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March 1, 2005 12:05 AM

Broken: Prius shifter

Photo_4huphtur writes:

I recently purchased a 2005 Toyota Prius. The car features "By-Wire" Technology, which is an electronic shifter for Reverse, Neutral and Drive. The technology itself works perfect, except the user experience is broken.

When the lever is pushed up/forward, the car goes in Reverse and when pushed down/backward, the car goes in Drive. It would have been more intuitive to have up/forward for Drive and down/backward for Reverse. Just like a car with manual transmission, to get the car moving, you push up/forward for 1st gear.

I talked to a few other Prius owners and they have experienced the same annoyance with this, but said it takes getting used to after a while.


As a Prius owner of 1 year, I have to say that this drove me crazy for one month and than I promptly got used to it, forgot about it and have been fine ever since. One part of the Prius interface, however, that I have not been able to get used to that I HATE everytime I drive this car is the crap user interface for the navigational system. I finally figured out that the "Map View" btn should actually be called "Route Overview" and the "Route" btn should actually be called "Edit Route" (or just "Overview" and "Edit" for short). If I make the mental replacements of button names when I use the system, it almost becomes vaguely usable.

Posted by: Julie Stanford at March 1, 2005 02:00 AM

Where's Park? And what is B for? Bark?

Posted by: at March 1, 2005 02:18 AM

This doesn't seem all that broken to me. Most automatic transmissions have the following order:





Lower gears...

The Prius just seems to be following the automatic convention.

Posted by: Karl at March 1, 2005 02:36 AM

Reverse in my car (column shift) is away from me, first gear is closest to me. Bit of design change in the years since it was built though (1967)

Posted by: tom at March 1, 2005 06:14 AM

B must be for brake, as in parking brake. I actually think it's intuitive to have down be drive and up be reverse, but that's only because i played flight simulator too much as a kid.

Posted by: sir_flexalot at March 1, 2005 08:38 AM

When I think of moving forward, I don't think of pushing away from me. The gear shift in my automatic makes me pull toward me, so it makes sense. If you are in neutral in an automatic car, you push away from you to go into reverse, and pull towards you to go into drive.

Not broken for me.

Posted by: Jonathan Johnson at March 1, 2005 09:29 AM

Not broken. Every automatic transmission I've ever seen has R ahead of N, and D behind. And B is, I think, for regenerative braking, as in, recharging the batteries while the car is coasting.

Posted by: Jay911 at March 1, 2005 10:23 AM

Not broken for me either, seems to be following the automatic convention of pulling through reverse to reach drive. Also most manual cars that I drive, revers is to the left and up, so I'm used to reverse being away from me. Also if you think about it being a throttle stick, you're pulling down towards you to provide more forward movement, and away from you to provide less, and then reversing. Once againg -- to much flight sim time.

Posted by: Joshua Wood at March 1, 2005 10:24 AM

There are two problems here, one is North America vs. Europe, the other is conventions in manual shifters and automatic transmission shifters.

First, this is an automatic transmission shifter trying to be like a manual shifter.

Second it's rare in N. America for manual transmission shifters to put reverse in the upper left, it's typically the lower right. I understand the former is more common in Europe.

This is likely just a minor accident of the way the shift mechanism is designed, or it could be an attempt to minimize accidentially hitting the shifter and putting the car into gear (like most manual shifters, I would guess takes some effort to engange reverse on this Prius, and it must be done when the car is completely at rest, foot brake on, etc.)

Posted by: Reed at March 1, 2005 01:39 PM

As others pointed out, this mirrors a typical automatic transmission configuration. And since the driver is not engaged in shifting, this is an automatic transmission and should follow that convention, not a manual transmission convention. If it did follow a manual tranmission convention, then it would arguably be broken. As it is, the only thing I see that's broken is the "B" letter instead of "P," which is universally understood in North America to be the resting spot for automatic tranmissions.

Posted by: Steve at March 1, 2005 01:55 PM

Ok, but if it's an automatic transmission, why didn't they make it LOOK like one? It certainly looks to me like a manual transmission with very few gears, and they use a shifting knob (like in a manual) instead of a lever (like in an automatic.)

It might not be "broken" but it's certainly not the best choice. Assuming B is like Park, it should be laid out in a linear slot like:






And then everyone would know how to work it the instant they sat down in the car.

Posted by: James Schend at March 1, 2005 03:31 PM

Toyota wants to be different, probably.

Posted by: fuzzy at March 1, 2005 09:11 PM

The "B" is for engine braking on long hills, I believe.

I didn't have any problem with this. I had some stick-shift car where the reverse was up, not down.

I had a bigger problem with getting into neutral. You have to hold the gearshift to the left for a few seconds to enter neutral -- whereas a quick flick will get you to reverse or drive. This was a big problem the first time I took the Prius to a car wash...

