Gallery: 2016 Toyota Prius

DTW is evidently in the middle of reappraisal of Japanese cars in general and Toyota in particular. Here you are invited to look more closely at the 2016 Prius.

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I remember around the year 2000 finding the then-new Mazda 323F to be over-styled. “That’s the new school of over-styling,” I said as I looked at the car in the town of Bath, England. What would my younger self make of the Prius confection? It’s not hard to say that he’d have hated it. Something has happened to my judgement in the interim and it could be good or it could be bad.

The thing is, I don’t hate this car even if if the graphics for all the world look like they were formed by swirling around melted plastic over an armature. One of my dogmas is the graphics and sculpting should be harmonious so that the main axes and main lines of the graphics are at least parallel to the main axes of the forms they are superimposed on. Toyota are not holding with this at all and it especially applies to the headlamps and the tail lamps.

A more vivid metaphor for these is that the lamps have been unearthed from the body around them. Imagine if the car was sculpted and shutlines applied and only then was space made for the lamps. They must be the most complex lamp graphics I have yet seen.

In Gestalt terms they are not reducible to clearly ranked primary and secondary forms. The Swedish design researcher Cheryl Akner-Koler has done a lot of work in 3D visual analysis and I can only note that it would take that level of examination to dissect what Toyota has done here. There’s lots to look at: I’ll pick out the A-pillar which plunges deeply into the front wing. Has anyone done this before? It’s as radical a bursting of convention as this, only it’s in production:

Note the curve of the door-to-sill.
Note the curve of the door-to-sill.

This is what the Prius looks like seen from the middle distance (I could not get such a shot when I took these photos).

2016 Toyota Prius: source
2016 Toyota Prius:

And this is what Tesla offer, albeit at a higher price:


Of course, Toyota can afford to take risks.

These days so many car designs are wilfully breaking rules and unconventionality is the new convention. It can be easy to overlook a car like this Prius; it is confusing, it is strange. However, if you give the car a while it isn’t simply a form to dismiss as weird Japanese but seems to have a properly thought out and quite new set of visual metaphors.

Some of these have been uneasily applied to more conventional cars such as the Auris where the half-hearted measures don’t work very well. In the Prius there has been no holding back and I could contend this design is beyond the industry standard of MAYA.


Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

18 thoughts on “Gallery: 2016 Toyota Prius”

  1. Ah, MAYA was what I was stumbling towards when we were discussing the varied response to the E30 BMW 5 Series at launch the other day.
    I take a great deal of satisfaction in seeing Toyota taking risks with its touchstone products. Unlike Richard I actually rather like the Auris facelift, ditto the RAV-4 facelift. I’m also keen on the new Aygo, especially when the graphics are linked in a giant black X. Other opinions may vary, of course.
    Regarding the Prius, I find that the productionisation of certain details lets it down. The melange of different materials and shut lines that make up the DLO graphics around the rear three quarters is particularly messy. When you are going out on a limb and asking people to digest a new set of forms, these details make all the difference. Still, I cannot wait to see one on the road.

  2. I was next to a new Prius in traffic the other day. One one level it’s contrived and fussy and there are bits where you see what they were trying to do, but haven’t quite managed it – the usual problem with translating a design into a production proposition. But overall it’s not at all unpleasing in the way a Wagener Mercedes is. As Richard says, Toyota’s new language is used more coherently on the Prius and, now that everyone does a hybrid, they probably feel they need to make it stand out.

  3. Think I’m with the youthful Richard on this one. Maybe I’m a couple of decades behind you.I can agree that it’s a confection but that’s about it. Those lines are just enough off parallel to really grate with me. Have seen a couple in the metal and mentally winced on each occasion.

    1. Mick, I am with you. I think the new gen Prius is absolutely hideous. Given time, I might be able to work out what they were trying to achieve – but this would involve looking at one for a length of time, and that would hurt my eyes.

  4. I quite like the straight on rear view. The main front and rear lamp forms I quite like too, but not the front view – the lower front area (though in reality I’m sure it complies with pedestrian protection) looks aggressively sharp, which is almost as bad as actually being too sharp. The front vent that the (too large) badge sits in seems a bit irrelevant and the way the folds from the headlamps stray out over the bonnet shutline is uncomfortable. The top of the rear hatch glass (and black plastic) area is incoherent. The diagonal crease in front of the rear wheel seems entirely random. The A pillar crease going down into the side panel is novel, but I hope it doesn’t become too popular in the incestuous world of car design. The black wheels on the one Richard photographed are OK – the shinier ones on the other photo are tacky. But all in all I still don’t mind it and, since the message of 97% of all the Priii I see in London is often aimed at semi-sober people saying ‘oh look, here comes my minicab’, distinctive is surely good.

  5. Washing the Prius with a sponge at home will surely take much more time than washing a VW…
    But i think, Toyota is right giving the Prius a unique design. Without it there would be no right to exist for the Prius.

