Almost Autonomous: The 2017 Toyota Prius Four

In my quest to drive the perfect car, I had a chance to revisit a car model to see the latest updates and technology for 2017 thanks to Toyota. The company loaned me a 2017 Toyota Prius Four Touring for a week to check out all that’s new and interesting in the vehicle. And there’s a lot to like.

I owned a Toyota Prius years ago and while there was a lot about the car I appreciated, it was a bit too small for three children and a full size cello (forcing me to upgrade to the Toyota Highlander Hybrid I drive now). It also had problems with very cold weather and often required a jump start. Other Prius owners have reported having that problem in years past too, but Toyota seems to have finally fixed the problem.

Which is why it was ironic that the day after they delivered the Prius Four Touring to my driveway we got a foot of snow in a fast-moving blizzard. My first day of potentially driving the car and it looked like this:

2017 toyota prius under 1 foot of snow

No-one was driving much that day and by the following morning I was willing to take the car out for a spin. And “out for a spin” was accurate: a light, front-wheel-drive vehicle, the 2017 Toyota Prius Four did not handle the icy roads very well at all. I’m an experienced bad weather driver, so there was never a safety issue, but this is not the car I would purchase for drives up into the Rockies for skiing.

It’s a rare day here in Colorado that it’s truly icy on the roads, so that’s worth mentioning, but certainly not a show-stopper. Then again, that’s why there are so darn many AWD and SUV’s on the road here in Colorado too.

Back to the Prius. The trend in cars is clear and it’s coming on fast: autonomous, self-driving vehicles. The smarts have been creeping into our automobiles for years now and tech like adaptive cruise control, lane departure warnings, and blind-spot monitoring are all stepping stones. The 2017 Prius has all of that and more. In fact, with a dashboard that features a display centered on the front, not centered on the steering wheel, it’s a design that points strongly to what a self-driving Prius will look like.

It can be disconcerting as a driver to look through your steering wheel and see, well, nothing:

no dashboard display on 2017 toyota prius four touring

All the controls are up and to the right, as convenient for the passenger to monitor as the driver. And oh, what a display the 2017 Prius has. It’s more like the control panel of a futuristic flying car than anything else, as you can see in this panoramic shot:

2017 toyota prius four touring display dashboard

Interestingly, the Prius also gamifies driving, offering up a moment by moment driving score (above you can see I’m hitting 52 out of 100) and a final score every time you turn the vehicle off:

final driving score, 2017 toyota prius

74 out of 100? That just makes my competitive side come out. I can score at least 90, right? And that impulse is exactly why turning driving and maximizing fuel efficiency into a game is so brilliant. It works.

Which leads to the question of what kind of mileage the Prius Four Touring delivers. Sure it has an EPA estimated milage for both highway and city, but what did I get in a week of driving? Fortunately, there’s a display option for that data:

fuel efficiency gas mpg 2017 prius toyota display

By far, the best milage I saw was on Jan 9 when I drove from Boulder to Denver and back. 101 miles total with an average fuel efficiency of 53.7 mpg. Darn nice!

The vehicle itself demonstrates Toyota’s attention to detail and excellent sense of style and design:

2017 toyota prius four touring exterior

The interior design, as I have already mentioned, is a promise of self-driving capabilities in the future. It’s not like your Dad’s mid-1990’s Toyota, that’s for sure:

2017 toyota prius four touring interior

This is the “cool gray” interior option and what you can’t really tell from the photograph is that while most of the interior is a leather-like fabric, parts are a shiny plastic material which can be a bit off-putting if you’re not expecting it. Notably, the white highlights on the steering wheel, the panel behind the gearshift and the cup holder area.

But for all the vaunted design, there are still some hiccups that are worth knowing about, one of the most annoying of which is the location of the seat warmer controls. Yeah, I know, “first world problem”, but if Toyota is going to include the feature, having the controls be accessible is just a good idea. But they’re not. In fact, can you see the tiny lights just under the gearshift? Here’s a closeup:

seat warmer controls are hidden, 2017 toyota prius

That’s how you turn on the seat warmer feature and control it, and I can attest that even with long arms, it’s an awkward stretch to turn them on or off, and a dangerous one if you’re busy driving at the time. I bet plenty of Prius owners don’t even know those controls exist, they’re so effectively tucked away back there.

And then there’s the weird split back window design. The exterior look is very attractive with the slight spoiler, but when you look in the rear view mirror, there’s a huge bar across your view:

2017 toyota prius rear view mirror

Of course, that won’t matter when the car’s driving itself, but in the meantime, it was one of the most jarring parts of driving the 2017 Toyota Prius Four Touring edition.

Enough complaints, however, because overall, I really enjoyed driving the Prius. There’s a lot to like both in its handling, the powerful CVT (continuously variable — non-geared — transmission), the excellent audio system and the techie-friendly dashboard design and layout:

2017 toyota prius four touring front dashboard closeup

Toyota has been making the Prius for many years and it’s gone through multiple significant design generations. The 2017 Toyota Prius Four Touring is a great addition to the lineup and has enough tech and gimmickry to satisfy even the biggest nerd driver. Now to have the “Engage Auto-Drive” button so I can sit back and relax while it takes me to my next destination…

2017 Toyota Prius Four Touring, Blue Crush Metallic exterior, Cool Gray interior. 1.8L DOHC 16V VVT-i 4-cylinder engine, 17″ alloy wheels, 4-wheel disc brakes. Premium convenience package, universal tablet holder, rear bumper protection, glass breakage sensor, floor mats, alloy wheel locks, cargo net, illuminated door sills (which were quite cool!) and paint protection film all added options. MSRP: $34,181 as configured.

Disclaimer: Toyota loaned me the vehicle for a week to test drive and write about.

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