2016 Prius: Toyota's Flawed Crown Jewel

As I approached the grumpy face and flat ass of the new Prius, I had no idea what to expect. Toyota PR had gone over the how they wanted to make the Prius an engaging car to drive with revised suspension, design language from the GT86 and a power mode. Did Toyota learn that you can only get so many buyers with a boring appliance, or were they just making a racket so the enthusiast press might look twice?
Just sitting in the Prius reveals several issues. The flat bill spoiler in the rear window cuts visibility in half and previous generations’ dumb center screen with speed and other data is still there. The placement of buttons and switches almost under the curved center stack is just horrible ergonomic design. Lastly, they have a dedicated wireless charging space in between the seats by the cupholders. Now, if you have one of the very few [actually several, just not iPhones – Ed] smartphones that has this type of charging, that is a really cool feature! For the rest of us? It’s nothing but wasted space, space that would have been better served by more cupholders or storage.
When getting ready to drive, one finds that the car is actually really set up nicely for all sorts of drivers. It has several driving modes, comfortable seats, and a wheel that actually feels ripped out of a Lexus. Or maybe rather, Lexus ripped it out of here. However, when starting the new Prius, one still has to get out of the mindset that on means loud. Every time I drive an EV, I still have to look at the dash closely to make sure I’m actually on and not just in an accessory mode.

You see that flat bit on the end? The spoiler? It cuts your rear visibility in half.

When the time came to set off around the small route that the OEMs had decided on, I was chatting with the man from Toyota about how I literally had no expectations for the car, good or bad. I borrowed a line from our favorite Mr. Regular and claimed that the past Priuses (Prius’? Priusii?) were objects doing perfect impressions of a car. It was a car shaped appliance. No one ever loved their Prius. They might have loved owning one, or loved what not using as much gas did. But no one really loved it. No one who drove one really boasted about it. No one wanted to be a Prius person, and those that did didn’t realize what a tool it made them.

The Toyota man assured me I would enjoy this one. Before I flipped it into drive, he tapped something called Power Mode. I expected to find a bit more responsive throttle and maybe poorer fuel economy. Instead, I found something I’d only expected from the hybrid supercars on the market. Toyota had done it. They found the way to make the Prius fun. Power Mode sharpened the throttle, giving well, more power. It was fantastic.
The roads around the Ghost of the Astrodome aren’t fantastic, but where some other cars were unsettled by the bumps, the Prius was composed and almost sporty.
So what we have is a new Prius which handles amazingly, is actually engaging to drive, has an amazing infotainment screen, that you can get it with the latest battery tech, all for less than thirty grand.
The Prius is finally a car for everyone, not just the fuel conscious family. An enthusiast can have one for a daily driver and not be miserable. There are still plenty of eco friendly modes, but you actually can have a fun time with it. But, and this is a big but, it’s still not perfect. The car is too squinty: pinched angles all over the place. The lines seem to be there only to create angles for angles’ sake, or maybe just to go against the humpback whale design of the previous generation. The interior is nice, with good feeling leather and a great center screen, but laid out in the worst way. I don’t think they showed the car to real humans once. That and for a car that is also about safety, the rear visibility is absolutely criminal.
Even after all that, I don’t think a car has ever surprised me more. I can’t wait to drive one with some slight modifications.

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  1. Hatchtopia Avatar

    I just can’t get over how catastrophically ugly this car is. Just can’t.

    1. Patrick Hoffstetter Avatar

      It’s really bad. The rear visibility is shockingly bad.

    2. ol shel Avatar
      ol shel

      You can’t see the styling when you’re driving it.
      It’s the technique I use with my Element.

      1. dukeisduke Avatar

        It’s like a ’61 Plymouth, only worse.

      2. Harry Callahan Avatar
        Harry Callahan

        …works with wives too.

  2. nanoop Avatar

    That spoiler was there since 2nd gen liftbacks. That spoiler in the rear view on those was unusual since I don’t follow aftermarket tack-on trends, but irrelevant. This certainly varies with your driving position, in any case it wasn’t blocking that car or cyclist behind you. The lower window seemed good for parallel parking, seeing alien bumpers. (I only drove it for two hours on the autobahn, and I could spot the Audis that came flying to me early enough). Mind you, this paragraph is about 2nd gen. liftbacks.
    On the internet, it’s usually people with good eyes who deem the center speedo a “stupid” thing, but some say in real life that it’s actually convenient to drive without reading glasses: Focusing oo to 3ft is less an exercise for aged eyes than focusing down to 2ft. Also, the angular sweep from straight ahead/horizon->speedo isn’t drastically larger, if at all. But this is moot to discuss, if you don’t like them you don’t like them, just a hint that “stupid” is not the full story. (Some folks claim that this is done to safe money, since LHD and RHD dashes can have the same part number, but they usually are not 100% symmetrical anyway).

  3. tonyola Avatar

    So what is the old yellow car in the window in the first photo?