    1. Our recent material here has changed my ideas of “good taste” and I’m aware I have been too quick to say “no” to designs that were merely unfamiliar. The Prius is the right car for this expressive design. I’m trying to judge it on its own terms. I was wrong about the 323F and Bangle’s 5; I am still convinced the C5 was wrong and I always liked the Multipla. I think this is more 5-series strange than Multipla strange.

  6. The Prius’s A pillar extrapolated into the front wing is a detail that passed me by.

    Could it be a BMC Mini and Renault 4 hommage? The BMW MINI attempts the same, but rather crassly.

  7. To my mind, the styling is, well, incoherent! It like a painter that has randomly flicked random colours at a canvas, but in this case, all the designer had were slashes and creases. Perhaps they got a bonus if they could use over a certain number?

    I’m all for adventurous design, and can appreciate design I don’t personally like, but this doesn’t work at all for me.

  8. It’s so interesting to me that someone actually contrived to style this car in this way – it was clearly a huge effort. I agree with Sean that the straight on rear view is OK, quite entertaining even, but start to move round from that point and … Oh wow!

    1. I’m aware people might not like this. My stategy here is to overcome my dislike and see it with a non-prejudiced view. I am not saying others are prejudiced but I am on guard against my own.

  9. I was in late night traffic behind one of these recently. With the tail lamps alight, the impression for me was one of a late 1950’s befinned American car. It certainly creates a powerful visual impact. Like many here I am still trying to frame a visual reference for the Prius – to dismiss it outright seems crass – but I also admit to not ‘getting’ it.

    Perhaps it’s best appreciated in a series of close up details and not as a coherent whole?

  10. To do some crass generalisation, back in the 70s and 80s, the term ‘Volvo Driver’ suggested someone who drove in a rather dissociated way, rarely fast and, when they did drive fast, they drove rather badly.

    This mantle seems to have been inherited by ‘Prius Driver’, at least in London, often in the wrong lane, often dawdling when the lights change. But there is also a noticeable minority who, maybe stung by this image, drive their Priuses aggressively fast, as if trying to prove something.

    Or is this all in my imagination?

    1. If i would own a Citroen GT in my garage. i would choose this white Prius as a suitable daily car neighbour. But i think that is not the typical Prius-driver.

      I know the cliche about Prius drivers too. Always being on their crusade to save the world (or at least the trees).

      Here in germany, a anti-hybrid-country, i rather believe that VW Fox or Smart Fortwo owners are unskilled drivers. Or Daf-drivers (long ago). Many Smart-drivers are not able to handle a manual gear-box, for example …
      But that is not really getting on my nerves. Such as the aggressive behaviour and general assholery of some Audi-BMW-drivers (in an X6 for example) on our unlimited Autobahn.

    2. Markus. Yes, of all BMWs, I’ve noticed that X6 drivers stand out. But they’ve got an excuse … they can’t see you.

  11. From a rear three-quarter view (unfortunately not illustrated here), and depending on the body colour, this Prius seems like one car from the B-pillar forward, and a different one from there to the back. It’s as if two halves were unceremoniously shoved together, the slope of the roof at the front suddenly transitioning into a not-too-deftly styled curved edge box, hung on clumsily to come along for the ride. The scalloping in the lower rear door does nothing to harmonise the joint, for example.

    The view labelled Front Wing shows a central protubing snout that seems to belong to the car parked next one over rather than to the vehicle being photographed, and an insectoid-appearing headlamp cover bulges toad-like from an obese base.

    The car is a disaster to look at, but is handily beaten in the ugliness stakes by another Toyota product, the completely revolting Mirai, the fuel cell car that was apparently styled to stand out in the crowd. Rather than take the approach of simple design harmony, Toyota ladled on the most abject styling lately recorded, the Fiat 500L visage not quite excepted.

    All in all, it is quite hard to believe that human stylists completed the final versions of these cars, stood back, let their eyes run lovingly over the final etched or rounded lines as the case may be and declared them good to go, mighty exercises in how not to do it that they are. Mammals have a lithe covering over the internal gubbins with few exceptions, insects living on a different and smaller scale do not. I was never fascinated by magnified photos of insects in the pages of National Geographic, shudder, but apparently the kids that were later to become automotive stylists at Toyota did. Dearie me. Weird or what?

    1. That analysis entertained and I’m not going to forcefully try to argue for the Prius. It is wierd and very unconventional. You’ll be pleased to know Immanuel Kant had a very good argument in support of holding back on creativity by combining it with reeason.
      That said, I’m hedging my bets by not writing it off immediately. It might be a design that nudges other designs in some new directions. I was wrong a few times about wierd cars and don’t want to do it again. Let’s say my jury is still out!

  12. Talking about plunging A-pillars I thought the Citroen Revolt concept car’s take on it was interesting. I especially like the way the pillar plunges so violently into the wing that it shatters it and sends the door shutline in a mad trajectory. But I guess this won’t be to everyone’s taste.

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