Can the Toyota Prius actually be sexy?

Technically Incorrect: Toyota used the Super Bowl to suggest that the environmentally friendly Prius is now an object of extreme desire. Is this faintly ridiculous?

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


It's about to be an accessory to a crime.

Toyota/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

I was driving on the freeway on Friday when there was a sudden slowdown.

Near my house, the freeway rises. And there were three cars occupying three lanes, all going the same speed -- 52 mph.

They were all Toyota Priuses.

If anything could have reinforced my feeling that the Prius is a metal box with a large battery that makes its drivers feel sanctimonious, this was it.

Then came the Super Bowl. As I sat there semi-insensate, Toyota suddenly flounced before me like a drunken nerd in a Gucci suit.

Its Super Bowl ad protested that the new Prius was actually one of the sexiest cars you could buy.

I felt a hint of desperation. Toyota has reached not merely for an attempt at excitement but suggested that the Prius was the perfect getaway car after you've robbed a bank.The robbers steal a red Prius and drive away. And, as the ad unfolds, we're supposed to cheer these (repeat) criminals as if this was OJ and his buddy Al in their Ford Bronco.

It's as if someone was holding a dull-colored carrot in front of me and saying: "Here, eat this fine, bright yellow banana."

I'm relieved Toyota hadn't forgotten to make fun of itself along the way. There was a farmers market joke and one about how it shouldn't be too hard to chase down a Prius.

But for far too long the Prius has been associated not only with less-than-gorgeous looks but also with drivers who think they're holier than the pope.

Suddenly this thing is a speedster?

My colleague Wayne Cunningham test drove the 2016 Prius around a track and offered his impressions.

"I slam the accelerator for the first straight, and the Prius gives its all to the effort, which amounts to 121 horsepower," he wrote. "Not exactly a neck-snapping start even in its Power mode."

He did, though, say it was "a substantial improvement over its predecessor." So, I fear, is a tractor.

It's all very well to claim it's now frightfully sexy -- and to even cast three members of the Sobotka family from "The Wire." But who's going to believe it?

The aim, of course, is to drive real people to the dealerships and hope that the charming dealers can weave their silver tongues around the excited consumers' wallets.

But is part of the problem that many Americans have become slightly fed up with being shamed into buying cars that are supposedly environmentally friendly?

Many of my clever scientists friends tell me that the best thing you can do for the environment is to run your car into the ground, rather than buying another one.

Toyota didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

It's clear, though, that the company is desperate to change the Prius' image. In a second Super Bowl spot (video below), the chase continues until -- you'll never guess -- the police have to buy Priuses.

Wasn't it bad enough when New York taxi drivers were suddenly slumped in them?

And didn't someone wonder about the line: "To catch a Prius, you've got to be a Prius"? I'm sure executives at, say, BMW snorted into their schnapps.

"No, really, it's not what you think" is one of the hardest arguments to sell to a doubting human.

One might admire Toyota's attempt to try. One wonders, though, how much investment -- and how much commitment to sexy criminality -- it might take to succeed.