(credit: Jim Resnick)

How do you change a standard-bearer? Like or not, Toyota's Prius was the first poster car for environmentalists, anti-establishment types, and the Hollywood beautiful. But even Earth-saving cars must be seen, and the redesigned Prius—influenced by Toyota’s nearly-$60,000 Mirai hydrogen fuel cell car (California market only)—beats the ugly drum with vigor. Later in life, Galileo went blind, but even he would have recoiled at the new Prius. Beneath the skin, however, the redesigned Prius uses handsome, energy-stingy engineering.

The new design's slashes and gashes hide the car's Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform, which actually lowers the car, provides additional high-strength steel, and nets 60-percent increased torsional rigidity. Both the headlights and tail lights are now LEDs, and the hood descends lower at the leading edge than before. More importantly, the car's hybrid battery is relocated from under the trunk to below the rear seat. Combined with a new double-wishbone rear suspension, this allows marginally more trunk space, up from 22 to 25 cubic feet (623L to 707L). You simply cannot fool air, though, and the new Prius cuts through it with a slightly improved drag coefficient of 0.24, where the outgoing model posted a Cd of 0.25.

Helping it reach that low-drag figure are grille shutters that close when radiator airflow isn't needed. The shutters also stay closed on cold starts to help the internal combustion engine reach optimal operating temperature faster. Other aero trickery includes fins mounted on the under trays, spats aside the gas tank that keep airflow smooth, and tail lamps that channel air.

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