This Is How To Properly Drive Your Parents Hybrid
Fact: The Lexus ES 300h is supposed to be one of the more fuel efficient hybrids in the luxury segment. There's also a good chance that your parents have one.
Fact: Today is Earth Day.
Fact: High performance driving involves maintaining your momentum during corners.
Theory: Driving your parent's Hybrid really aggressively should result in fuel economy that's at least as good as driving normally.
A quick background on the car is in order. On the surface, the ES 300h is almost exactly the same as a regular Lexus ES 350. It's got all the same bells and whistles. The primary difference is that it's powered by a 2.5L four-cylinder, which is then augmented by a pair of electric motors that recharge themselves while you're coasting or braking. To a large extent, the car automatically hypermiles for you, often turning the engine off and coasting when you're not accelerating, basically giving you free mileage at 40 mph.
Driving style: High Performance
I put the car in sport mode and floored it. The electric motors added a surprisingly nice kick of torque in the lower RPM range, making a dash to 60 mph feel faster than the observed 8.59 seconds. I hit the back roads. Narrow streets with 40 mph limits filled with corners with a "suggested" speed of 15 mph were exactly right to test the theory.
I had plenty of fun, heard the tires scream often, rarely touched the brakes, and observed right at 35 mpg.
Driving Style: Normal
I drove the same loop as before, but accelerated normally, keeping up with the flow of traffic. I braked for corners as one normally would when driving around in a mid-level luxury car.
This driving style really made it feel like I was driving a hybrid. To aid in the energy recovery system, the brake pedal is essentially an electronic lever that you operate with your foot. Whereas I didn't notice it when I was having fun with the corners, when I was driving normally, it felt distinctly inconsistent and non-sporty.
Driving style: Hypermiling
I accelerated as slowly as possible, so that tachometer needle barely climbed past the "Eco" level. I coasted whenever possible, and allowed the car to slow itself well before corners.
People hated me. I thought I was going to get run over by traffic, and at one point felt like Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park, when he's yelling "Must go faster!" to avoid being eaten by a Tyrannosaurus. This wasn't the car's fault, but rather the rest of the drivers with whom I shared the road. I watched a Prius accelerate off into the distance. Still, I hit 41.5 mpg, almost five percent better than even Lexus claims you should be able to get.
Though no one's going to mistake the car for a Lotus, you can still have some fun in it while improving your fuel economy. It sounds weird at first, sure, but it works for the same reason an underpowered-yet-lightweight Miata is a good track car: physics. Just as the secret to a good lap time isn't how fast you go in the straights, but how little you have to slow down in the corners, fuel economy is all about maintaining your momentum as much as possible so you need less energy after a turn. When you apply this principle to a road-oriented hybrid, it works.
The bottom line is that, unless you take hypermiling to the extreme on a regular basis, you'll save more fuel while driving a hybrid if you actually try to have fun with it rather than just trying to keep the tachometer needle as low as possible.