    1. dukeisduke Avatar

      Good question. Where did this take place, anyway?

      1. LEROOOY Avatar

        Houston Auto Show! They had a bunch of hot-rod-types lined up in the lobby outside of the main hall.

  4. Sjalabais Avatar

    Doubtless a good development to let create a Prius that lets autobloggers unpack hyperbole. I applaud that. But…seriously, which enthusiast is going to settle on a Prius, and particularly such an ungainly one? I can’t point to one angle or detail that doesn’t look wrong here. How did they do that? And how does that not impact sales? In the end, the Prius just makes me doubt humanity. Enthusiastically.

    1. Patrick Hoffstetter Avatar

      So, the way you and I have to look at the Prius is like this: The GT-86 and the new Supra wouldn’t exist without these cars. Toyota’s motorsport arm? Not happening.

  5. dukeisduke Avatar

    Holy shit that thing is ugly. It’s so ugly, someone should go to prison over it. Look for a crash restyling program, like what happened after the 2012 Honda Civic was introduced.

    1. Vairship Avatar

      “Look for a crash restyling”. I recommend 30mph minimum.

      1. Monkey10is Avatar

        I recommend 30mph minimum, into a Yaris and an Auris; all of them could only be improved by the impact.

  6. dukeisduke Avatar

    The front end and rear end both look like it was driven into a concrete wall. The sales of it will tank, and Toyota will (initially) blame it on low gas prices. But make no mistake, the styling will cause buyers to reject it in droves. Maybe this is the shot in the arm that the Chevy Volt needed.

    1. Patrick Hoffstetter Avatar

      It’s tracking to be more popular than the last generation so far. I don’t think the average Prius buyer really will hate the styling.

  7. ol shel Avatar
    ol shel

    Floating roof lines are the new LED running lights.
    One does it and every brand rushes to copy.

    1. dukeisduke Avatar

      I’m already tired of floating roofs. At least this thing doesn’t have shiny bits highlighting it, like the new Maxima.

  8. wunno sev Avatar
    wunno sev

    i know Prius people. they love their cars because they’re efficient, reliable, and sort of technologically marvelous. it’s not the same kind of love i have for the quirky old (and objectively bad) cars i’ve owned, but a car doesn’t have to be bad to be loved for what it is.
    i can see myself rocking a slammed second-gen prius some day, when they make me give up my clutch pedal. why not? it’ll look cool.

    1. salguod Avatar

      First, that’s a 3rd Gen. 😀 Second, it looks good, but it’s slow, buzzy and has a border line dangerous lack of steering feel. I’ve got a 2007 Touring that my wife drives and I hate it. It’s bullet proof in terms of reliability and 45 MPG is nice, but man I hate driving it.

      1. wunno sev Avatar
        wunno sev

        god DAMMIT you’re right! everyone forgets the Original Mustache Prius. this is obviously a third-gen.
        you’re also right that i don’t want one. i drove a third-gen round-trip from NYC to Michigan and wasn’t a huge fan. i was lying when i said i could see myself driving one – they’re straight-up bad to drive.

  9. Moparmann Avatar

    Excuse me, but WHY is it necessary to have a spoiler on a Prius?!? The shape is already weird enough to give the driver that “smug” feeling that they are driving a noticeable “save the planet” vehicle; it couldn’t possibly contribute to the performance envelope (downforce? Prius? HA!) Surely someone, somewhere can answer this, preferbaly with a straight face, and tongue not firmly inserted into cheek!! 🙂

    1. AlexG55 Avatar

      To reduce drag for more fuel efficiency.

    2. Maymar Avatar
  10. Maymar Avatar

    I’ve really only driven one Prius, several years ago, with the … Touring pack? Whatever it was, it had nicer wheels, and I want to say they firmed the suspension a bit, and it really wasn’t awful. I mean, I wasn’t itching to go out and buy one, but it was perfectly tolerable (a little guless, but fine otherwise), and for the sake of being a practical hatchback that gets great fuel economy and lasts forever, it really doesn’t seem to have earned all the ire it’s earned from “car guys.” Now, the basic Corolla I drove the same day, that was genuinely awful.
    Sadly, this one’s gotten pretty hideous. I’m sure it’d still be a decent commuter, something sensible to park alongside an old Alfa or something, but maybe just park it in dark garages always.

  11. Harry Callahan Avatar
    Harry Callahan

    Toyota designers need new glasses. Apparently they can’t see the damage they have wrought.

  12. Roody Avatar

    I don’t think there’s a car design in recent memory that’s as universally hated as much as that of this new Prius. Maybe the love for the F-Type’s design can rival the hate for the Prius…but just maybe

  13. Carol Ludlum Collier Avatar
    Carol Ludlum Collier

    I just called the dealer and told him, no, I will not buy this car. I can’t see out of the rear window and it is unattractive. I test drove it twice. disappointed in Toyota. It does handle nicely, but I can’t get over the dare I say dangerous limitation of not being able to see out the rear window.

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