Since it was introduced here in 2000, the Toyota Prius has fundamentally changed the way car buyers view fuel efficiency. It's hard to argue that any other car has done more to press the case for eco-friendly cars than has the Prius.
But frankly, Toyota's effort had withered after 15 years on the market. A lack of attention to exterior style and interior detail (not to mention $2 per gallon for gas) relegated the last-generation Prius outside some car buyers' views.
The new Toyota Prius vaults the same hybrid formula forward in a more easily digestible package for mainstream buyers, which is why we've named it The Car Connection's Best Hybrid to Buy 2017.
MORE: Read all about our Best Car To Buy 2017 awards
We'll concede that the current Toyota Prius—new for 2016 and joined in 2017 by the plug-in Prius Prime—has a love-it-or-hate-it exterior that mimics some of the hydrogen-powered Mirai. We'll even go as far as to say that the nose and tail look a little overworked, and that some interior elements conflict with each other. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder—maybe better if those eyes aren't wearing their contacts.
Notwithstanding, the Prius made great strides forward in drivability and overall comfort for this generation, and it's all the better for it in our books. The new Prius is lower and wider than previous generations, and its ride comfort helps you forget that you're driving a Prius. Inside, better front seat bolsters and redesigned lower cushions are more comfortable for longer slogs in the Prius; a fully independent rear suspension makes its ride more even-tempered, too.
Both improvements add to the biggest selling point for the Prius to date: its remarkable fuel efficiency. The Prius still holds the crown as the most fuel-efficient vehicle without a plug, and every version of the Prius manages better than 50 mpg combined, according to the EPA. How it gets there is an improvement over previous generations, too.
Most versions of the Prius swap out the old nickel-metal hydride battery pack for a lithium-ion unit that reduces weight and utilizes more of the battery's charge range compared to the old system. (New Prius Two models still keep the nickel-metal pack, presumably for lower maintenance costs for fleet buyers and worldwide shoppers.)
The net result is a hybrid that's more fun to drive and just as efficient, aligning the affordable Prius closer to mainstream mid-sizers or hatchbacks rather than sitting on the sidelines as a token "eco option."
In fact, this year's crop of hybrids are inching closer to becoming the norm for many car buyers looking for an efficient car that won't penalize drivers in space or comfort. The Prius may have started the trend toward hybrids and "greener" cars more than 15 years ago. In this generation, it's caught up to others in packaging and execution--and that placed it at the top of our hybrid list.