I am not here to tell you that the Prius has startling throttle response, or knife-edged handling, or sparkling steering that talks to you as you carve through your favorite mountain pass. I am not here to say that the Prius slams you back into your seat (even though the new one does make 220 horsepower). But I am here to say that, like it or not, the Prius has become an enthusiast vehicle. You only need to look at its dwindling sales to know what I mean.

I'm also not about to say that the Prius sucks to drive. I've logged thousands of miles in a couple different Prii, and many of those were with a perverse smile on my face, absolutely caning the car down some country two-lane. The Prius is fun to drive in spite of itself. You know there is no power. You know there is not even a hope that the engine will do anything at any given time. Even if you absolutely nail the precisely perfect time to lay into the throttle coming out of a hairpin turn, the CVT will muddle the engine down into a vague car go forward/car not go forward split. So you slam your foot to the floor somewhere near-ish to the right moment and work things out from there. It's a different kind of driving compared to a Porsche, but it's spirited driving nonetheless.

The new one, even, is oddly handsome. It has the fastest-looking windshield on sale, laid down and stretched out, turning the car into a flying egg. It's an efficient shape. For a while in the Seventies, car designers thought all cars would be this kind of aerodynamic wedge, and sold the world on the Lamborghini Countach and Ferrari 512BB. It wasn't until the 1990s that sports cars started to get willfully retro again, on the back of cars like the Porsche Boxster and Ferrari 550.

I'm getting away from the point. The Prius is not a driver's car; it's something different. It is, though, a car bought only by people who absolutely positively have to have the most efficient, gas-sipping, eco-friendly car. A Prius buyer has enthusiasm, just a different kind than what we're normally talking about when we're powersliding a Miata or seeing how late we can get away with braking in a Dodge Challenger.

Let me set a scene for you. It's 2009. Half the people you know have gotten laid off, gas prices are out of control, and you need a car that gets as good gas mileage as you can get. Let's say 50 MPG. You can get a Honda Insight, if you can live with only two seats. You can get a Geo Metro, if you can live with spending several thousand dollars on a used hatchback that cost a few hundred dollars a year ago. Or you get a Prius. It's the only thing around that's livable, practical, and fuel-efficient to the level we now associate with hybrids.

The scene in 2022 is very different. If you just want a normal car that gets hybrid-level mileage, the RAV4 Hybrid sits right in front of you at the Toyota dealership. Same with any dealership—if there's a major automaker that doesn't offer a hybrid crossover, I don't know of it and neither does the American car-buying public. Hell, Jeep sells a plug-in hybrid Wrangler. The smallest Ford pickup starts as a hybrid, standard. The Prius just isn't a go-to car like it once was.

Sales back that up. In 2012 and 2013 together, Toyota sold nearly half a million Priuses of various models, from the little C to the big V. Toyota moved around half that number across '08 and '09 together, but those were Recession years. Ever since '13, though, Prius sales have been tumbling, down to 59,010 in 2021, a quarter of the 2013 one-year peak, as noted by CarSalesBase.

It's not just other hybrids pushing the Prius out of the minds of gas-conscious buyers. The Prius now contends with an all-electric market completely unlike the world of the Aughts or early Twenty-Tens. Tesla got 121,610 Model 3s to customers in 2021, as CarSalesBase catalogs. The Prius isn't even the most virtue-signaling eco car you can buy anymore. And EVs aren't even that outsider-y either. Volkswagen will sell you an ID.4, Ford will sell you a Mach-E.

So who are these last Americans buying a Prius? They're people who want a Prius. They want a car that gets extraordinary mileage no matter how they drive, even though they know they can play with those figures if they hypermile it a bit. Coasting off the gas on long descents, gingerly applying the throttle from stoplights, teasing the car along as far as they can before the gas engine kicks on. There are only about 60,000 people who fit this mold anymore, if you go on those sales figures alone. Is that such a surprise? This is a five-door hatchback, after all! Nobody buys a five-door hatch anymore! We live in a crossover country, now. Toyota even showed the new generation model not in silver, or the slate blue like my parents' car but yellow. Nobody sells yellow cars these days! It's not the Seventies anymore! The Prius is weird. It's a car that's never bought accidentally. Buying one is a choice.

I'd be making that choice too, if I needed a new car. A Prius is roomy, practical, quiet, and does everything I want out of a car, so long as I don't need to drive off-road. I can sleep in it. I can throw a couple bikes in it. A table, a couple desks, some more boxes, cabinets, whatever I need to carry, a Prius swallows it up. It'll even get 50-odd miles per gallon, no matter how hard I drive it.

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2022-11-16T21:44:21Z dg43tfdfdgfd