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The Prius Four Touring's optional Appearance Package, with its black alloys and front- and rear-bumper inserts, imparts a customized flavor that helps dispel at least some of the Prius' wonky stigma. (Bill Visnic)

What we're driving: 2018 Toyota Prius Four Touring

"What we’re driving” is Automotive Engineering's series of quick-strike vehicle reviews.
Toyota’s seminal Prius and its twin-motor hybrid-electric drivetrain are largely unchanged this year except for the addition of an 11.6-in (295-mm) touchscreen display for the top Prius Four and Four Touring trims. The monster screen is oriented vertically in tablet-style layout that essentially replicates the gee-whiz effect of Tesla’s signature interior focal point. The Prius’ screen is a high-definition indicator of where dashboard design is heading and it’s quickly going to become a common sight, I think, in many all-new vehicles—and as a go-to lever to pull in mid-cycle refreshes. I wonder if interior-components suppliers are prepared for this shift – or perhaps they’re even helping to drive it.

The big screen is a treat and show-stopper for uninitiated passengers and once you are accustomed with the options for portioning its acreage, it’s a definite aid in helping to keep eyes on the road. Its vertical orientation doesn’t do much for the rearview-camera image, which ends up being crunched into the bottom third of the screen because there’s not much sense in trying to adapt the camera’s intrinsically horizontal view of the world, I guess. These large vertical screens seem tailor-made for the birds-eye vision of multiple-camera systems, so don’t be surprised to see those two features become closely aligned.

Meanwhile, it’s always been fashionable to diss on the Prius as a weenie-mobile, but I’m gaining new respect. For around-town work, there’s hardly a better tool: the Prius electric-motor augmentation enhances standing-start acceleration in a fashion that conventional IC-only vehicles, regardless of engine size, have a hard time matching for the first 100 feet or so. So even fullsize pickups are left in the Prius’ wake when the light goes green—even if the drivers invariably insist on catching up, oxidizing the resources the Prius attempts to conserve.

And honestly, the Prius remains the case study for why every vehicle needs to have some kind of braking-energy or deceleration recuperation. In a week almost exclusively dedicated to urban errands and running about—all in the Prius Four’s “power” mode—the thing used an eighth of a tank of gasoline, a penny-pinching testimony to its 54-mpg city rating. Even the infamous drone from the continuously variable transmission (CVT) is muffled nearly to the point of inaudibility. The only thing I wished for with the drivetrain was a user-selectable option to amp up the regenerative-braking force, a feature common on many battery-electric vehicles.

The signature funky look of the Prius remains polarizing, but many commented postively on the Four Touring’s optional ($1,540) Appearance Package, the central feature being blacked-out 17-in. alloy wheels and black-trimmed front and rear bumper areas, all imparting a bit of a customized look that helps mitigate the Prius “wonk” factor. At slightly more than $33,000, the Prius Four Touring is a particular shout-out to the smart-saver types who see it as a long-term investment of many dimensions.
 
2018 Toyota Prius Four Touring

Base price:       $30,565
As tested:         $33,248
Highs:               Exceptional fuel economy; impressive large central HMI; great packaging
Lows:                Lean on power; wonky stigma, oddball sheetmetal not everyone’s taste  
Takeaway:        Still the energy-efficiency standard       
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