Here’s the Toyota Prius paradox: Everything you’ve ever heard about it is true. It’s a green car landmark, but it’s also a threat to our old-fashioned gas-guzzling ways. It blew open the door for a whole generation of hybrids and EVs, but at the expense of our fire-breathing performance cars and gigantic SUVs. It’s both a clear-eyed step in the right direction and a smug reminder of how imperfect everyone who doesn’t drive one is. It’s redefined what economy cars should be, and was instrumental in kicking off the internal combustion engine’s death watch. If you’re looking for a four-wheeled litmus test for the automotive community, look no further than Toyota’s hybrid.
For the better part of 20 years, the Prius has been a mousy-looking econo-hatch — an offensively inoffensive thing that’s worked its way into a seemingly hostile American landscape. For most of that time, Toyota has elected to play it safe — after all, it’s easier to sell radical technology if it’s in a familiar package. And yet it’s still managed to be pegged as the stereotypical car of “Lib-rulls” everywhere, was all but named public enemy No. 1 on Top Gear, and inspired hundreds of diesel pickup owners to emblazon “Prius Repellent” across the back of their coal-rolling trucks.
That’s pretty heavy stuff for any entry-level car, regardless of what’s under the hood. So in a move that should embolden Prius lovers and annoy the haters to no end, the new-for-2016 Prius is loud and proud. Compared to the Prii that came before it, this one’s a flying middle finger to the coal rollers out there. Don’t like the most popular hybrid in America? Deal with it. Nobody asked you anyway.
And — shocked as we are to say it — we love it for this.
The Prius offers a driving experience different from anything else in its price point. It’s comfortable and well-built too. But most importantly, it revels in its otherness in a way that most modern cars (especially Toyotas) wouldn’t dare to do. The Prius looks, feels, and drives differently than virtually anything else out there, and Toyota wants you to know that the moment you lay eyes on it. After a week with a Plus Four model, we came away with a whole new level of respect for it.