Road Test: 2017 Toyota Prius Prime

Road Test: 2017 Toyota Prius Prime

Update to a Classic Plug-in

As “Kleenex” is to tissues, or “Google” is to search engines, “Prius” is to hybrid cars. It’s surprising that “priusing” hasn’t become a verb for “driving efficiently.”

2017 Toyota Prius Prime

Crazy design

The original Prius had an engine and an electric motor sharing duties to extend the range and efficiency of the gas engine. Braking regenerated the electricity for the small electric motor. Then, about five years ago, Toyota introduced the plug-in hybrid, which permitted limited all-electric driving, but the EV range was small—about 11 miles. Other manufacturers have since offered cars with a greater range.

So, when the Prius was reimagined for its latest version, not only did the stylists go crazy with the design, they upgraded the plug-in version. Today, renamed the Prius Prime, Toyota’s plug-in hybrid can go up to 25 miles in all-EV mode.

That significantly bigger number is the key to getting real value out of a plug-in hybrid. With the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime, I could drive 18 miles to work on a charge, fill the battery back up there, and head home equally gas free. Charging time from empty is about 5 1/2 hours on standard household current or just two hours on a Level 2 240-volt charger, such as the ChargePoint system at my office.

Where a Plug-in Hybrid Shines

Where a plug-in really shines (compared to a pure electric car) is when you want to go on a longer trip. I tried this out with a 170-mile round trip to visit my grandkids. We cruised along on electrons until the car switched to hybrid mode and then it swapped power sources the rest of the way. We plugged in at our destination and reclaimed some pure EV miles for the trip home.

The Hybrid Synergy Drive System mates a 1.8-liter four-cylinder gas engine with two electric motors for a total of 121 horsepower. The 8.8 kilowatt-Hour lithium-ion battery pack, more than double that of the previous plug-in, hides beneath the cargo area, leaving 19.8 cubic feet of cargo capacity.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime

Numbers you can count on

The official EPA numbers are 54 mpg without plugging in. When you do charge up the car, you can get up to 133 MPGe (EPA’s miles per gallon of gasoline-equivalent, which measures the energy content of electricity used per mile), which ranks tops in the world of plug-in hybrid cars. You’ll get a nice 8 for Smog and perfect 10 for Greenhouse Gas in the EPA green ratings, too.

For my week, I averaged 70.5 miles per gallon–a truly wonderful achievement. The car, with about 5,000 miles on it, showed an overall average of 100.6 mpg—likely from a lot of electric driving.

Quiet but Loudly Styled

The 2017 Toyota Prius Prime rolls along about as silently as you’d expect in EV mode—and it’s not a whole lot louder in hybrid mode. Extra insulation keeps road and wind noise out.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime

Style coming at you

You can select from three trim levels—Plus, Premium, and Advanced. My Magnetic Gray Metallic tester was the Advanced, so it came with a long list of features for efficiency, comfort and enjoyment. See Toyota’s website or visit your dealer to study the details.

The Prime’s styling is significantly different and perhaps a bit more aesthetically pleasing than the regular hybrid’s. The nose gets a sparkling row of LED headlamps that come with automatic dimming and features two massive grilles at the lower corners that mimic to the look of its hydrogen-powered Mirai brandmate. The rear swaps the regular Prius’ bizarre vertical taillamps for more integrated horizontal ones, and adds a friendly wave to the rear glass and hatch panel. Still quirky, but undeniably a Prius all the way.

Tech Inside

Inside, the center-mounted instrument panel controls appear to float above the dash. Most notable is the new 11.5-inch vertical display, which borrows from the Tesla design school.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime

A touch of Tesla

There’s a wealth of information displayed, from navigation to audio selections from the Entune system to loads of data on the environmental performance of this decidedly high-tech ride.

Ignoring the massive screen, essential data is all tucked into the slim center strip just below the windshield. Ironically, the colored head-up display repeats some information right above it.

The seats, in Softex artificial leather, were comfortable for hours of travel, and the black-and-white ambiance of the interior proved restful and easy to live with.

