Driving a different car each week, it’s easy to fall into a state of ennui. At some level most cars are the same, and certainly within a specific class of vehicles, it’s hard to really get too excited about yet another SUV or yet another small 4-door sedan. Except there are cars that redefine their class and offer a design or technological experience that makes the stand out, even to a slightly jaded automotive writer like myself. Like the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime.
I owned a Toyota Prius back in the early to mid 2000’s and to be honest, it was a mediocre experience. I loved the tech of the hybrid and the styling was good, but it didn’t perform as promised and I went back to the dealer a number of times trying to get a handle on why I was seeing low 30’s mpg on a car with an EPA estimated 50+ mpg. There were definitely battery issues too, and I had to jump start it dozens of times in the last year before I sold it. Still there are aspects to a hybrid that make them fun to drive and I really liked the continuously variable transmissions and, yes, South Park, I liked driving a zero emissions hybrid and feeling like I was helping the environment, even if just a little bit.
In that sense, slipping into the plug-in hybrid 2017 Toyota Prius Prime felt very comfortable. The interior design and control layout is mostly the same, so it was easy to get going, though the exterior of the car is definitely new and ultra-modern chic:
As you can see, the front has a distinctive staggered headlines design and a big scoop on each side. There’s some nice styling on the sides too and while you can see the heritage of the older second generation Prius, the lines are definitely a bit more aggressive.
The back window area has a peculiar dip in the middle, however, as you can see in this second exterior photo:
Nothing too radical, but it’s unclear why this was included as it makes the rear window quite specialized, and likely quite expensive to replace if that ever becomes an issue. In Colorado, we’re all used to replacing front windshields every year or two from chips, so I might be overly sensitized to windshields and vehicle glass.
Did you catch that there appears to be a gas cover on each side of the vehicle? Scroll back up and look again, you’ll see what I mean. On the driver’s side, it’s for gas, the fuel that feeds the hybrid engine. But on the passenger side it’s the plug-in port and it’s really pretty cool:
The other end of the charging cable plugs into a regular 110-volt AC plug, so it’s easy to charge at home, no special 220-volt power needed. When I first plugged it in, I realized I could also charge it while at the gym, the coffee shop, at school, etc. But wouldn’t someone steal the power cord? Nope, Toyota’s thought of that. See the little button just to the right of the middle of the plug area above? That’s a lock mechanism. Push it and the plug’s locked onto your vehicle until you unlock it (you need the key in your pocket to operate the lock).
It took about 5-6 hours to go from zero to fully charged, and once you have the plug-in battery system charged up, you drive on exclusively electric power until it runs out of juice. Toyota says that’s a 25mi range but in my experience it varied from 22-27mi. The dashboard shows you exactly what range you have remaining on the charge:
The yellow bar graph on the top left shows fuel level, 73F is the outside temperature, and the 26.8 miles is the estimated range with the battery. The vertically oriented battery shows up twice on the display in different areas and it really shows what’s going on with the electrical subsystem: green represents plug-in battery capacity and blue is the battery associated with the hybrid technology. While we’re looking at the display, also notice that for the last 691.3 miles we’ve averaged 90.1mpg. Not too shabby.
But you can get more precise data about your fuel efficiency and daily driving distance, as shown:
As you can see, the fuel efficiency when my day’s driving is less than the plug-in battery capacity is fantastic. Who doesn’t grin when they see 199.9 average mpg? Then again, notice Mar 12’s 50.3 mpg. Without the boost of those first 25-miles on all-electric the mpg definitely drops down. On the 13th, I drove quite a bit and the Prius was happy with that, delivering 66.7mpg.
While we’re looking at the dashboard, let me say that the nav system and main control screen is bloody awesome. Clearly inspired by the Tesla’s dash design, the Prius Prime has a main screen the size of a book:
As I said, lots to like with the dashboard design and controls of the Prius Prime, and I got to enjoy the daily updates on how I was driving, what kind of fuel efficiency I was seeing, etc. In fact, it’s gameified and you get a score each time you stop the engine, though you need to be careful to ensure that your primary focus is driving well and safely, not getting the best possible score.
Oh, and like a number of cars I’ve reviewed recently, the Prius had lighted door strips:
It’s a bit hard to see during the day, but the word Prius and the blue line both glow a lovely dark blue when the door’s open. Yeah, it’s fluff, bling, but it’s pretty cool nonetheless.
But all was not great with the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime, however. It has the same dumb placement of the seat warmer controls, recessed way back behind the main dash section and just about impossible for the driver to safely turn on while driving. More than that, though, the configuration I had was a four seater, not a five seater, as you can clearly see:
This is a hard molded seat design and while it looks elegant and is convenient for the back passengers, it’s an odd decision to take a 5-seater and force it to be a 4-seater. For many families, this could be a show-stopper. Buyer beware, for sure.
Overall, however, I enjoyed driving this plug-in hybrid car more than almost anything I’ve driven in the last year. It was peppy (particularly in EV mode), the gas mileage was fantastic, and there were many days when my entire driving range for the day was well within the 24-26mi range of the plug-in electric system. There’s a certain glee in driving with zero gas consumption too, even though I understand that I was still paying for fuel, just through my electric utility. The sound system was good, the entertainment system was terrific, particularly with the huge map display, and the car garnered lots of attention everywhere I went for both its styling and technology.
AS DRIVEN: 2017 Toyota Prius Prime Advanced, model 1239A, Titanium Glow exterior, with standard TZEV hybrid synergy drice system, 1.8L DOHC 16V 4-cylinder engine and optional packages: Universal Tablet Holder, Illuminated Door Sills, Alloy Wheel Locks, Paint Protection Film, 15-inch alloy wheels, Glass Breakage Sensor and Floor & Carpet Mats. MSRP: $36,305.00
Disclosure: Toyota loaned me the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime for a week for the purposes of this writeup.