The 2021 Prius Prime Is The Driving Equivalent Of Some Kid Kicking Your Seat At The Movies

Illustration for article titled The 2021 Prius Prime Is The Driving Equivalent Of Some Kid Kicking Your Seat At The Movies
Photo: Jason Torchinsky
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A few years back I reviewed the Toyota Prius Prime and overall I found it to be a technically impressive car. It accomplished its main job, getting excellent fuel economy, remarkably well. I recently spent a week in one to see what else I could get out of it. You know what? I did get something! That something was really fucking annoyed.

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Look, the Prius Prime is a good, well-engineered car, no question. But so many of the little decisions made when it comes to actually driving and using the thing just seem to have been designed to find the fussiest, most irritating way to do whatever it’s supposed to do.

These are details, yes, but they’re the kinds of details that you, as an owner of this car, would interact with over and over again. Maybe you’d eventually get used to them. Or maybe they’d drive you to the brink of madness, as they did for me, after a week.

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Let’s just go through some of these details, because I need to get this off my chest.

This Fucking Shifter

Illustration for article titled The 2021 Prius Prime Is The Driving Equivalent Of Some Kid Kicking Your Seat At The Movies
Photo: Jason Torchinsky

The Prius Prime’s shifter is stupid. It seems to have been designed to incorporate some non-traditional motions and methods of operation just to feel, somehow, different, I suppose.

Look at the markings on the shifter there. They’re a little confusing, yeah? All those snaky arrows and dots are there to let you know that to shift, you have to make these right-angle motions to go into R or D, or across to N, or straight down to B (for engine braking mode). The shifter self-centers after you move it into position, so the shifter doesn’t provide any visual or touch-based information about what gear you’re in, which is why you have to rely on this little display on the instrument cluster:

Illustration for article titled The 2021 Prius Prime Is The Driving Equivalent Of Some Kid Kicking Your Seat At The Movies
Photo: Jason Torchinsky
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Now, here’s the question: why? A little normal linear shifter that actually moved into PRND and B positions would do the job just as well, even better because you could look at it and see what gear you’re in, or feel what gear with your hand.

The springy little shifter with its fussy right-angle motions and separate Park button simply never feels natural or easy or right. It’s a little, needless ass-pain.

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These Fucking Instruments

Illustration for article titled The 2021 Prius Prime Is The Driving Equivalent Of Some Kid Kicking Your Seat At The Movies
Photo: Jason Torchinsky
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The Prius Prime has been around since, what, 2017? It’s time to update those instrument displays, Toyotians. The design looks really, really dated, and everything feels too small and needlessly complicated. It’s genuinely hard to get good information at a glance from this mess.

Why is it two tiny screens, side by side, and then some old-school VFD displays that look like they came off a stairmaster on the right? Why isn’t this one wide display? Why are all the fonts so dorky, and why does the speedo look like the stopwatch on the $7 smartwatch I got from Wish.com?

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In short, why does all of this suck so much? These are LCD screens, it’s just software, Toyota could redesign this into something much better any time they want—what’s stopping them?

I mean, shit, look how clean and elegant the new F-150's digital dash is:

Illustration for article titled The 2021 Prius Prime Is The Driving Equivalent Of Some Kid Kicking Your Seat At The Movies
Screenshot: Ford
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Isn’t the Prius the kind of tech-savvy car that shouldn’t be getting its digital-instrument ass whipped by a Neandertal F-150? Jeezis, Toyota. Wake up.

This Fucking Center Screen

Illustration for article titled The 2021 Prius Prime Is The Driving Equivalent Of Some Kid Kicking Your Seat At The Movies
Photo: Jason Torchinsky
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I guess it’s cool that the Prime has a portrait-oriented center-stack screen, but it’s not like the uncommon orientation or the real estate of that screen is put to particularly good use.