Pricing and Value

As overall vehicle prices rise, hybrids don’t seem so expensive anymore. The 2017 Toyota Prime Plus starts at $27,965, the Premium at $29,665, and the Advanced at $33,965, including shipping. My tester had seven extra items, including a universal tablet holder, wheel locks, illuminated door sills, paint protection film and a glass breakage sensor, and hit $36,305.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime

Helping you to drive better

While I believe that pure electric vehicles are wonderful, if you live a daily life that combines moderate weekday commuting with occasional longer trips, the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime may be the ticket. You do have to live with the weird looks, but with up to 640 miles of range and gas power backup, travel opportunities are limitless.

Related Stories You Might Enjoy:

Road Test: 2017 Toyota Prius Prime (Larry’s view)

Road Test: 2017 Toyota Prius Prime (John’s view)

Comparison Test: 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid & Plug-in Hybrid

Road Test: 2017 Ford Fusion Energi

Road Test: 2016 Chevrolet Volt

Road Test: 2017 Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid

Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

Road Test: 2017 Toyota Prius Prime

Road Test: 2017 Toyota Prius Prime

The New, Improved Prime Plug-in

For years, Toyota has danced around electricty, perhaps fearful it would get schocked. But this year the company is back in the electric game (barely) with the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) based on the 2016 Prius Liftback. Plug-in hybrids are a strange lot that are beginning to be noticed. They attract buyers who want a longer distance of all-electric driving (and in some places perks like solo HOV lane access), but aren’t ready to jump to a full electric vehicle.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime

Styling cues from the fuel cell, but mostly just the familiar hybrid

Since its 1997 debut in Japan, Toyota’s Prius has become the gold standard of gasoline-electric hybrid cars. The origional four-door Prius subcompact sedan grew to become the compact-size Prius Liftback, then the automaker added the larger Prius V along with smaller Prius C and, for a short while, the Prius Plug-in.

With a fully charged battery the Prime can travel 25 miles of electric-only driving before seamlessly switching to the hybrid drivetrain. Combined, the Prime can travel 640 miles without charging the battery or filling the gas tank. In contrast, the Chevrolet Volt has double the electric-only driving range of 53 miles (but 420 miles of combined range). But that is not the only criteria for judging the two approaches to the same technology.

The Prius Prime has an EPA estimated miles-per-gallon-eqivalent (MPGe) of 133, the Volt comes in at 106 MPGe. MPGe is the government’s rating to try to help consumers understand how much energy an electric or hybrid car is using in combined city/highway driving. Also, the Prime achieves 54 mpg in combined driving when operating as a normal hybrid, whereas the Volt returns only 42 mpg combined.

The 2017 Toyota Prius Prime comes in three flavors: Plus, Premium, and Advanced. The Plus carries an MSRP of $27,100; the Premium comes in at $28,800; and the top-tier Prime Advanced is $33,100. Prices are before an available federal tax credit of $4,500 and any potential state incentives.

New Hybrid Powertrain

The 2017 Toyota Prius Prime is the first Prius to use a dual-motor drivetrain. It adds a one-way clutch to motor-generator 1 (MG1) so that both electric motors now help drive the wheels. Previously, the MG1 just started the gasoline engine and took care of regenerative braking. Now, when operating as an EV, there are two electric motors powering the wheels, which increases electric driving range and improves performance.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime, engine

Something borrowed

Lift the hood and you’ll find that the Prime packs the same engine as the Prius liftback: a very efficient 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle inline-four making 95 horsepower. Combined with the electric motors, the hybrid system’s net output is 121 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 105 pounds-feet of torque at 3,600 rpm. That’s good for a 0 to 60 mph run of a little less than 11 seconds — just quick enough to merge onto a fast moving freeways with just a little sweat.

There are three different drive modes: HV mode combines the gasoline engine with electric power from the battery to drive the vehicle; EV mode uses the battery alone; and EV Auto Mode switches between the two for the most efficient drive, relying mostly on electric power but calling up the gas engine as needed.

HV mode slowly recharges the battery, but if you hold down the HV button for a few seconds, the car will use more of the gas engine’s power to charge the battery faster, up to 80 percent of its full capacity.

Within the three drive modes are three sub modes: Eco, Normal, and Power. The main difference between the three is acceleration. In Eco mode, there is a hesitation when you press the accelerator pedal, though it evens out as your speed increases. Normal mode feels… normal, while Power is the sharpest the three.

