These days, a girl’s practically surrounded by cars that think they’re some kind of marauding beasts. No, really. Is there a vehicle out there whose design language doesn’t include “aggressive,” “muscular,” or “brawny?”
Yes. That would be the 2017 Toyota Prius. Just when it seems all the cars out there are trying to feed into some macho fantasy, which can breed some truly Neanderthal driving behaviour, along comes the redesigned Prius. With no thrusting bulges or nostril-flaring stance, the Prius is downright refreshing to look at. It’s quite sleek and streamlined, designed for maximum aerodynamics, and boasts a reduced drag co-efficient of Cd=0.24. What does that mean in English? Over the week that I drove it, mostly around downtown Toronto, I got about 5.6 litres per 100 kilometres, or 50 mpg. That’s quite an achievement, considering that one day, the readout told me I’d averaged seven kilometres an hour. Welcome to urban living.
Inside, the 2017 Prius was most spacious and accommodating, with about a gazillion ways to adjust the driver’s seat, and all controls within easy reach. Toyota does ergonomics so well! And speaking of controls, the dashboard was bristling with high tech, especially charts, graphs and apps dealing with fuel consumption. I could have spent all week studying the hows, whys and wherefores, even how one trip compared to the other over few days. Of course, I also found time to boogie down to all my favourite Sirius stations on a fabulous six-speaker sound system!
But don’t take any of this to mean the Prius was some kind of slouch in the performance department. The Prius driver is wrongly maligned as being too preoccupied with their recycling and Sierra Club activities to be an alpha-type motorist. Most hard-core gearheads aren’t exactly drawn to eco-conscious, alternatively fuelled vehicles. But that’s changing, with cars like the BMW i8, McLaren P1, and Ferrari LaFerrari. Okay, so they are a little more predatory looking than the Prius.
But it’s precisely because the Prius driver is often perceived as some kind of absent-minded eco-dullard that it was even more fun to race the Queen 501 streetcar; screech into a U-turn on Bay Street; outrun a 5-series on the expressway, and deke past a few surprised construction workers. I mean, they just weren’t expecting that from a Prius! That car did everything I asked it to do, and with more than enough verve and pep. The small turning radius meant that I could do all kinds of turns – so necessary in a city choking on its own development and aging infrastructure, sometimes with more work crews on the road than cars.
One evening I had to drive out to the west end to attend a screening, and sure enough, the traffic was horrendous and the parking even worse. Yet, the Prius and its 121 horsepower handily managed to keep up with, and as mentioned before, even outpace the bad boys. I mean, the look on the Beemer driver’s face when he realized he’d been passed by a Prius, with a woman at the wheel, was priceless.
In fact, the main faults with the Prius were the glaring blind spot in the back – yes, there was a rear view camera and enough ringing, whistling, flashing alerts to wake up a dead man. But you want to be able to do a proper shoulder check during a lane change, and guess what – it’s still the law. So I wound up lowering the rear seat headrests, and doing more than due diligence when backing up or changing lanes. That, and the white plastic console in the front really wouldn’t look much out of place in a men’s bathroom, which is where it belongs.
There’s no question that the Prius is the best-selling hybrid out there, blazing a trail for all other alternatively fuelled vehicles. It started out in 2000 as a modest Toyota Corolla with a “hybrid” badge slapped on it, and was heralded as “Toyota’s pace car for the new millenium.” But it wasn’t until 2003, when it finally took on its now-familiar unique five-door hatchback shape, that Toyota achieved a masterstroke in marketing. When you drove a Prius down the street, you were wearing your environmental consciousness on your sleeve. Everyone who saw you in that car knew that you had spent your hard-earned cash on a vehicle that put climate change before acceleration – that you were a poster child for a healthy planet. That’s why celebrities and movie stars ditched their $250,000 exotic supercars and invested in a humble Toyota, even on the red carpet.
It’s more than a car. It’s a statement about caring.
And these days, that may be just what we need.