You might say it's an Internet dream come true. The 2004 Toyota Prius is not only bigger than the first model of the hybrid gas/electric car; it can stay on the road longer because it gets better mileage. While the first Prius was rated at 52/45 (city/highway), the new model has an impressive 60/51-mileage rating.

It's fuel economy improvement notwithstanding,

I would not have bought the newer one for this trip if my wife had been willing to part with her 2003 Prius. But the car that I bought to reduce our contribution to Dallas pollution has so charmed my wife that she won't let it out of her hands for a day, let alone a month.

So when chance made one available at Beaver Toyota in Santa Fe, I bought it. No quibbling. No dickering. For me, it's a luxury car. I paid the full sticker price, about $26,000, to get one with all the bells and whistles: in addition to power assisted everything, an upgraded stereo system with 5-CD changer, ABS brakes, stability control, and side curtain airbags, I also got the full voice activated navigation system and Bluetooth communication for the cell phone. It's a geek dream.

Sadly, most readers won't be able to duplicate my experience. When I went to see one in Dallas none were available to see. And I was told the wait was at least 8 months. When I saw one on the floor at Beaver Toyota I quickly learned that the new car had more power, smoother acceleration, and a good deal more interior room. It also had the split fold down rear seats that will make our cat happy. I also learned that the price was virtually unchanged from the earlier model, so you can buy the basic car for just over $20,000 or you can get fancy and spend $26,000.

Have I gotten 60 miles to the gallon? Not yet. It has, however, gotten 43 miles to the gallon on the windy high speed drive from Santa Fe to Dallas and 47 miles to the gallon on the back roads between Dallas and Austin. That's better than double the mileage of the 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee it replaces.

As I see it, the Prius cuts fuel consumption enough that each gallon of regular gasoline is now delivering a savings about equal to the 96-cent a share dividend paid by Exxon Mobil. If I drive 10,000 miles a year my fuel "dividend" will be the equivalent of owning about 300 shares of Exxon Mobil , which would cost me more than $12,000. That makes the Prius look like a really good deal--- one that may improve still more if gasoline prices hit $3 a gallon, as some expect this summer.

Living Lite, however, isn't about economy alone. If you want cheap transportation, period, the proven way to do it is to own an old car. You won't suffer the depreciation of new cars and, if the car is old enough, you won't have to insure the car for collision. Such economies dwarf any saving you can achieve through fuel economy. Driving a Prius allows me to achieve great fuel economy and environmental cleanliness while driving one of the smoothest, quietest, and most technologically advanced cars in production today. There's very high psychic income from that.

The 2004 Prius also compares rather nicely to the 2004 BMW R1150RT, the model that replaced my 1996 R1100RT. The motorcycle has a higher top speed and will get to it faster than you can say "sudden death", but the Prius will do over 100, carries twice as many people, far more luggage, and doesn't require a special leather wardrobe. The Prius may help me live longer, a goal my wife applauds.

And that's what Living Lite is about. Not just saving money for the sake of saving money. It's about making choices that enhance your life, choices that feel as good as stock dividend. Or better.

Send me your ideas and suggestions. I'm listening.

On the web:

Sunday, April 13, 2003: Steering Toward Hybrids

Tuesday, April 15, 2003: My Own Energy Policy Could Be The Answer