The 8.8 kilowatt-hour (kWh) lithium-ion battery pack located in the trunk area is double the size of the previous Prius plug-in model, and the pack now has a warming system. When plugged in, the battery will warm up so the vehicle can start in full EV mode even if it is freezing outside. A charge takes about two hours at 240 volts or less than five hours at 120 volts.

As with other plug-ins, the Prius Prime allows you to reserve your EV charge for later—for example, drive in hybrid mode for a highway speed journey and then switch to EV mode for in-city travel.

Prius Prime Has Different Styling

Although the Prime is essentially a regular Prius Liftback that plugs in, it boasts styling that is different and easily noticed. Up front, the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime borrows from the Toyota Mirai fuel cell car with bigger air intakes. It has a front grille that is blacked out in the center with LED foglight strips that are much longer than the ones found on the standard Prius.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime, seats

Room for four; families beware of this trim combo

Out back, the Prime’s taillights stretch across the top of the rear end and encircle the lower glass to form two C-shaped patterns. Additionally, the Prius Prime also has LED light clusters in the lower rear fascia that look like rear-mounted fog lights. Accommodating the larger lithium-ion battery meant turning the Prius Prime into a four-seater. To recoup some of the lost cargo space, the Prime is four inches longer than the base Prius. These design changes give the Prius Prime a bolder, sportier look compared to the regular Prius.

Inside the cabin is where you’ll find another key difference between the standard Prius and Prius Prime. Having only four seats was a major objection when Chevy’s Volt was introduced, but there’s been little said about the Prime missing a rear seat position.

The traditional top-of-dash mounted gauges are there so Prius fans won’t get confused by traditional gauge placement behind the steering wheel. But the kingpin of the cabin’s design and tech features is the large infotainment screen. The base model comes with a seven-inch touch screen, while all other Prius Prime trims feature an 11.6-inch screen in the center of the dash. An in-dash color display is a short cut you use to view much of the data that’s on either of the bigger displays, making it simpler and easier to read at a glance.

Four bucket-style seats are standard on the base Plus model as are: cloth upholstery, heated front seats, automatic temperature control, Toyota’s Entune audio system with integrated navigation shown on a seven-inch display screen, and a back-up camera. I found both front and rear seats were comfortable with plenty of leg, head and shoulder room for my five-foot, 11-inch frame.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime, dash, technology

A big distraction

As futuristic as the Prius Prime’s exterior styling is, apparently Toyota thinks it looks high-tech to have high-gloss plastic trim like an old Apple iPod along with white upholstery. My take is the white version will easily get dirty and stained, and not only that, the materials are not very rich-looking.

Note to families with young children: don’t buy a Prius Prime with a white interior.

Compared to the regular Prius, the Prime comes up short when it comes to cargo space. The rechargeable battery pack’s location not only removes several cubic feet of space, but also the spare tire, reducing cargo space to 19.8 cubic space. There’s still enough room for a grocery trip, and folding the rear seats opens up enough space to haul a small desk or bedside table.

Aside from a few accessories, there are no options for the Prius Prime. If you want more features, you buy more Prime.

A step up to the Premium trim gets an 11.6-inch HD display, synthetic leather seats, an eight-way power driver’s seat, Qi wireless smart phone charging and Predictive Efficient Drive, which collects data on daily driving behavior noting where the car slows down and stops the most often. The next time the car is driven to that point, it reminds the driver to ease off the acceleration and can even assist in deceleration to boost fuel economy.

The top-end Prime Advanced adds a heads-up display, LED fog lights, rain-sensing wipers, heated steering wheel, a tonneau cover for the cargo area, a JBL audio system with 10 speakers, radar cruise control, parking assist, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert.

Neither Apple CarPlay or Android Auto are offered and, if your passengers are a crew of techies, they’ll have to take turns using the USB port because there’s only one, even in upper-level models.

Driving the 2017 Prius Prime

Driving the Prius Prime, or any other plug-in or regular hybrid, changes the way I drive, as I can’t help getting sucked into chasing mpg. Speeding from point to point is out, replaced by going with the flow and embracing the slow lane. Pulling away with a feather-touch on the pedal means cars always drive in front of me in traffic. But I just let it go (sometimes begrudgingly) and accept I’ll reach my destination… a couple minutes after I would have, but pleased with the knowledge I didn’t burn extra gallons of fuel in the process.

