“The Chuckanut is a stretch of road that demands a cautious, easy on the gas pedal, driving style – just as a Hybrid does!”
Chuckanut Drive is a winding, scenic, mostly coastal and historic driving route in Washington State.
Overlooking Samish Bay and offering spectacular views of the San Juan Islands, this narrow cliff face road was, up until 1931, a treacherous section of the old Pacific Highway. It was the first road link between Vancouver and US cities as far south as San Diego, California.
My recent ride along the Chuckanut was in a Toyota Prius v (v for versatility). It’s a relatively new addition to the Prius family, which now includes a smaller Prius C and a plug-in hybrid version called Prius PHV, in addition to the original Prius (a 5-door hatchback).
Before I get to the ride, some background facts on the car, which will demonstrate why it was a good choice for the drive.
The wagon-like body of Prius v is a little longer and taller than regular Prius. There’s more room for rear passengers and there’s an impressive 58 per cent increase in rear cargo space. Its 60/40 split rear seats not only fold-flat, they can also slide forward on a rail system and the seatbacks can recline.
Under the hood, Toyota’s latest Hybrid Synergy Drive system provides propulsion. The gas engine is now a belt-less 1.8-litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder. On the electric side of the hybrid equation, the inverter, motor and transaxle are smaller and lighter than the previous generation. A nickel-metal hydride battery pack stores the electrical energy. Competitive hybrid drive systems now use lithium-ion battery technology, but this battery has proven to be very reliable.
A downside to being a bigger Prius, the V is also a little heavier, which impacts fuel consumption, but not by much. Using the revised (2015) fuel consumption rating method it gets 5.3 L/100km in the city and 5.8 L/100km on the highway. I averaged 5.5 L/100km during my time in the Prius v, which is right in the ballpark.
In addition to a standard driving mode, the Prius v offers three additional driving modes that are selected by pressing a switch on the centre console. EV is a pure-electric mode, but its range is limited (about 1.5 km) and it only operates at speeds up to 40 km/hour.
In ECO mode fuel consumption is reduced by limiting throttle openings and restricting air conditioning use. In Power mode the Hybrid Drive System gives everything it can muster and this mode automatically switches on when you stomp on the gas pedal.
The Chuckanut is a stretch of road that demands a cautious, easy on the gas pedal, driving style – just as a Hybrid does! Scenic splendour is a constant distraction on your right (heading south), but there’s a steep 200 feet drop in some stretches, an unforgiving rock face on the left and lots of sharp bends. There are numerous pull-off locations at viewing spots. Larrabee State Park is certainly worth a visit and good place for a hike or a beach-side picnic.
South of Colony Creek Bridge the Chuckanut runs through the flat fertile planes of the Skagit Valley. It’s a dramatic change in landscape, the sky is suddenly bigger and the road ahead is long and straight as far you can see. For an interesting side trip take the Bow Hill Road into the charming little village of Bow-Edison and, further on, this road also takes you to Samish Island.
A recommended stop in Edison is the Breadfarm, where you can buy a hearty Chuckanut Multigrain Loaf. This family run business makes baked goods from scratch and in small batches using old fashioned techniques and organic ingredients. The fresh baked smells are intoxicating and the taste … divine! An interesting historical footnote, at one time (late 19th century) Edison was a community of Utopian Socialists known as the Equality Colony.
Not sure if I’ll ever get completely comfortable with the central instrument panel in a Prius. A switch button on the dash that changed kilometres to miles, however, was brilliantly simple and perfect for this trip. My biggest beef with Prius v was cabin road noise at high speeds. Depending on the highway surface it can be so loud that it’s hard to converse with a front passenger.
Bigger and better, the Prius v offers the functionality and versatility of a wagon, for a relatively small price premium. Toyota’s tried and trusted Hybrid Synergy Drive system offers outstanding fuel economy and surprisingly good power, when needed.
The Specs – 2014 Toyota Prius v
Price: $27,480 to $37,175
Power: 1.8L I4 & 60 kw motor, 134 horsepower (combined).
Transmission: CVT automatic
Fuel consumption: 4.3/4.8 L/100 km (city/highway)