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