I kept a close eye on the Prime’s gauges and found I got exactly the 25 miles of electric only driving in EV mode. Even with the battery depleted, driving in town in hybrid mode it was still

2017 Toyota Prius Prime

On the road, not so much fun

easy to mosey about on electric-only power before the gas engine kicked in. Overall, my days with this new plug-in saw 273 miles on the trip odometer with an average of 61.2 mpg of mixed city and highway driving.

The Prius Prime drives pretty much like a regular Prius, which is to say it is not a “fun” car behind the steering wheel. Once I got moving, the car pretty much felt like driving a comparably sized gas-powered hatchback. Shuffling between power sources remained as seamless as always, but on occasion, stepping on the throttle would rev the engine and spin the CVT transmission without moving the car forward very much.

Tepid best describes the Prime’s acceleration, but in around-town driving the car was fairly responsive. Engine noise is well-surpressed, but at cruising speed wind noise was prominent and the hard tires designed for maxium fuel efficiency create excessive road noise.

The suspension struggled with the added weight of the larger battery pack, exhibited by exaggerated motions over rises and crests. And, I’m sorry Toyota, the double wishbone suspension may be “found on the best sports sedans,” but the Prius Prime is not agile.

My biggest complaint about our Prime Advanced car has nothing to do with how it performed its tasks, it was the huge 11.6 inch display screen in the center console. First—it was always on, making it a distraction. Second, the small virtual keys made it difficult to key in a destination. Third, I thought the voice control would take care of that issue, but no such luck.

I’m no Luddite, but for me the smaller screen with accompanying knobs that are easier to use would be my choice.

In The Marketplace

The 2017 Toyota Prius Prime is not without competitors, starting with its most direct rival, the Chevrolet Volt. The Volt is a spunky plug-in hybrid with more off-the-line power and twice the electric range of the Prius Prime. While the base model is six grand less than the Volt, the top level Advance trim is about the same as the Volt’s $34,095 base price.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime,logo

Its biggest selling point

Ford’s two plug-in offerings, the C-Max Energi and Fusion Energi, both have more driving feel than the Prius Prime, but their all-electric driving range falls behind with 19 miles. However, their base price gives the Fords a slight edge. Hyundai’s Sonata plug-in hybrid offers 27 miles of EV driving range and does so with a standard transmission that gives the car a more natural driving feel, but the base model is $7,000 more than the Prime. The Kia Optima plug-in hybrid mirrors the Sonata. And if you simply must have a Honda plug-in hybrid, one is on its way and will boast 40 EV driving miles.

If you’re a Toyota Prius devotee and want to move to a plug-in hybrid, you’ll likely buy a Prius Prime without comparison shopping.  If you’re open-minded, as you’ve just read, there are several choices.

What you will find is the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime is unquestionably a great value from a tech perspective, offering more standard features than plug-in rivals with a lower price. The Prime, in all of its iterations, is a lot of eco-minded car for the money.

Related Stories You Might Enjoy:

Road Test: 2017 Toyota Prius Prime (John’s view)

Road Test: 2017 Ford Fusion Energi

Comparison Test: 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid & Plug-in Hybrid

Road Test: 2016 Chevrolet Volt

Road Test: 2017 Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid

Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class. We also feature those that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

News: WAJ Media Day Offers Preview of Upcoming Test Drives

News: WAJ Media Day Offers Preview of Upcoming Test Drives

Western Automotive Journalists’ Media Day Review

Ford F-250 Super Duty

Unexpected luxury in a work truck (Ford F-250)

Once a year a group of automotive journalists including Clean Fleet Report gathers on the Monterey Peninsula to drive a selection of the latest models available. This year we had the opportunity to sample a variety of vehicles, with First Drive stories scheduled to appear in the near future.

