Well, they can’t all be Hellcats. But wait, if we’re praising automotive extremes, then should not the Prius get a little more love than it does? The fastest, the toughest, the quickest to sixty; any vehicle with outstanding attributes gets the accolades, so why not the penny-pinchingest? Here it is, the gasoline-powered car that uses just about the least amount of fuel possible.
Now, the Prius is not very exciting to look at. Or sit in. Or drive. In fact, the only real excitement I’ve ever felt in one of these things is as a passenger in a taxicab driven by a gent who clearly missed his calling as a participant in Death Race 2000. Last time I drove a Prius, I described the experience as being buried in a pool filled with packing peanuts and the analogy stands. It’s not much fun and there’s no point fighting it.
But that doesn’t mean there’s not some likability to be found here. This is the plug-in variant of Toyota’s Prius, and it has a few tricks up its beige sleeve.
It’s an immediately recognizable shape, halfway between an orthopaedic shoe and an ergonomic mouse. Design analysis irrelevant – here, form follows function and the Prius is as slippery as you could hope for, with a coefficient of drag of just 0.25. Hardly anything is better this side of a Bonneville speedweek slipstreamer.
Plus, no giant gaping grills and faux aggression, which is great. The Prius is merely a background sort of car, and has been on the road so long it’s not even a statement any more. The days when Leo DiCaprio showed up to the Oscars in a Prius and South Park lampooned owners for being insufferably smug are over. For the most part, the Prius is now just a tool in the driveway, one designed to burn as little fuel as possible. It’s a noble aim.
However, step into this aging car’s interior and experience a few of the drawbacks of economy above all else. While it’s spacious and relatively comfortable (the liftback trunk is particularly useful), there’s also a strong element of cheapness here, and a pretty low-tech dashboard layout. The plastic surfaces feel hard and brittle, the greenish glow of the centre-mounted instrument panel is outdated, and the Softex-covered pleather seats look like their coverings came straight from the inflatable cow ranch. Some of the ergonomics are suspect too, like the nearly floor-mounted heated seat controls.
2015 Toyota Prius PHEV, dashboard. Click image to enlarge
You can live with the Prius’s insides, but it’s not a particularly pleasant place to be, and given the relatively high price of this PHEV, something of a letdown. Some stuff to like includes the Touch Tracer function for the steering wheel controls – hover a thumb over them and they pop up in the centre display, right in your line of sight and meaning you don’t have to glance downwards.
And, as I’ve said, it is a relatively comfortable car. The seating is good front and back, and the infotainment screen is easy enough to scroll through. I had a bit of an issue with the display not turning to night mode when the headlights were on, but managed to get it sorted with a system reset. Other than that, it’s a simple enough car to drive, just pop the little blue shifter into D and off we go.