- - - - - - - - - -

Now click my link, dammit.

Posted by: Hudson at March 1, 2005 10:52 PM

Geez, some people are desperate for broken things. So broken that the ubmissions actually aren't.


Posted by: ME at March 1, 2005 11:17 PM

Not broken, it's intuitive for me.

Posted by: dusoft at March 2, 2005 09:54 AM

The position would be intuitive for automatic drivers - IF you were starting from the P position and pulling forward, through R, N and into D.

But they're not. They're starting from a neutral (note small 'n') position, and moving INTO one of R, N or D. It is a bastardization of auto and manual. Neither fish nor fowl. Confusing to both.

Say, it does raise the question though:

Why is there an actual Neutral gear? If you have to shift INTO Neutral, what state is the car in when the shifter is on the big dot?

Posted by: DaveC426913 at March 2, 2005 10:14 AM

Park, maybe.

Posted by: fuzzy at March 2, 2005 06:30 PM

If, as speculated, B IS engine breaking, then the dot would be park. Park, reverse, neutral, drive... since they're mixing manual and automatic. Since B in no way stands for either park or really slow(whatever they call that gear on some vehicles that's for when you're on soft surfaces and don't want to dig yourself in) that would be the most logical arrangement.

Posted by: Superfly at March 2, 2005 07:23 PM

I challenge the existence of a 'park gear' in this setup at all. All the heavy trucks I drive (fire trucks) have no park gear in their automatic transmissions - just reverse, neutral, drive, and optionally lower gears. When you park it, you're expected to put it in neutral and activate the _parking_ brake. The reason heavy trucks don't have park gear is because park gear in a light-duty transmission (like in a car) relies on a locking pin or tab to prevent the gears of the transmission from turning. Heavy trucks are, well, too heavy to have a pin strong enough to not destroy the transmission if something happens. And the reason a hybrid electric doesn't have a park gear is that the transmission is not directly connected to the shifter, and the electric motors don't have the same 'locking' capabilities. I'll bet someone with a Prius or Prius manual will be able to confirm whether or not there is a park gear, what the big dot does, or if B means regenerative braking, or something else...

Posted by: Jay911 at March 2, 2005 08:04 PM

I'm not sure the argument about it emulating an automatic transmission works for me. By all common sense measures, reverse should be to the rear of the car (that's the direction you're going), Park and/or neutral in the center, and Drive/Go should be forward.

As for column shifters, I won't even go there. That's is the strangest concept I've seen since the Honda Element.

If you're going to revolutionize the way a car moves forward, you might as well update the rest of it while you're at it.

Posted by: Danielsan at March 3, 2005 01:38 AM

As the driver of both an old Porsche and a GMC Suburban...both with controls all over the place. I would argue that there aren't real standards for cars. There are a few well loved (and used) conventions...but not standards.

Turning my ignition key on the left of my steering wheel in CA...

Posted by: kitbox at March 3, 2005 01:05 PM

The Prius uses a continuously variable transmission, so there are no lower gears. The "forward vs. back" argument also applies to vehicles with the so-called "Manumatic" transmission... are lower gears obtained by pulling back, or by pushing forward?

But here's a novel thought... how about reading the manual, and knowing your vehicle?

Posted by: Rob Bulnes at March 3, 2005 01:06 PM

Not broken.

The transmission is set up like an automatic, so this configuration was intuitive for me.

Incidentally, "B" is for engine braking, much like "L" on an automatic. Park is not engaged by using the shifter, but rather by pushing a button next to the shifter. This setup is fine if you're driving it on a regular basis, but it gets confusing for valets who aren't familiar with it.

Posted by: H Rees at March 3, 2005 01:42 PM

I don't know what the fuss is about. I like my Prius, the fuel economy is great, the handling is good for a small car and the ride is smooth. You can't put the car in any gear without depressing the brake pedal, and the car beeps when put in reverse, much like a truck when backing up.

And there is no pulling towards you or away from you, it is a vertical shift, up to Reverse and down for Drive.

I have owned dozens of cars, this one is the best so far.

Posted by: Chuck at March 3, 2005 02:02 PM

I don't know why they did the shifter this way, but I'm sure there is an old tradition in vehicular shifters to put reverse on top, neutral in the middle and forward at the bottom.

I drive various misc. vehicles on ariport taxi-ways and those vehicles that are intended only for airport use (not for regular road use) have the same shift pattern. So, I'm guessing some engineer at Toyota carried over the tradition of this shift pattern from industrial vehicles to the Prius. God knows why, it just seemed like a good idea to that particular engineer. I would consider it a design flaw at a high level. Only someone familier with industrial equipment would find this pattern "logical".