Here’s a preview of what we drove over two days and a headline of what we thought (in alphabetical order):

  • Acura MDX Sport Hybrid – This is a big SUV that is now pushing close to 30 mpg with some careful driving. It’s got some odd gearwork inside, but comes loaded with luxury items.
    Acura MDX Hybrid

    A big SUV with big MPG

    Chrysler Pacifica Plugin Hybrid – Chrysler’s rep told us the plug-in nature of this model may not be highlighted and we found out why. The added fuel economy (84 MPGe with a 32 mpg in gas-only mode) is nice, but the overall car is the best minivan I’ve ever driven.

  • Ford F250 Super Duty – Diesel is definitely not dead in this class of big truck. The power and added fuel economy are expected, but the luxury in this serious work truck is a real plus.
  • Honda Clarity – The third entry in the fuel cell car sweepstakes is a stunner. It looks great and travels as smooth as we’ve come to expect from most electric cars. It’s good competition for the Toyota Mirai.
  • Jaguar XE 2.0d – A sure-footed AWD sedan that feels a bit like a throwback—specifically the first generation BMW 3-Series—and that’s not a bad thing.
  • Kia Niro Hybrid My colleagues have already praised this model highly so my expectations were high, but like several other Kia models—it delivers.
  • Land Rover Discovery Td6 – Another big, high-riding SUV, this one with diesel power giving it mid-20s mpg. The torque from the diesel reinforces a feeling of invincibility.
  • Land Rover Discovery Td6

    Big, powerful and ready to go anywhere

    Mazda CX5 – Mazda seems to keep pumping up this model, which is the heart of its SUV lineup. It’s understated, but a real pleasure to drive while tagging on fuel economy up to almost 30 mpg on the highway.

  • MercedesBenz GLA 250 – I wasn’t sure what to expect from this little red number. It looked sporty, but offered a hint of SUV utility. It turned out to suffer from this kind of schizophrenia, which muddled its image.
  • Toyota CHR – Toyota finally jumps into the hot subcompact SUV segment with this wild-looking model. It’s fun, but quirky in more than just its looks.
  • Toyota Prius Prime – This round the plug-in Prius gets a redo to distinguish it from the non-plug-in Prius and also adds some new gadgets. It’s definitely a step up, but the competition hasn’t been standing still so it is going to continue struggle with all but Toyota loyalists. Some of my colleagues have been impressed with their time in this car.
  • Zero Motorcycles – Zero brought out its full line of electric bikes and got a lot of attention for the bikes quiet performance. It turns out police all over the country love that combination (quiet+performance).

In addition to all of the fun hardware (and trust me, I didn’t have a chance to try everything I wanted to), WAJ Media Day also gave me a chance to learn more about Navdy’s head-up display and get updated on why high-strength steel is still used so extensively in the auto industry.

Stay tuned!

Sponsored Post: 2017 Hybrid Buyers Guide

Sponsored Post: 2017 Hybrid Buyers Guide

Top Five Choices From Both Sides of the Pond

As a car owner you should follow all the maintenance tips for cars to keep them young and durable, but what you start with is important. The good news is the automotive world is now filled with hybrid cars. They are regarded as the better option as they work on the combination of an internal combustion engine and an electric motor.

It may not long when regular cars will be replaced with hybrid ones. Listed below are my picks for the Top 5 Hybrid Cars for 2017.

  1. Toyota Prius Prime

2017 Toyota Prius Prime

2017 Toyota Prius Prime

Whenever hybrid cars are mentioned, Toyota Prius is the first car that comes in our mind. The renowned brand has now launched a new plug-in Toyota Prius Prime model, which has some enhanced features like 133 MPGe (MPGe is a measure of the average distance traveled per unit of energy consumed.incorporating both the gasoline and battery) and 70 g/km emission of CO2. The running cost is very low with high fuel efficiency. It has a very divisive exterior and is very comfortable.

  1. Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid

Hyundai is a very trusted brand, and its new hybrid has garnered a very positive response among the buying public. This conventional-looking car offers 59 mpg and 79 g/km emission of CO2 has tempted many buyers to purchase this car.

Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid

2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid

The exterior is conventionally styled and the interiors are equipped with technology as well as keeping comfort in mind. This car has very low running costs and is fuel-efficient. A plug-in version is coming with even more impressive numbers.

