Making this week easier for late-night talk show hosts everywhere, Al Gore III, the son of former Vice President Al Gore, was arrested on Wednesday after police discovered marijuana and prescription drugs in his car. Gore III had been pulled over on the San Diego Freeway for speeding at about 100 mph in his Toyota Prius. Wait a second— can a Prius really go 100 miles per hour?
Yes, but just. Speed tests have confirmed that a new Prius can top out between 100 mph and 105 mph. That’s not too speedy when compared with Toyota’s conventional sedans—some Corollas can get up to 124 mph, and Camrys can reach 130 mph. But if you buy your car in the United States, you’re unlikely to see much of a difference. That’s because most American cars are equipped with speed governor mechanisms, which make sure, for liability reasons, that a car won’t go too fast for its tires.
In the United States, both the Corolla and the Prius are governor-limited to 112 mph (even though the Prius can’t go quite that fast). Meanwhile, the Toyota Camry is limited to 100 mph and the Hybrid Camry 117 mph.
The success of the small, underpowered Prius might lead consumers to believe that hybrid vehicles are slower than their conventional cousins. Toyota designed the Prius to maximize its fuel efficiency, which meant giving it less horsepower than a conventional car. (In general, less horsepower means less speed and less gas consumption.) Now that the Prius brand has become synonymous with hybrid vehicles, it’s easy to assume that the other hybrid cars share its lack of mojo.
But not all hybrids are tuned for fuel efficiency. The two components of a hybrid—a (usually small) engine and an electric motor—can work together in different ways depending on the design of the vehicle, and they can combine to create as much horsepower as a conventional vehicle. A regular, four-cylinder conventional Toyota Camry has 158 horsepower; the Hybrid Camry, which also has a four-cylinder engine, has 187 horsepower. The new Lexus hybrid sedan can reach up to 131 mph and can go from 0 mph to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds—that’s faster than some Porsches.
Explainer thanks Bradley Berman, the editor of HybridCars.com, and Robert Sinclair Jr., with AAA New York.