What Happened That The Toyota Prius Looks Good?

The modern anti-car was almost willfully ugly, but somehow it's grown on me.

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Photo: Raphael Orlove

I was stuck behind a slow BMW 228i on a mountain road that was ambling through the most fun turns, waiting for a trucker lane to make a pass when it dawned on me: this Prius looks kind of ... good.

Full Disclosure: Toyota let me borrow the new Prius for a week and I have been trying my absolute hardest to get the MPG below 47 and my in-car efficiency score below 28 out of 100. A full review is in the works.

Image for article titled What Happened That The Toyota Prius Looks Good?
Photo: Raphael Orlove
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Image for article titled What Happened That The Toyota Prius Looks Good?
Photo: Raphael Orlove
Image for article titled What Happened That The Toyota Prius Looks Good?
Photo: Raphael Orlove
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Image for article titled What Happened That The Toyota Prius Looks Good?
Photo: Raphael Orlove

I’ve gotten pretty used to the general shape of new cars. Faces are big and blunt, with huge hulking grilles even on all-electric cars. BMW is as bad as any other carmaker, with tall snouts rising up and up from the ground. In a way, it’s retro. The only other BMW that has a grille like the brand-new M3 or M4 is the BMW 328 from the 1930s. We’ve been creeping back into the pre-1960s style of car design ever since crossovers started becoming more and more popular.

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Through the windshield of this Prius, these other modern cars couldn’t have looked more foreign.

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Photo: Raphael Orlove
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There is nothing retro about the Prius, inside or out, unless you happen to find the dinky eco graphics to be a somewhat retro touch from the mid- to late-2000s. There is no big, sweeping tachometer like you’ll find even on most auto-only family haulers these days, no round dial even for the speedo. Hell, there’s no gauge cluster in front of you at all. There’s only some digital readouts in the middle of the dash, kind of generally but unhurriedly telling you how fast you’re going or if your headlights are on. The most prominent display on the car is just an illuminated green “READY” informing you that the car you are driving at the moment is, in fact, on.

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Photo: Raphael Orlove
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That windshield view also sets the car apart in that, well, you have a really big view through it. The hood is low and dips away, enough that if it wasn’t for a little lip at its top you wouldn’t see any Prius ahead of you at all. Old Hondas from the ‘80s and ‘90s pull off this trick. It’s not the best for parallel parking, but it’s treat for feeling unencumbered on the road.

Image for article titled What Happened That The Toyota Prius Looks Good?
Photo: Raphael Orlove
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Image for article titled What Happened That The Toyota Prius Looks Good?
Photo: Raphael Orlove

When you get out of the car, you start to appreciate the totally aerodynamic shape of the thing. It’s a big wedge and not much else, something like if the car styling of the 1970s never stopped evolving. There’s even a somewhat substantial rear spoiler on the back of the Prius. You start to wonder what sports cars would look like if they followed this same principle. And then you sort of shake your head, trying to figure out what screw went loose in your head that you’re idly dreaming about a sports car version of a Prius.