  1. Kia Niro SUV

2017 Kia Niro Hybrid

2017 Kia Niro Hybrid

This is the most practical and high-tech hybrid available in the market. Niro makes a hybrid car look so effortless that it attracts customers automatically. It is very fuel-efficient as it runs up to 52 mpg with carbon emissions of 88 g/km, which is very impressive.

It has a very conventional look and is the most practical hybrid family car. It is very decent and quiet to give you and your family the maximum on your rides. The interior includes a lot of leg space and is well-equipped with standard equipment. Kia says a plug-in hybrid version of the Niro is coming as well.

  1. Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV SUV

Mitsubishi is a brand working to reinvent itself in the U.S. One of the tools expected to help that reinvention is the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV SUV. It’s a one of a kind dual motor plug-in hybrid and has proved to be a sensation among SUV buyers. It is fuel-efficient and significantly cheaper to run.

2017 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

2017 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

It also has the best RV antenna for you to tune into your favorite radio channel. The most special feature about this car is that it can manage 30 miles on electric power alone. Now that’s impressive! Also, it can return as much as 148 MPGe (in the European measurment cycle), and the CO2 emissions are just 44 g/km. It has the desirable rugged looks, and the well-built interior is perfect for a family.

  1. Mercedes E-Class Sedan

2017 Mercedes-Benz E-350e

2017 Mercedes-Benz E-350e

The brand name is powerful enough to pursue you to purchase this car. The fine E-class sedan is the dream car for many. This plug-in hybrid is the perfect car as it provides you the finest luxury and is also fuel and cost-efficient. It’ll return around 134 MPGe, and the CO2 emissions range from 49-57 g/km.

This luxurious car has the best interior and stylish looks. The running costs are also very low. It can run only on the electric motor for 20 miles. Don’t worry; the price is not very high.

The concept of a hybrid is relatively new for modern cars, and plug-in hybrids are even newer, but people have happily accepted these ideas. This is the most practical choice for passengers and our environment, too. Don’t you want to know more benefits of these awesome hybrid cars? The above mentioned are just the Top 5 models, but there are many more hybrid cars that you should have a look at.

Road Test: 2017 Toyota Prius Prime PHEV

Road Test: 2017 Toyota Prius Prime PHEV

Prime = Toyota’s Fuel Economy King

Toyota has had four Prius models since 2012, and last year (2016) sales of the Prius Liftback, Prius c, Prius V and Plug-in Prius added up to more than 136,000 units. Something new showed up at the end of the year that Toyota hopes will counter several years of declining cumulative Prius sales–the all-new 2017 Prius Prime. So what’s all the hoopla about because, isn’t one Prius the same another? Not so fast lumping the Prius Prime in with its siblings as it goes further, charges faster and looks way different than the others.

 

2017 Toyota Prius Prime

New look, new name, new numbers

Clean Fleet Report spent a fuel-sipping week driving throughout Southern California in the 2017 Prius Prime Premium. With an eye on Toyota’s very appealing fuel economy claims, we wondered if it was possible to get 50+ mpg. Cutting to the answer, we did, and in a big way.

The front-wheel drive 2017 Prius Prime is powered by what Toyota says is its “most efficient hybrid powertrain,” which is where the car’s “Prime” name comes from—as in the best. Toyota considers this to be the most technologically advanced Prius it had ever made, going back more than two decades.

Prime Drivetrain

Toyota has mastered the parallel hybrid drivetrain, or Hybrid Synergy Drive as they brand it. The electric motor can power the car by itself, the gas engine can power the car by itself or they can power the car together, usually at the discretion of the car’s efficiency-focused computer. But the Prime offers one more power option—the car can go about 25 miles, and as fast as 84 mph, in pure EV mode.

The Hybrid Synergy Drive system comprises a 1.8-liter double overhead cam (DOHC), four-cylinder gasoline engine and two electric motors producing a net 121 horsepower through the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). The EPA rating is 55 city/53 highway/54 combined mpg. But adding together the gasoline and electricity the EPA estimates 133 MPGe, or Miles Per Gallon Equivalent. MPGe is a measurement of how far a car can travel electrically on the same amount of energy as is contained in one gallon of gasoline. It illustrates the efficiency of the drivetrain more than any real-world indication of fuel economy.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime

Designed to be slippery in the wind

So what does this mean? After 317 miles of driving the Prius Prime we averaged 58.1 mpg. A big part of this is that Toyota engineered the Prime to default to electric mode and stay there (unless manually changed to Eco/hybrid) through the first 25 miles. In past Prius models, you would take off from a stop in electric mode, but with even the slightest pressure on the accelerator pedal, the engine would kick-in and gasoline would be pouring through the veins of the 1.8L engine. We like this new system much better. So whether it be the EPA’s or ours, these numbers are outstanding as it seemed we drove forever and the fuel gauge barely dropped.

