2017 Toyota Prius Plug-in Prime

Toyota is openly skeptical about the market potential for pure electric cars. The carmaker dipped its toes into the market several times—with limited releases of two RAV4 EV models and an electric version of the iQ minicar (which failed to reach production)—but Toyota remains mostly committed to gas-electric hybrids and the multi-decade rollout of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.

With the Prius Prime—the name for its second-generation Prius Plug-in—Toyota is joining the growing pack of automakers positioning plug-ins (with at least some ability to run purely on electricity) as high-volume models. Since 2018, the Prime has been the second best-selling plug-in model, behind the Tesla Model 3 (but ahead of Tesla’s other vehicles).

Style

Nearly two decades after the introduction, the Toyota Prius continues to be the quintessential hybrid gas-electric. Every aspect of the Prius—from its drivetrain to its shape—has been fine-tuned for maximum fuel economy. Critics have long disparaged the Prius’s dorky wedge-shaped silhouette even as others in the industry mimic its aerodynamics.

The 2020 model spices up Prius styling with sharper angles, offering hints of a more muscular, less efficiency-obsessed car. The current gas-electric Prius’s coefficient of drag is lower than ever, but the midsize hatchback now conveys a more mainstream (perhaps even sportier) attitude.

2017 Toyota Prius Plug-in Prime

For the past few years, the Prius Prime uses a sculpted front fascia sporting a blacked-out grille and strips of LED fog and tail lights. From the back, the Prime adds a hatch lid that dips in the middle to the geometric look of the hybrid model.

One look at the Prius Prime tells you that it’s no longer a regular Prius with a plug as an afterthought. It’s positioned as the special premium Prius. The 2020 Prime’s interior takes another step forward in design by using black rather than white accents. On upper trims, a user-friendly 11.6-inch vertical touch screen dominates the dash.

Performance

Toyota boosted the drivability of this generation of the Prius with a stiffened chassis and improved suspension. The Prime also allows for electric-only driving at speeds of up to 84 miles per hour. Critically, it will stay in electric mode even if you push the pedal to the floor. Thus drivers can remain in pure EV mode even on the highway.

The higher electric-only output is available thanks to significant changes to the car’s powertrain configuration. The current Prime can use both motors at the same time—increasing power output from the battery alone.

To be sure, the Prime’s performance is quite modest with the time to arrive at 60 miles per hour taking more than 10 seconds while using gasoline—and closer to 12 seconds when only using electric mode. Peak power output when employing the 1.8-liter gas engine and two electric motors is a meek 121 horsepower. The oomph dips further when operating only on electricity.

Of course, nobody expects stellar acceleration from a Prius. The raison d’etre of the Prius, in all its forms, is comfort and ease while saving fuel—not to provide driving excitement. If a more visceral connection with the road is critical to you, the Prius Prime (like other models in the lineup) might not be the car for you.

Efficiency/Range

The Prius Prime provides an EV-only range of 25 miles thanks to its 8.8-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. An 8.8 kWh is small compared to some competitors—such as the Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid’s 47-mile 17-kWh pack—but the high overall efficiency of the Prime makes up a lot of the difference.

The Prius delivers 54 mpg when running on gas compared to the Clarity’s 42 miles per gallon. (The Hyundai Ioniq offers 29 miles of all-electric range and gasoline efficiency of 52 mpg.)

The Prime achieves a remarkable overall 133 MPGe rating. That makes it one of the most efficient vehicles on the road even when compared to full battery-electric cars.

Real world fuel economy depends on usage. If your driving patterns tend to yield shorter trips with frequent opportunities to charge in between, the Prius Prime could almost eliminate gas station trips from your routine.

Charging

2017 Toyota Prius Plug-in Prime

The Prius Prime charges in about 5.5 hours from a standard 120-volt household outlet and a little over two hours from a Level 2 charging station.

Some drivers might find the Prius Prime’s small battery liberating compared to other plug-ins. If you miss a chance to charge you’re only losing (at most) 25 miles of electric range, and with a fully drained battery, the car can still (according to its EPA rating) get 54 mpg in fuel economy. That’s impressive.

Many owners of plug-in hybrids with relatively small batteries choose to skip the hassle and expense of installing a Level 2 charging station in their homes. Since the vast majority of electric vehicle charging is done overnight—leaving plenty of time to reach capacity using a 120-volt outlet—reducing charge periods down to a couple of hours is usually not necessary.

Some drivers complain that the charging port is unnecessarily large because it carries over from the Japanese variant that also includes a quick-charger. It’s a minor issue.

Passenger/Cargo Room

The 2020 version of the Prius Prime is a five-passenger vehicle—erasing the biggest drawback of the outgoing model, which had a back row with two captain chairs separated by an armrest. Fortunately, the 2020 model now provides room for three passengers in the back with bench seating. It also adds two USB ports, a nice convenience for second-row passengers.

In 2020, the large vertical touch screen adds Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa. (Android users are still out of luck.) Speed and other driving info are displayed on a separate narrow horizontal screen above the 11.6-inch touch screen. The Prius continues to use its signature gizmo-like gear shifter.

This hatchback has 19.8 cubic foot of cargo space, which is more generous than most compact sedans. The available room can expand by utilizing the 60/40 split-folding rear seats. Compared to the conventional no-plug Prius, you lose about four cubic feet of cargo space to make room for the battery.

2017 Toyota Prius Plug-in Prime

Safety

The 2019 Toyota Prius and Prius Prime qualify for Top Safety Pick awards from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Both small cars qualify for the award with standard equipment. These designations, which indicate top ratings for all safety tests as well as good headlight ratings, are expected to continue in 2020.

In 2019, the Prius was offered with an available all-wheel-drive system. That’s not available in the Prime.

The list of standard safety equipment includes a pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert with steering assist, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high beams. Optional safety gear includes blind-spot monitoring, parking assist, and rear cross-traffic alerts.

2017 Toyota Prius Plug-in Prime

Price

With the 2020 model, the Toyota Prius Primes uses the LE, XLE and Limited trim names found in the rest of the automaker’s lineup. The 2020 Toyota Prius Prime goes on sale in summer 2019, starting at $28,530 for the base LE model. The midrange XLE starts at $30,430, and the top-of-the-line Limited has a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price beginning at $34,430. (These figures include a $930 destination charge.)

If you consider the $4,000-plus federal tax credit, the plug-in Prius provides its 25 miles of all-electric capability while potentially undercutting the price of a conventional Prius by a couple of thousand dollars.

Cloth upholstery and heated front seats are standard. Seating upgrades, starting with the mid-range XLE model, include synthetic leather upholstery and an eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat.

The step up to mid-range and top trim levels expand the infotainment to the larger touch screen display, as well as adding keyless entry. The Limited trim should bring a premium JBL sound system, a heated steering wheel, head-up display, and the full suite of optional safety sensors.

The Prius Prime is available in all 50 states.

Toyota Prius Prime (Plug-in Hybrid) specifications

Availability: Now
Base MSRP: $28500
Est. tax credit: $4500
Technology: Plug-in Hybrid
Body type: Sedan
Seats: 4
EPA Range: 25 miles electric + gasoline
Battery size: 9 kWh
Charging rate: 3.3 kW

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