2017 Toyota Prius Prime delivers mixed results and high efficiency

Prius Prime plugged in (Aaron)

The 2017 Toyota Prius Prime is the plug-in hybrid version of the Prius line, adding the ability to plug the car into a wall outlet for charging and a longer electric-only range to go with that. Efficiency is very high in the Prime, but ride quality and the car’s overall demeanor suffer.

The manufacturer says

The all-new Prius Prime is the most efficient car in its class, with an EPA-estimated 133 MPGe. What makes it so superior? Every last detail has been optimized to make it both advanced and efficient. Its cutting-edge, lightweight materials, combined with its proven hybrid technology, all work harmoniously to enhance performance while maximizing—and redefining—efficiency.

Specs:

  • Manufacturer: Toyota
  • Year, Model: 2017 Prius Prime
  • Class, Type: Compact Plug-in Hybrid
  • Vehicle EV range: 25 miles
  • Base Price: $27,100
  • MSRP as tested: $36,305
  • Availability: Now

Overview

The Toyota Prius is the world’s best-selling and most-recognizable hybrid-electric car. As a gasoline-electric model, we’ve driven it in several forms for the 2016 and 2017 model years and found it to be competent at maximizing MPG, but not at much else. The improved 2016 models for the current-generation Prius are much better than what was had before, but still lack in handling characteristics, ride quality, and noise abatement when compared to other compacts. The plug-in 2017 Prius Prime has those same issues, plus a few more, but delivers fuel economy returns that no competitor can come close to.

The 2017 Toyota Prius Prime comes in two trim levels: Premium and Advanced. We drove the latter, which adds a lot of electronics and a huge tablet-like infotainment interface as well as several safety measures like rear cross-traffic alert, a head-up display, and semi-automated parking.

Both models use the same drivetrain, which consists of a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and two electric motors driving the car in front-wheel drive through a continuously variable transmission (CVT). An 8.8 kWh lithium-ion battery pack offers up to 25 miles of all-electric driving range and can be charged through a plug port located on the driver’s side fender of the car. The Prius Prime comes with a 120V wall plug and charger and can be charged by a Level 2 240V charger, including public charging stations with SAE or CHADEMO standard plugs. Charging time ranges from about six hours to less than two hours, depending on the charger.

To accommodate the larger batteries that the Prius Prime uses, the back seat becomes two buckets, making seating fit only for four people. The rear cargo deck is a bit higher than in the standard Prius, lowering cargo capacity in terms of height. A slightly longer argo area is included with the Prime, however, thanks to its longer body versus the standard Prius.

These concessions, including the Prime’s higher price tag, result in higher fuel economy. The 2017 Toyota Prius Prime is rated at 55 mpg in the city and 53 mpg on the highway, about 1 and 3 points higher than the standard Prius and over ten MPG better than the Chevrolet Volt, a close competitor.

Sadly, the 2017 Prius Prime doesn’t have a better ride or handling quality than its standard Prius brother, which is also not very good on the road. Noise and vibration is high and wind noise is especially annoying in the Prime. The Advanced model’s infotainment interface is nearly impossible to use while driving thanks to constant glare from all angles.

Our test drive also included winter driving conditions. We found the 2017 Prius Prime to be less than idea for inclement weather thanks to hard low-rolling resistance tires and a feeling of lightness on the steer axle.

What we like

Extremely good MPG, even in the real world

Very easy to park and plug in thanks to improved visibility over the previous generation Prius

What we don't

Boring and non-dynamic drive quality and acceleration

Terrible in versatility and all-weather use

Conclusions

For those looking to maximize fuel economy, the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime is about as good as it gets before moving on to a pure battery-electric car. Those buying for any other reason are bound to be disappointed.

Test Period Length and Limitations
The 2017 Prius Prime was a manufacturer’s press loan for about a week. During that time, a total of about 300 miles were put on the vehicle in varied driving conditions, including winter driving as well as highway and off-highway testing.

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