It is important to note that fuel economy numbers reported by Clean Fleet Report are non-scientific. They represent the reviewer’s driving experience, in our reviewer’s city. If you live in cold weather, high in the mountains or spend time in the city or stuck in rush hour traffic, then your numbers may differ.

The Prius Prime uses a lithium-ion (li-ion) battery, which is charged by plugging-in or through the regenerative charging system, which converts energy into the battery when applying the brakes or coasting. The “B” drive mode recharges the battery at a faster rate when coasting downhill. The 8.8kWh li-ion batteries deliver 25 miles of pure EV driving. Charging takes:

120V           5.3 hours: discharged to a full charge

240V           2.1 hours: discharged to a full charge

The Prius Prime does not come with a 480V Quick Charge option.

Driving Experience: On the Road

The four-door 2017 Prius Prime weighs in at 3,365 pounds, with the weight well distributed due to the under-seat battery placement, resulting in a low center of gravity. The electrically power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, the front MacPherson struts with stabilizer bar and rear Torsion beam suspension delivers a smooth and stable ride. Tire and

2017 Toyota Prius Prime

LED lights enable aero in front

wind noise could be hidden a bit better, but the engine in gasoline mode was quiet. Of course when running on electricity only, there is no engine noise because no engine is running. Seems obvious, but it needed to be said.

The 15-inch alloy wheels and 195/65R tires delivers handling that was direct with little body roll. Nothing sporty about the Prius Prime in handling or acceleration, which was about 0–60 in 10 seconds. Being fair to Toyota, the Prius Prime is not marketed as a sporty car, but one that delivers a safe, secure and competent ride with outstanding fuel economy. No alternative facts here…Toyota delivered what they promised.

The previously mentioned regenerative braking system has four-wheel disc brakes with ABS. The stops were straight and true, with no brake fade, nor the sometimes noticeable hybrid braking whine.

Driving Experience: Interior

Clean Fleet Report was driving the Premium model, which is the middle trim level between Plus and Advanced. This gave us Toyota’s SofTex trimmed seats, which is a synthetic material designed for long wear, which is soft to the touch, resists spills and is easy to clean. And for the vegans out there, there are no animal-based materials used in the SofTex manufacturing process.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime

A Tesla-like presence on the dash

The 2017 Prius Prime only seats two in the rear seat. No big deal unless you need the third seat, at which point you will opt for one of the other three Prius models. For four adults though, the Prime’s interior is roomy with good head and leg room, and a center fold down armrest with cup holders.

The eight-way power-adjustable driver seat and the tilt/telescopic steering wheel made finding a comfortable driving position easy. The steering wheel has all the usual control buttons (audio, phone, cruise control, Bluetooth, etc.), and the ability to switch between fuel and battery (hybrid) gauges.

About those gauges. They are in the center of the dash with none, as in zero, being directly in front of the driver. It does not take much effort to look ten degrees to the right at all times, but it is odd. Maybe a heads-up display would be a nice addition.

The car has good front sightlines with a large windshield. Glancing in the mirror reveals the spoiler cutting horizontally midway through the rear window, a rear window that has a curved surface. A note to Toyota that we were not fans of a loud beeper going off inside the cabin when shifting into reverse. It seemed redundant and unnecessary because, as the driver, you know when the car is in reverse as the Rearview Camera pops-up on the screen and there is an obvious “R” on the dash. Plus, the beeping is not heard outside the car where it would be the most useful.

