What it is: The Prius Prime is Toyota’s second-generation, plug-in hybrid. A plug-in hybrid is a typical hybrid with a larger battery pack that can be charged by plugging your car into an electrical outlet. Its goal is to combine the efficiency of an electric vehicle on shorter distances with having the unlimited range of a gas engine.
Toyota has made several improvements over the previous model that make it a much more desirable choice for day-to-day life. First is the included on-board charger that has been upgraded to 3.3 kilowatts and can be charged by a 120-volt standard plug in 5.5 hours (or half the time with a 240-volt outlet). Toyota raised the electric-only top speed from 62 to 84 mph, so highway commuters will still get to take advantage of the electric mode. The other big improvement is the interior, which is a techie’s dream on the premium and advanced trim. A huge 11.6-inch multimedia display is mounted vertically in the middle of the dash and is where you control navigation, air conditioning, etc. This is right out of Tesla’s playbook, and it looks good here.
The huge screen doesn’t come on the cheapest Prius Prime trim (the Plus) but does come on the Premium or Advanced trim. For an extra $1,700, the Premium adds the aforementioned screen, SofTex-trimmed heated front seats and a Qi wireless smartphone charging platform. For an additional $4,300, you get a color head-up display, LED fog lights, and a myriad of active safety features including adaptive cruise control, intelligent parking assist, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert. Usually I’m a big fan of safety items, but $4,300 is a lot of cash. The head-up display is handy, but it’s best feature, showing you speed limit changes, was regularly completely inaccurate. Although I would love it, there are no 75 mph zones inside of Beltway 8, Toyota!
The 8.8 kilowatt-hour battery can provide an all-electric range up to 25 miles with an EPA rating of 133 mpg-e. The normal mpg is rated at 54 combined, so the electronic drive system is just below 250% more efficient. It would take many miles to make up the extra cost of the Prius Prime over the normal Prius, so it’s not really a fiscal-based solution driving customers over the normal Prius. The idea is that on a large number of trips you would have a much greener footprint.
There’s no need to switch between electric and gas modes as the car will handle it automatically for you. In fact, you would be hard pressed to even notice the changeover. The electric drive provides plenty of torque, so you really aren’t wanting for power. I was particularly impressed with the power on the highway and had no problem navigating through Houston’s “Mad Max”-style freeway interchanges.
Price: $27,100 for Plus. $33,100 for Advanced trim. $36,700 as-tested with destination fees.
Upsides: Easy to use. Safe first step into electric vehicles.
Downsides: Limited EV range. No volume control knob (you have to tap a button).
Wrap-up: I was very impressed by the Prius Prime. I think that the Prius is the better choice on purely a fiscal basis, but the Prime is a great way to own an electric car. The main competitor is the Chevy Volt, which offers up to 53 miles of electric-only range but starts nearly $6,000 higher than the Prime. I was initially taken aback at how ultra-modern the Prius Prime looked, but quickly adjusted to it. The huge infotainment screen is good, but not great, and I think that unless you are a techie you may find it tiresome. The base model (the Plus) does omit the huge screen, so there is an option for that buyer. Overall, I like where Toyota’s mind is, and can’t wait to see this product improved more in the future.
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