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.