Looking at a 2013 ES 300h…

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I’m looking at a 2013 model with about 147k miles on it. It looks to be in good condition.

My question: I’m not all that used to driving hybrids, as all my previous cars have been gas. (I did drive a rental Prius for a couple of days many years ago, but don’t remember much about it.) What I notice, and didn’t experience on any other of my cars, is that, when starting off from a full stop, it’s like there’s a momentary lag, then the power kicks in with what feels like a slight (very slight, but noticeable) jolt or shudder. This only happens from a dead stop; if I’m even coasting at about 1 MPH, and accelerate, it’s completely smooth; but if not moving at all, I get that sudden slight shudder or whatever.

Is this typical for a hybrid, or is it something I should be worried about? If this was a gas engine, I’d be concerned about a possible transmission or CV shaft issue, but I don’t know with hybrids. Obviously, I’m going to take it in for a pre-purchase inspection. Are there specific things I should ask them to check for, either in terms of this phenomenon or anything else regarding the 300h of that vintage?
 

Sulu

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That is a great car! I drove a 2015 ES 300h (same model as the one you are considering) for a number of years, trading up from a 2010 Toyota Corolla. Because of the smoothness, quiet and refinement of the hybrid powertrain, I will now only drive electrified vehicles (hybrid or battery electric vehicles). I drove, as a rental, a normal 4-cylinder Camry last fall for a month and could not get used to the relatively rough and unrefined powertrain; the 2022 Camry Hybrid I now drive has a much smoother, quieter and more refined powertrain, and it is absolutely great on fuel.

Compared to my Corolla, the ES Hybrid had much more room inside, effectively the same trunk space (despite the large hybrid battery behind the rear seat), and the same fuel efficiency (despite the much larger size and heavier weight).

I believe that the surge and shudder you feel when accelerating from a full stop is just the gasoline engine kicking in to supplement the electric motor. When the engine is warm, the battery has sufficient charge and the weather is neither too cold nor too cold (so not requiring the heating or air conditioning to be blasting away), it will automatically shut down to save fuel. When accelerating away in that situation, it starts in EV mode only, trying to drive with only the electric motor.

The problem is that EV mode is not very powerful, so that unless you have a very, very light foot, the engine will kick in quite soon to add torque to allow you to accelerate quicker, and the heavier your foot is, the greater the shudder you are likely to feel.

You can confirm that what I described is happening by checking on the energy monitor. Switch to the energy monitor on the multi-information display (between the tachometer and speedometer); it will show a representation of the engine, hybrid battery and driving wheel in a triangular pattern.
  • When stopped at a traffic light and the engine is off, there should be no arrows indicating no power flow.
  • As you accelerate away from the stop, there should be an arrow from the battery to the wheel to indicate that you are driving in EV mode with only battery power to drive the vehicle.
  • As you continue to accelerate -- especially if you have a heavy foot -- you should see an arrow from the engine to the wheel, indicating that the engine has automatically turned on to provide power to drive the wheels (and the switch from EV mode to hybrid mode).
By all means, have it checked by the dealer, but I believe that what you described is just normal operation for an earlier generation of Toyota Hybrid Drive. The newer generation in the hybrid system in the latest generation of the ES Hybrid and Camry Hybrid are much smoother and what shudder there was before when switching between the different drive modes is gone.
 

ssun30

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It's normal to get a slight shudder on cold starts and low battery SOC. I don't have experience with 3rd-gen or older THS so I can't say whether it's normal after the engine has warmed up.