The Toyota Prius Is the Best Apocalypse Vehicle

Range, capability, and durability make a car we typically don't think about into the perfect solution.

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Chris Visions

Blame it on Mad Max. Or The Road. Or The Walking Dead. I’ve spent some time mulling over the idea of what makes the best apocalypse vehicle. I’ve come to the conclusion that good end-of-civilization transport needs three things: range, capability, and durability. Naturally, that led me to the usual suspects, from Jeep Wranglers and Mercedes-Benz G-Wagons to four-wheel drive, Cummins-powered pickups and the Chevrolet Suburban with its massive, 40-gallon fuel tank. Now, I’m not so sure any of those are the right fit. After a few days of social distancing, I’m starting to think the lowly Toyota Prius is the world’s best apocalypse vehicle.

Maybe this signals cabin fever setting in. Or maybe it’s brilliant. Either way, let’s run down the checklist, starting with range. The current Prius has an 11.3-gallon fuel capacity. At the EPA-rated 50 mpg highway, the thing can cover an astonishing 565 miles on a single tank of gasoline. If hunkering down has taught us anything, the end times are less about staving off roving marauders, than managing resources. My 2003 Suburban 2500 couldn’t make that distance if it tried, all while burning nearly four-times the fuel. No matter how you shake it, more from less is the golden rule here. The lowly Prius dominates the range category.

Alright, fine. What about capability? Can the Prius ford a river? Can it climb a craggy mountain? No, of course not. But if you find yourself in a vehicle doing either of those things in the end times, you’re closer to death than you realize. A few years ago, I lived out of a 2003 Dodge Ram with my wife and daughter for 11 months. When your vehicle is your everything, when it holds all of your worldly belongings and your family, the risk versus reward tables suddenly start looking very different. I’d spent thousands of dollars preparing the truck for anything. Burly 35-inch tires. An ARB locker. A Warn winch that could dangle the 12,000-lb truck from its nose if it needed to, all in hopes of taking us as far off the beaten path as possible. But when we found ourselves staring at a swollen river or a swampy two-track hours from anyone, we inevitably found a safer route.

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Zach Bowman

And, a Prius is considerably more capable than any of us realize. Anyone who’s watched Gambler 500 participants bounce Corollas along challenging forest roads, knows that the nut behind the wheel trumps limitations of the vehicle beneath you.

Awhile back, I found myself wandering around Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. The country is more of a melting pot than anywhere else on the planet, serving as the estuary between Asia and Russia. Its streets are lined with second-hand vehicles of every flavor. Bland left-hand-drive South Korean sedans rub elbows with discarded right-hand drive Land Cruisers and Japanese hatchbacks. American pickups lumber alongside them all. Road rules are a suggestion, in part because the pavement ends the second you leave the capital. Getting from one place to another is less an exercise in where you should go and more a lesson in where your vehicle is physically capable of traveling. The most common vehicle? Prius hatchbacks on a two-inch lift and snow tires.

When I asked our fixer why there were so many lifted hybrids around, he grinned. “In Mongolia, you need a good vehicle. If you don’t have a good vehicle, you lift what you have.” Later, when the Gobi flooded with spring rain, I watched as a Prius bounded through the mud alongside our Land Cruiser. Capable indeed.

That brings us to durability. Key “Prius” into your classifieds site of choice, and you’ll see piles of second-generation cars with well over 200,000 miles on the clock. Most of them owned by people who look at maintenance as a vague suggestion. Or, gaze upon the thousands of early Prius models trudging through their second or third lives as New York taxis. These things are unkillable. And, if you do wind up with an issue, parts are ubiquitous. Wander into your local abandoned parts store and stroll out with enough wheel bearings to last you through the nuclear winter.

That’s the trifecta: range, capability, and durability. That’s why the Toyota Prius is the best apocalypse vehicle of all time.

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