It’s got both a Home and a Menu button which seem to be two ways of saying the same basic thing, though there is a difference, but it’s still needlessly confusing. The Menu button brings up this floral-shaped mess:

Illustration for article titled The 2021 Prius Prime Is The Driving Equivalent Of Some Kid Kicking Your Seat At The Movies
Photo: Jason Torchinsky
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Also, nothing ever seemed as easy to get to as I’d want, and even the controls that Toyota (correctly) determined should be physical and always available (volume and temperature) are bafflingly executed as flat, zero-feedback slick little panels that you still have to take your eyes off the road to find and use:

Illustration for article titled The 2021 Prius Prime Is The Driving Equivalent Of Some Kid Kicking Your Seat At The Movies
Photo: Jason Torchinsky
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Why couldn’t those have been knobs you can grab and feel? They’re also an ass-pain to use, once you do find them. Fuck those slick little touchpads.

Oh, and yes, you do have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, but they take up about a third of the screen since it’s apparently very important that you get that little Prius on the horizon up top and you need room for all of those HVAC controls that are buried two or three menus deep.

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Illustration for article titled The 2021 Prius Prime Is The Driving Equivalent Of Some Kid Kicking Your Seat At The Movies
Photo: Jason Torchinsky

Maybe some Toyota PR person will reach out to tell me there’s quicker ways to get to this stuff, and I’m sure there probably is. But I never felt that any of these basic car controls were easy enough to get ahold of, and I can’t think of any good reason why.

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The Fucking Beeping. Oh God, The Beeping

I’ve never driven a car that beeped at me as much as the Prius Prime. The lane-keeping assist seemed as sensitive as your weird friend on the day after a poorly-chosen haircut experiment and beeped irregularly but incessantly as I drove, and I’m pretty fucking sure I wasn’t weaving all over the road like a drunk snake.

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Then there’s the reverse beep. The Prius Prime, when in reverse gear, doesn’t just beep outside the car, but inside, too, to remind you that you’re in reverse, because, remember, the stupid shifter design can’t give you any indication of what gear it’s in.

It’s grating. You never realize how much time you spend in reverse, say, as you try to back out of a spot in a busy parking lot, but some non-stop beeping will solve that for you. You want to install a SNOOZE button on the dash to shut it up, and then hit it with a rock, again and again.

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The Fucking Rear Window

Illustration for article titled The 2021 Prius Prime Is The Driving Equivalent Of Some Kid Kicking Your Seat At The Movies
Photo: Jason Torchinsky
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Just in case you ever get used to all the beeping in reverse, Toyota has a backup plan to keep you annoyed when backing up: The big spoiler that divides the rear window right in the fucking middle.

It’s always in the way. It’s thick, it kind of dips in the middle, and you won’t ever stop wishing it wasn’t there.

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It Fucking Judges You After Every Drive

Illustration for article titled The 2021 Prius Prime Is The Driving Equivalent Of Some Kid Kicking Your Seat At The Movies
Screenshot: Toyota
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You know what’s even better than a bunch of little, never-ending annoyances in a car? Being judged! Who doesn’t like getting poked and pestered into an uncomfortable state of mild agitation, and then having themselves evaluated afterward? Nobody, that’s who.

Yes, after every drive in the car, no matter how short, the Prius tells you how efficiently you drove, if it thinks your AC settings were reasonable, if you were nice and steady and smooth, and so on.

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I get that it’s helpful for getting the best possible fuel economy. I get that this is the whole raison d’etre of this car. I understand.

I also kinda want it to knock it off and leave me the fuck alone because I’m already so agitated from the beeping and the dumb shifter and the ugly displays and not being able to find the damn volume patch of smooth plastic on the rest of the smooth plastic and the beeping and the menus to get to the vent controls and the beeping and the beeping and the beeping.

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Ugh, this car. This fucking car. This wonderfully-engineered, incredibly fuel-efficient, modern marvel of a fucking ass-pain that’s the least enjoyable thing to drive that I’ve been in months and months.

Shut up, Prius Prime. Just, just shut up and leave me alone.

Asshole.

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus, 2020 Changli EV • Not-so-running: 1973 Reliant Scimitar, 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!)

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