New Toyota Prius Goes To Vegas, Embraces Middle Age
Do you remember when the Toyota Prius was cool? I know that sounds ridiculous, but when the Prius first appeared 18 years ago, it was something approaching the ultimate status symbol in Hollywood, the revolutionary fuel-economy car of the stars, a symbol so powerful that South Park parodied it with a classic “smug alert” episode.
When I got my first Prius in 2006, in the car’s second generation, it had left its trendy reputation behind. Still, while the Prius was no longer cool, it still stood for something. Getting one meant rejecting soaring gas prices and SUV-mania, a semi-refusal to go along with the wholesale destruction of the planet.
Clockwise from top: Larry David, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jane Seymour and George Clooney, all with Toyota Priuses
That was a decade ago. Now the Prius looks and feels like furniture, something ubiquitous and dutifully mandatory, like a futon in a college apartment or a drying rack for the dishes. The Tesla Model S out-cooled, out-greened, and out-performed it years ago. Also, gas is plentiful and cheap now. While it’s still important to burn as little fuel as possible, it no longer feels altogether necessary, at least from a personal economic standpoint. In 2004, Leonardo DiCaprio and Larry David told you to eat your hybrid vegetables. But nutritional standards have changed.
So what do former stars do when their luster has faded but their name recognition remains strong with an older crowd? They go to Vegas. In that spirit, Toyota launched the fourth generation of the Prius last night at The Linq, an auxiliary hotel to Caesar’s Palace that’s brand new but already feels cheesy and dated, anchored by a Guy Fieri restaurant and a magician who once won “America’s Got Talent.” The whole evening had the ambience of a ‘90s band like The Spin Doctors trying to get the crowd to groove to “Two Princes,” or Matthew Perry still searching for his next hit sitcom.
We filed into The Vortex, though a more accurate club name would have been Large Concrete Room That Can Be Accessed By Escalator. Much Prius propaganda was about, being projected onto a variety of surfaces in a way that made my eyes twitch. Toyota has given the Prius a new slogan: Beyond Possible, which I believe is also the tagline for the new “Heroes” reboot.
In any case, the things that were beyond possible, according to the promotional photos, included a kid on a tire swing that hung off a cloud, asphalt stairs leading into an endless pink sky, a woman snorkeling on an ocean planet that hovered adjacent to the Earth, and a man who appeared to be kayaking upside down in Manhattan. There were also many useless statistics like, “in the past 15 years Prius owners saved enough fuel to drive around the Earth 4.5 million times,” when really “you don’t have to fill up every time you go to Costco” would do just fine.
I began to doubt the revolutionary think-different line of the new Prius when I asked a guy from Toyota if this car would contain any of the autonomous-driving technology that the company has begun to tout in recent streaming-video press conferences. He basically said no, though there would be advanced safety systems and some self-parking capability, like in every other more than $20,000 consumer car made by every other company.
A series of flashing lights and loud sounds instructed us to go outside, where we stood on a very hot concrete patio facing a large stage with an excess of LED wattage even for Sin City. Onstage, a blandly handsome millennial in skinny jeans introduced himself as Ted Stryker, which was also the name of Robert Hays’ character from “Airplane.” This Ted Stryker didn’t appear to have a drinking problem, though he was the emcee for the debut of the 2016 Prius, and was very psyched that “the world will be watching, we’ll be on Periscope.”
Ted Stryker, who will never be over Macho Grande, then introduced us to Atlas Genius, a band from Australia, which wasn’t as good as the bands from Australia, like Silverchair and the one that sang “I’m gonna get free,” that were popular in the early Aughts at the same time the Prius itself was popular and trendy. Atlas Genius played for a while, a loud half hour that probably paid for its entire U.S. tour. Then Ted Stryker returned and, with strange enthusiasm, he introduced the 2016 Toyota Prius.
LED lights began to flash madly. On the right side of the stage sat a circular enclosure, like a digital cauldron. The 2016 Toyota Prius rose, cherry-red, out of the cauldron, suspended by strong wires. It went way up into the air, hovering high above Caesar’s Palace, like David Blaine doing a rad trick. And then it lowered back down again into the cauldron and drove out. What lies beyond possible? Not that stunt.
Ted Stryker vanished, possibly to go win back Elaine’s heart, replaced by Toyota Vice President Bill Fay, who stood by the new Prius somewhat defensively. The Prius had sleek new styling, he said. It is longer, lower, wider, and bigger inside.
We all went on stage to take a look. It was, indeed, the Prius, with slightly bejazzled taillights and a 15 percent sleeker profile. Basically, a comb-over. The center console was mostly white plastic, as though it had been taken from some leftover Imperial Stormtrooper cosplay outfits.
And that was about it. Toyota wouldn’t let us see what the Prius looked like when it was turned on, they wouldn’t give any drivetrain info, wouldn’t provide an on-sale date, and, most importantly for a car whose entire existence revolves around gas mileage, wouldn’t provide EPA numbers.
“It will be the most fuel-efficient vehicle on the road,” Fay assured us. “The way it looks, the way it drives, it will suit not just someone who’s looking for fuel efficiency, but someone who’s looking for a mid-sized sedan.”
The prophecy of the Toyota Prius’ many detractors has come true; it has become boring.
But I didn’t come to Caesar’s Palace to bury the Prius. I’m sure it will do fine as it enters middle age. It will go about its business unheralded while all the hip Millennial car brands take Vines of themselves and don’t care who they have to destroy to get ahead, the bastards. The Prius may no longer be the toast of Hollywood, but, like everything middle-aged, there will always be a place for it in Vegas.