Jo'burg to Cape Town ... on a tank and a jerrycan

To the uninitiated, the Toyota Prius is a hybrid vehicle, the only such one on sale in South Africa. It combines a 1,5-litre petrol engine with an electric motor, connected to a battery. Toyota has made great claims about its fuel economy, so we figured we would drive it from Jo’burg to Cape Town, assisted by the drop towards sea level, and give it every chance. Could it do it on one tank?

At the start it’s 1 422km to go. Although “slow lane” in Jo’burg is a misnomer, today it wasn’t. Hyper-milers in the United States claim 88kph to be the Prius’s magical cruise speed and I wasn’t going to budge for anyone. To get to Cape Town on one tank I was going to need to return 3,2 litres/100km from the 45-litre tank, roughly the same as the magical 70 miles per gallon hyper-milers like to aim for. By the time I’d cleared Jo’burg’s city limits I was averaging five litres/100km, on par with the manufacturer’s claims but still not good enough.

It’s now 1 000km to go. Pulling into Bloemfontein for the overnight stop, the figure had dropped to 3,8 litres/100km after a six-hour trip, with the fuel display miraculously still on full. But starting up the next day in the early morning immediately put average consumption up to four litres/100km, also bumping the fuel display off full. Cold weather starts are tough in any car, but even more so with the Prius’s high-tech battery and electric motor. It would take several hours to claw back the 0,2 litres/100km.

It’s now 400km to go. For the rest of the journey, all I could do was keep up my concentration and let the Prius work its magic. After 1 000km, with three bars of fuel left on the display, this return by itself should be cause for celebration, but not today. We started hitting road works and in a Prius that meant “hallelujah”. Long regenerative run-ins to the traffic stops; a minute or two stationary, with the engine switched off automatically; followed by steady progress as the traffic concertinaed back on its way is ideal for the Prius’s economy. Without these enforced stops, the Prius would never have been able to maintain its 3,8 litres/100km.

Then the countdown began: two bars left—290km to go—one bar left—194km to go. I figured I’d come up 100km short of Cape Town, but I had two reasons for hope. The tank could be fuller than I expected and I was closing in on the Hex River Valley.

Table topping on to the first down rush—the Hex River Valley Grand Prix began. I put the Prius into sport mode, which meant putting my chair upright, and I vowed not to touch the brake for anything. I needed to use every inch of these downhills.

I turned in late, cut across lanes, and hit apexes with the squealing and squirming Prius protesting all the way. For the first time on the journey the battery was completely full with glorious neon green bars.

It’s now 108km to go. I zinged all the way to Worcester without using a drip of unnecessary fuel. But with the Huguenot Tunnel in my sights and the battery almost empty, the final bar fell off the fuel display. Enduring the panic and desperation of that tunnel, the mighty Prius somehow made it to the other side and with the toll plaza and Table Mountain in my sights, the Prius had given all it had to give.

After 19 hours of driving, with 60km to go, the Prius was done. We did 1 362km at 3,9 litres/100km.
Good thing I had a five-litre jerrycan with me just in case.

There you have it: Toyota Prius from Jo’burg to Cape Town on a tank and a jerrycan—fact.

Passing time
How to pass the time on your 19-hour journey — why not keep score?

  • Vehicles the Prius passed:24

  • Vehicles passing the Prius: 270

  • Speed traps avoided: 9

  • Road kills spotted: 4

Cheap ride
Is “hyper-miling” from Jo’burg to Cape Town the cheapest way to reach your destination?

  • Greyhound bus: R490

  • Prius (fuel and tolls): R642

  • Average mid-week flight: R892

  • Premier Class train: R1 990

  • Blue Train (off season): R9 285


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