 400 miles, something around 9.5 gallons.
If Chrysler had a hybrid, I'd get one. If my father weren't a mechanic at a Dodge dealer, I'd probably be on the waiting list for a Prius. This one didn't have the on-board navigation system. I probably don't need one, but I'd be tempted to get one anyway.