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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