2017 TOYOTA PRIUS PRIME REVIEW
2017 TOYOTA PRIUS PRIME REVIEW BY AUTO CRITIC STEVE HAMMES
Say goodbye to the frumpy, tree-hugger look and hello to 21st century Toyota style. With the new Prius Prime, not only do you get the added benefit of a plug but this one is here makes a statement that goes beyond being green.
This isn’t the first time Toyota has sold the Prius with a plug but it is the first time they got it right. By differentiating its style from the standard Prius liftback, more than doubling its electric driving range and sharpening its dynamics the Prime is finally the Prius plug-in hybrid Toyota intended it to be.
From its quad projector LED headlamps to the dual wave rear glass design, the Prime takes on a future world appearance all its own. There are also a couple of exclusive Prime paint colors, a 4 seat as opposed to 5 seat configuration, and over 4” of added length trailing to a carbon fiber-based rear hatch offering a slightly larger field of view. A lithium-ion battery with double the capacity of the 1st gen plug-in is installed in the trunk, creating a higher liftover. To help offset the loss of 7 cubic feet of luggage volume, the Prime has a few small cutouts in the floor for a little extra storage and the seats do splitfold for expanded, though not completely flat, cargo room. And then the piece de résistance up front is this nearly 12” rectangular touchscreen. It’s included in Prime Premium and Advanced trims but not in the base Prime Plus.
Very cool start-up and stop animations replete with a soothing music bed, easy to use features and Entune apps like a charge station finder make this unique setup more than just eye candy. In an unusual move, Toyota has reserved the full suite of Entune features for the Advanced owners only meaning my Premium trim doesn’t allow for remote apps like charge management and climate control. And because Toyota erroneously believes that Entune is just as good as Apple CarPlay, there’s no full iPhone integration. A wireless charging mat is located front and center with 1 USB port located nearby. Though I love the big screen I have a little trouble seeing it in daytime driving due to glare.
But what makes the Prime truly different than the standard Prius is that when it’s fully charged the first 25 miles or so are all electric. The battery charges quickly, too, even if you just use a household outlet…about 5 ½ hours from zero to full or as little as 2 hours at public stations like this one. I kind of prefer the port to be located in the front but whatever. Unlike the non-plug Prius, the Prime is capable of using both of its motor/generators to provide traction to the front wheels working through an electronically controlled CVT. The 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine is a bit of a buzzkill when it joins in for gas-electric hybrid driving once the battery can no longer do it alone.
The Prius Prime tells the tale of 2 cars: the EV and the Hybrid. When running on pure electric the Prime shines…its whisper quiet, free of vibration and torquey quick. But after those 25 miles of peace are gone, well the Prime feels like any other small hybrid car with a rough engine and unpleasant power train sounds and just like that the coolness factor is greatly reduced. Now in fairness with decent EV range I rarely got into hybrid mode averaging 139mpg for the week. But this begs the question; why not just make an all-electric Prius for the win?
Fuel economy results will vary widely based upon average commute and how diligent you are about plugging in though it’s certainly feasible to almost use no gas at all. Now 25 miles of EV range isn’t the 53 found in the Chevy Volt, but the Prime gets significantly better mileage over the long haul rated at 133mpg equivalent, is slightly more voluminous, and costs thousands less. It also has a 640 mile driving range exceeding the Volt’s by 220 miles. With a 121 combined system horsepower and an electric top speed of 84 mph, the Prime feels sneaky quick, particularly in urban driving. Leave it in the default mode or select Eco or Power depending upon your mood – both substantially change the driving feel. You can also select when the car uses its electric allowing it to be saved it for later.
This is the first generation Prius that I’ve driven that is actually fun to drive, with that spunky electric propulsion key to the equation. The little eco tires can be easily overwhelmed but Toyota’s choice to introduce more driving enjoyment through a honed chassis is a smart one. The regenerative braking continues to be the most inorganic part of all, making odd noises and grabbing hard.
And though it initially looks complicated, the long gauge layout is intuitively easy, packed with all of the info necessary about battery life, etc. It’s controlled though steering wheel switches. And it should be noted, the 6 speaker sound system is surprisingly spot on. The white with blue accent look is cool, there’s no height adjustment on the passenger side but the front seats are long trip supportive and the rear seats have midsize legroom and good forward visibility. And on the safety front, there’s standard smart cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, auto high beams and much more. But how does Toyota not include the most important ones: size blind zone alert and rear cross traffic detection? You need to step up to Prime Advanced for those features.
Priced from about $28,000 and tested here at $30,000, the Prime carries a premium of about $2,400. The EPA estimates it’ll save owners about $150 per year in fuel costs when compared to the Prius liftback, but again, that’s going to be highly variable dependent upon individual use. The Prius Prime Premium is a pleasurable plug-in no longer purely posturing for pontificating planet pleasers.