The Prius Prime came with Toyota’s Entune Premium Audio system with navigation and an 11.6-inch high-resolution touch-screen color display. This large vertical display is also found as on Toyota’s Mirai fuel cell vehicle. The six speaker system included an AM/FM cache radio with MP3/WMA playback capability, SiriusXM (which includes 90-day trial subscription) and HD AM Radio with iTunes. Also included are an auxiliary audio jack, USB port with iPod connectivity and control, hands-free phone, advanced voice recognition, Siri Eyes Free and music streaming via Bluetooth. The sound system does not have knobs for volume and channel selection, an annoying omission that must be designed to make the dash seem smooth and modern.

Driving Experience: Exterior

2017 Toyota Prius Prime

The view that may not hit your comfort zone

Redesigned and renamed for 2017, the Prius Prime is one of the most recognizable vehicles on the road. Most agree the front end design is fine, but opinions differ—strongly—about the rear end. The overall wedge-shape of the five-door hatchback has not changed much since introduced in 2003. (The first Prius models were introduced in 1997 as four-door sedans.) The shape is driven completely to reduce wind resistance and drag to increase fuel economy. Toyota says it “looks like the future” with the design “purely intentional.”

The front end is dominated by two large air scoops on each corner of the lower fascia, topped by attractive rectangular quad-LED projector headlamps. The deeply sloped hood leads to a raked windshield and roof that peaks at the B pillar, and then drastically slopes all the way to the integrated spoiler on the rear hatch. The glass on the hatch has a dual wave design, which makes it unique. The hatch is made of carbon fiber, so it feels light at first touch but is solid when closing.

Now to the rear end. It is best to let you absorb and take it in to find your comfort zone.

Pricing

2017_Toyota_Prius_Prime

The only Prius with a plug

The 2017 Prius Prime comes in three trim levels—Plus, Premium and Advanced. Clean Fleet Report drove the Premium version, which will probably be the most popular considering its deep list of standard features.

The Prius Prime qualifies for Federal and State tax credits that could reduce your final cost. Clean Fleet Report recommends contacting your CPA before considering a Prius Prime purchase so you are completely clear on the tax credits. Not relying on the dealer to provide this information will serve them and you best.

Also worth noting is that in California the Prius Prime qualifies for the coveted car pool stickers allowing the driver, with no passenger, to use the HOV lane. This is no small thing when trying to get anywhere on a freeway in the Golden State. Make sure to check with your DMV to see if this benefit is available in your state.

These MSRPs do not include the $865 delivery, processing and handling fee.

Prime Plus                       $27,100

Prime Premium                $28,800

Prime Advanced              $33,100

Safety and Warranties

The 2017 Prius Prime is well-equipped for safety with remote keyless entry, push button start/stop, power door locks, heated and power outside mirrors, tire pressure monitoring system, seven airbags, vehicle stability and traction control, brake assist, engine immobilizer and full stop technology.  Advanced driver pre-collision technology includes lane departure alert, dynamic radar cruise control and pedestrian detection.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime

Easy-to-fit luxury

The 2017 Prius comes with these warranties:

  • Basic – Three years/36,000 miles
  • Powertrain – Five years/60,000 miles
  • Rust-through – Five years/Unlimited miles
  • Hybrid-related components (CA, MA, NY, NJ, VT, CT, ME, NM and RI) – 15 years/150,000 miles
  • Battery (same states) – 10 years/150,000 miles
  • Battery (remaining states) – Eight years/100,000 miles
  • Toyota Care – Complimentary maintenance plan for two years/25,000 miles (for every new Toyota purchase or lease)

Observations: 2017 Toyota Prius Prime

The 133 MPGe EPA rating takes Toyota into a new competitive space of high-mileage alternative fuel vehicles. The smooth operation and seamless transition between gasoline and electric modes, the excellent interior fit and finish, and the drive/ride attributes of the Prius Prime make it a serious contender for anyone looking at a midsize car—regardless of its power source.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime

The halo for the Prius brand

You will pay more for a hybrid versus a gasoline-powered car and more for a Prius Prime over a non-plug-in Prius. Is it worth it? If you drive most of your miles in town or in rush hour traffic, then you will benefit greatly from the pure electric mode of the Prime.

The proven reliability of the Prius line-up gives confidence that this car will be in your garage for many, many years.

Whatever you end up buying, enjoy your new car and as always, Happy Driving!

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Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class. We also feature those that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.