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Quick Drive: 2017 Toyota Prius Prime Plus

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I’m one of the few people who actually like the current Toyota Prius - I named it one of my favorite vehicles last year. It offers excellent fuel economy and noticeable improvements to the interior and handling. So what happens when you add a plug to it? You end up with the Prius Prime which is much better than the last-generation Prius Plug-In and makes for an interesting alternative to Chevrolet Volt if you happen to be on a budget.

  • The regular Prius was already a model that you either loved or hated the design. The Prime only exacerbates this as it comes with new front and rear styling to set it apart. The front end gets a new black treatment for the middle that makes it look like it is wearing a mask to hide its identity. A set of quad-LED headlights come from the Mirai and makes the Prime look futuristic.
  • The back features a new tailgate design with what Toyota calls a “dual wave.” It may look ridiculous when put next to the standard Prius, but I dig it. One more thing about the rear tailgate; it happens to made out of carbon fiber to help reduce some weight out of the Prime. The weight loss is not really that impressive as the tailgate only drops 8 pounds from the curb weight.
  • Move inside and the Prime is mostly similar to the Prius I drove last year with an abundance of soft-touch materials, color screens for the instrument cluster, and comfortable front seats. The key differences? You’ll only find seating for two in the back and cargo space is slightly smaller (19.8 vs. 24.6 cubic feet) due to the larger battery taking up some of the precious cargo space.
  • One key item Toyota is proud of in the Prius Prime is an 11.6-inch, vertical touchscreen that controls many of the vehicle’s function such as navigation, audio, and climate control. But you may notice our test Prime doesn’t have it. That’s because the larger screen is only available on the Premium and Advanced models. The base Plus sticks with the 7-inch touchscreen with Entune. From reviews I have been reading about the Prime with the larger screen, it is a mess. The user interface is a bit of mess, performance is meh, and the screen washes out when sunlight hits it. The 7-inch system doesn’t have all of these issues - aside from the sunlight one. Entune may look a little bit dated, but the interface is easy to wrap your head around and performance is pretty snappy.
  • The Prime’s powertrain is the same as the standard Prius; 1.8L Atkinson-Cycle four-cylinder engine and two electric motors/generators producing a total output of 121 horsepower and 105 pound-feet of torque. Where it differs is the battery. The Prime comes with a 95-cell, 8.8-kWh Lithium-ion battery pack. This allows for 25 miles of electric motoring - 14 miles more than the last-generation Prius Plug-In.
  • In electric mode, the Prius Prime feels confident when leaving a stop as the electric motors provide that immediate thrust of power. This is a vehicle that will make other drivers question their thoughts about the Prius.
  • When the Prime is put into the hybrid mode, it feels and goes like a slower Prius. A lot of this is due to extra weight brought on the larger battery - about 300 pounds. You will notice the vehicle taking a few ticks longer to get up speed, especially on hills or merging on to a freeway.
  • How much range was I able to squeeze out of the Prime? I was able to travel between 24 to 27 miles on EV power. Average fuel economy landed around 75 mpg with mostly city driving.
  • When I first got the Prius Prime, I had to plug it in to get the battery charged up. On a 120V outlet, it took 5 hours and 30 minutes to recharged - exactly the time listed by Toyota. If you have a 240V charger, a full recharge only takes 2 hours and 10 minutes on 240V When the battery is halfway depleted, it took about 2 hours and 30 minutes to fully recharge.
  • The Prius was quite a shock when I drove it last year as it drove surprisingly well. It provided decent handling and the steering felt somewhat natural. The same is true for the Prime. 
  • You would think after four-generations of the Prius, Toyota would have finally figured out how to make the regenerative brakes feel like brakes in a standard car. But this isn’t the case. Like in the Prius I drove last year, the Prime exhibited brakes that felt numb and having to push further on the pedal to bring the vehicle to a stop.
  • The Toyota Prius Prime is a huge improvement over the old the Prius Plug-In Hybrid as it offers a better EV range, short recharging time, and a much nicer interior. The exterior will put some people off and Toyota still needs to work on improving the Prius’ brakes.
  • We have to address the elephant in the room, the Chevrolet Volt. The Volt does offer a longer range (53 miles), much better brakes, and a sharper exterior. The Prius Prime fights back with a larger interior, shorter recharging times, and low price. If I had the money, I would be picking up a Volt Premier as I think it is the slightly better vehicle. But if I only had $30,000 to spend and wanted something fuel efficient, the Prius Prime would be at the top of the list.

Disclaimer: Toyota Provided the Prius Prime, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas

Year: 2017
Make: Toyota
Model: Prius Prime
Trim: Plus
Engine: 1.8L DOHC, VVT-i Atkinson Cycle Four-Cylinder, Two Electric Motors
Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, ECVT
Horsepower @ RPM: 95 @ 5,200 (Gas), 71 @ 0 (Electric), 121 (Combined)
Torque @ RPM: 105 @ 5,200 (Gas), 120 @ 0 (Electric)
Fuel Economy: Electric + Gas, Hybrid City/Highway/Combined -  133 MPGe, 55/53/54
Curb Weight: 3,365 lbs
Location of Manufacture: Aichi, Japan
Base Price: $27,100
As Tested Price: $28,380 (Includes $885.00 Destination Charge)

Special Color (Hypersonic Red) - $595.00

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Love the comparison at the end to the Volt as I was wondering the same things you covered. Nice job.

Personally, I am amazed they took the Hydrogen auto front and rear design and applied it to the Prius Prime. Took a car that you either love or hate in looks and made it even uglier.

Center dash, that is a huge unsafe design IMHO. Your almost looking over in front of the passenger to see the last of the info in that small height long dash screen.

How do dashes like this not contribute to distracted driving?

If they feel most of this info is not needed during driving, put it on a big screen in the center dash and add HUD directly in front of the driver so their focus is truly in front.

I also question such a small battery pack, this shows Toyota is really slipping behind with such a meager EV range.

With the deals out there, I see no reason to buy this car when you can get a superior Volt for just a few dollars more.

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