I was researching an environmental article that I was going to write in January and the next thing I knew, I was buying a Toyota Prius.

A year ago, my cousin and I were discussing eco-friendly cars and we both talked about how ugly the Prius looked. “It reminds me of a pregnant VW Bug,” I joked. We both agreed we could not drive that car. Well, now I think it looks aerodynamic.

I haven’t yet told my cousin that I bought this car. I’m going to surprise her when I drive up to San Jose to see her in April. She’ll probably laugh at my ugly car, or slap me upside the head out of jealousy. (She just bought a used four-cylinder Camry.)

I’m feeling a little guilty about selling my four-cylinder Volvo. I imagined I would keep it for at least 10 years. My head got turned by all of the fun gadgetry and new technology on the Toyota.

First of all, it is extremely quiet. I like that. When you come to a stop, the gas engine shuts off. During my Prius test drive, it unnerved me. I thought I had to turn on the ignition again. When you slowly go forward from a stop, it’s like driving a golf cart — all electric.

The really fun part is the small video screen imbedded in the dash. When you back up the car, the camera on the hatchback engages, and you see the entire area behind the car until you flip back into drive. Very cool.

The other very cool thing about the video monitor is its visual graphics and number displays that report on the fuel consumption, radio stations, climate control, etc. It’s so distracting; you could get into an accident while playing with it.

I’d like to count myself in as one of the new eco-snobs, but I get somewhat discouraged. Walking around my neighborhood, I see so many houses that have two big monstrous SUVs in the driveway. One immense black Excursion looks about the size of a child’s bedroom on huge rubber tires. It sometimes seems that my one little Prius is a very small counterbalance to that.

For some people, smog is an inconvenient truth. For me, I remember growing up in the San Fernando Valley and my lungs hurting after a vigorous day of outside play. I’m ready to be a part of the change.