The Toyota Prius hybrid occupies a special niche in automotive history.
It's the world's best-known and best-selling hybrid car, and it's the halo vehicle for one of the world's three largest automakers.
This year, there's an all-new 2016 Prius, and it's quite a different car from its predecessors across three generations.
It's still a five-door hatchback, but it's lower and less slab-sided than the version sold from 2010 through 2015.
The latest Prius has a lower nose, a floating roof, and a rear end that may not be to everyone's taste.
In fact, it pulls off the unusual trick of making the previous car look downright sedate and conventional.
2016 Toyota Prius Two EcoEnlarge Photo
The interior has gotten considerably nicer, with a more coherent dash with larger color displays and better graphics.
It still has a bit of the spaceship-command look, due to the central instrument pod, but the materials have been upgraded and include more soft-touch surfaces.
The driver sits more than 2 inches lower this year, in a much more rigid body structure with a sportier trailing-arm rear suspension.
On the road, it drives a lot more like a regular car. No one will ever buy a Prius for sports-sedan handling, but the 2016 Prius offers confident roadholding and decent steering.
It's no longer numb, remote, and appliance-like--and that's a huge advance.
The 2016 model simply feels more "normal" behind the wheel, to the point that we frequently forgot we were in a Prius at all--almost impossible with previous generations.
2016 Toyota Prius Four TouringEnlarge Photo
While engine noise is still obvious under full acceleration, it's now much better muted. The car no longer has a desperate, strained howl, and it's generally quieter inside.
But it's fuel economy that the new Prius is built to deliver. All but one model are rated at 52 miles per gallon combined; the Prius Two Eco comes in at 56 mpg combined.
Despite that better fuel economy--which we expect it will largely deliver--the latest Prius is actually less Prius-y, and feels more like a regular car. At least from the inside.
Not only is the new 2016 Prius is the most fuel-efficient car you can buy without a plug, it's actually the most fuel-efficient car ever sold in the U.S.
It even beats the 2000 Honda Insight, an ultra-high-tech two-seat minicar rated at 53 mpg combined (using today's rating system).
For all those reasons, the 2016 Toyota Prius is very clearly a nominee for Green Car Reports' 2016 Best Car To Buy award.