Toyota LogoAt this point, you’d have to live under a rock or something to be unaware that Toyota has overtaken General Motors as the most popular auto company in the world.

Nothing against the domestic automakers but I think there are some real concrete reasons for their fall, and today, I received the proof that I needed to be certain that Toyota is, without a doubt, the best car company out there.

My wife took her 8-year old Toyota in for service today and she left the dealership with a 2007 Prius as the loaner.

Can you say upgrade?

When I was young, after the Malibu, my parents owned a series of Fords.

First it was a Crown Victoria station wagon and then it was a Bronco II — both in a horribly embarassing shade of metallic brown with, ugh, brown trim…

More embarassing, though, was when my parents would take one of them in for the service. The “rental” from the Ford dealership was always an Escort or something with the dealership’s logo on the doors with the word “LOANER” emblazoned below it.

Talk about humiliating…

The only thing that could have been worse would have been a Ford Festiva.

Later, when I had my own car, I experienced the social stigma of a “loaner” first hand.

My first car was a Volkswagen Jetta and the dealership I bought, errr, leased it from would do just about anything to avoid even offering a loaner to a customer, but after they totally screwed up my exhaust system, they caved-in and gave me the keys to a Golf for a few days.

It wasn’t so bad, but it was still trading down. They had my 1997 Jetta. I had their 1995 Golf. At least it didn’t say “LOANER” anywhere on it.

My experiences with my BMW have been better. Their service department makes the claim that that you’ll always receive a car comparable to the one you’re having service done.

Considering that BMWs are over-priced by a 5-figure number, that’s the way it should be, in my opinion.

The first time I took my car in, I received the keys to a manual transmission 5-Series BMW. I don’t remember the exact model, but aside from being white, it was a pretty nice car. I was impressed.

So much so that I was actually excited to take it in the next time I was due for service just to see what they’d give me (while crossing my fingers that it wouldn’t be white again).

The next time they gave me an automatic Toyota Camry. A Camry is a nice automobile, I guess, and I enjoyed driving it around for a day, but it was no Z3.

Overall, I was disappointed. It was NOT comparable to the car I dropped off.

As a result, I haven’t taken the BMW back to the dealer since…

My current car of choice for driving to work is a Toyota product, but I haven’t had a big enough service done yet to warrant a loaner.

But now that I know that they loan “up”, next time I just might mention that sometimes the brakes sound like crap when the car hasn’t warmed up and that the stock interior neons don’t always light up the way they’re supposed to when I push the button…

I mean, my wife’s car is 8 years old?! She didn’t even buy it at the Toyota dealership where the service is being done and they gave her the wacky looking key to a Prius?! How sweet is that?

Now for my review…

Brian & Stewie in a PriusShe took me for a ride in it tonight. I’d never been in a Prius before but have always wanted one since I first saw Brian driving one on Family Guy.

Yeah, that’s right, an unpaid product placement in a cartoon show made me want one…

On the real car, the first thing I noticed was that the key isn’t a key. You jam this keychain like contraption into a hole like an old Atari cartridge and then hit a power button.

Really, it’s like turning on a computer or something.

I guess, in some ways, it is a computer.

The shifter is just a little knob on the dash. I didn’t actually drive it but that seemed a little strange.
It’s definitely not your typical car.

I mean, I’ve never come across a car or truck that I haven’t been able to jump into and drive immediately but I think that if I were to jump into a Prius, it would take me a few minutes to figure out how to, um, make it go.

The thing is stealthy too. I mean, if you turn off the radio, and the fan, and you’re sitting at a stop light or something, you can’t even tell the car is running.

Really, it’s like it’s all lit up but dead at the same time. At one point, I was sure we’d stalled.

When you’re driving, it’s like you’re in the Jetson’s car or something — the lack of vibration from a real engine is more apparent than I ever would have thought.

On the inside, it’s got this huge video touch screen in the center of the console but it all seemed a little confusing so I didn’t mess with it too much.

My only complaint is that it was tough to figure out how to turn the heat on… There’s a big button on the touchscreen for A/C, but it’s freezing outside and I didn’t see a “Heat” button anywhere… Maybe I’m just an idiot…

In the end, though, even without heat, the Prius gets a big thumbs up from me.

Toyota, as a whole, gets a big thumbs up too.

Now, I realize that many of the experiences that I’ve described say more about the quality of the individual dealerships than the actual car companies but the car companies need to realize that the typical consumer’s only actual contact with the automaker is at the dealership.

In my experience, the Toyota dealership is representing the automaker exactly the way I believe they’d like to be represented. Better than BMW, better than Volkswagen, and way better than Ford.

Now, if only the Prius didn’t cost so much… We’d get one.

3 COMMENTS

  1. We currently own a Ford, and I hate it. I owned one other Ford in my life, and I hated it. However I love every Chevy I have ever owned, and received excellent customer service when they were serviced. The American companies have been brought down by Unions, plain and simple. I do not find Toyota products to be better than American, and their replacement parts are much higher.

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