So be it. This pattern will become a tradition, like the QWERTY keyboard, the telephone keypad, and other industrial designs created by engineers with no consideration for the general public. It's probably just easier to build. To hell with the user.

Posted by: Carl at March 3, 2005 06:32 PM

Actually, there is no PARK on the "gear shift" joystick. In the Prius, PARK is a completely separate button.

The joystick doesn't "stick" in place, you merely move the joystick to Drive (or reverse) and it registers your choice then jumps back to where it started. In order to know what "gear" you're in, you look at the dashboard.

It's very strange, and obviously the result of putting a "regular car" face on what is not a regular car; this is why I don't let anyone else drive my Prius, especially valets. There's definitely a learning curve.

Posted by: Gene at March 3, 2005 09:50 PM

you all are ninnys "B" is for BRAKE you know the parking BRAKE you put on when you leave the the car so it doesn't roll down a hill

Posted by: DUH at March 6, 2005 06:50 PM

I found this quite intuitive from the day I first test-drove the vehicle. Not sure why; perhaps pushing down to engage a lever for its common use is just natural. It's certainly a more comfortable action. Hold your arm out, hand partially extended as if you’re gripping a lever. Now, move your hand up. Then move it down. Which is easier? The downward motion, partly since it's assisted by gravity.

This is an entirely arbitrary design in the sense that there's no mechanical need for any particular layout. I happen to find it intuitive that the pull-down motion (easiest) engages drive, which is the most common use of a car.

What's less intuitive is the placement of engine braking, but perhaps that's because I live in the Midwest and have no use for it. ;-) I think the need to pull the lever to the left is to make it harder to accidentally engage either reverse or drive. Accidentally engaging engine braking is less dangerous.

And I have to agree that there are very few real standards in car interface design. The placement of brake & accelerator pedals might be about it.

Posted by: Anton at March 7, 2005 12:01 AM

(I wonder how many posters realize that this shifter is on the dashboard, not the floor ...? Not everyone, judging by some comments.)

Well. As far as I'm concerned, if this thing ain't broken, it's bent. Even if you, the owner, get used to it quickly, you shouldn't have to give driving lessons to people who borrow your car.

Every function the design handles could've been handled just as well with an orthodox design, one that doesn't puzzle anyone.

The proof? The 2002 Prius, one of which I own and love. It has the same functions on a more or less standard stem transmission: P R N D B. The only odd bit is that the stem handle pulls down like a slot machine rather than the usual sideways. That's kinda weird, too, but at least you don't need a lesson to use it.

Maybe fuzzy is right and Toyota just wants to be different. :-)

Posted by: Tom at March 7, 2005 01:06 AM

Having Reverse and Drive in the same linear path is poor design period. Regardless of whether it is the standard automatic transmission or not. It introduces human error waaaay too easily. I think a manual transmission is a better design, you have to push the clutch and throw it all the way to the right, and then down to go into reverse... much more difficult to do accidently.

Posted by: sloan at March 8, 2005 05:27 PM

I have the same car. For me the fact that park is a button that says "P" below the power button which you press rather than turning a key was tough to get used to. I've pressed park to start the car by accident. Reverse and drive should be seperated by neutral. What's great is that you can never accidentally pop it into reverse when you are driving forward like you could if you were being dumb with a manual transmission. With all the things different about this car D being down was and R up was not something that I personally noticed as wrong.

Posted by: ned at March 9, 2005 09:50 PM

Before you call us ninnys, please educate yourself. The "B" setting is NOT the parking brake. It is a setting which provides extra regenerative braking... useful when going down long hills. The parking brake ("you know the parking BRAKE you put on when you leave the the car so it doesn't roll down a hill") is a pedal operated by your left foot.

So how does that crow taste?

Posted by: paul at April 2, 2005 04:29 AM

Totally super-broken

Posted by: Ma at May 28, 2005 03:12 PM

Have you taken your medication today ?

Its time to have the AIR IN YOUR HEAD CHANGED

Posted by: Prius One at June 26, 2005 01:51 PM

For One, this arrangement makes little sense, although you would be able to figure it out, transmission functions on a vehicle should be blantantly obvious and/or have a diagram explaining their use nearby (as most Semi's do). And in my experience Ned, while putting a manual that is moving forwards into reverse *is* possible, you're not going to do it by accident.

Posted by: Tyrian at July 13, 2005 10:48 AM

Now I am worried, My new Prius will be here any day and after reading all these posts I wonder if I will br driving a car that idiots have adopted. GEEZZZZZ People READ your manuals understand everything your car does and cannot do. I've read so much BEFORE buying I am sure I will be able to master the shifter. If you can't Read get a bussy to read it to you.

Posted by: BIll at April 7, 2006 02:46 PM

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