Now in its third model year, the 2012 Toyota Prius carries on the recognizable shape of the world's most recognizable hybrid. A mild restyling of the front end this year freshens the headlamps and tail lamps, adds LED daytime running lights, and tweaks the shapes of the lower openings, but you'll have to look twice to see it.
The wedge shape, high tail with its small vertical second window for rearward visibility, and domed roofline are all in the service of aerodynamics. This third-generation Prius has one of the lowest drag coefficients of any car on the market, 0.25, which reduces wind resistance and helps the hybrid achieve its combined 50-mpg EPA rating. At this point, you either like the shape of the Prius or you don't--but you can't deny it's distinctive. That shape could only be a Prius, and you can spot the car from 100 yards.
Inside, the wide dash with its central, high-mounted digital information panel, "flying buttress" console, and joystick-like "shift" knob could also only be from the Prius. There's lots of hard plastic, but it's patterned and grained in such a way that it works well with the design theme. The storage bin underneath the swooping console, however, is awkward to get at, and for owners who their cars with the usual assortment of devices, sunglasses, bills and change, and other impedimenta, it's a case of style impeding substance. The available Remote Touch controller--rather like a mouse fixed in position on the console--controls icons on the navigation screen, but requires taking the driver's eyes off the road frequently to watch the screen. Beyond all that, the fabrics and materials of the Prius interior have the appearance of an inexpensive economy car.