2017 Toyota Prius Prime First Review

Following up the launch of the redesigned 2016 Prius, Toyota is bringing out a plug-in version that doubles the pure electric range of the previous generation while looking to further differentiate this model from the rest of the Prius family with more aggressive styling and a new name. The 2017 Toyota Prius Prime, which was unveiled at the New York Auto Show, will go on sale in all 50 states this fall offering EPA-estimated 22 miles of electric range and projected class-leading efficiency of 120 MPGe.

The Prime rides on the same Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) that debuted with the newest Prius, a chassis that features an independent rear suspension. But it’s distinguished from the standard model with quad LED headlamps and running lights in an edgy front fascia that shares more of its look with the hydrogen fuel cell Mirai. At the rear, the carbon fiber hatch features a double bubble look that Toyota refers to as a “dual wave form.” LED taillamps also contribute to the Prime’s futuristic look.

Aimed at the Volt

Its closest rival is the 2016 Chevrolet Volt, which has also been redesigned. The big difference between the two, however, is that the Chevy has boosted its pure EV range to 53 miles and converted its cabin from 4- to 5-passenger seating. The Prius Prime offers 4-passenger seating as opposed to the previous plug-in’s 5-passenger configuration. And while the Prime only offers 22 miles of pure EV range, Toyota believes that’s sufficient to cover the daily commute of more than half the driving population.

There are other reasons for limiting the size of the battery to 8.8 kWh, according to Toyota. The recharging time on the battery using a standard 110-volt outlet is said to be about 5½ hours, while Chevrolet says it takes about 13 hours using a similar setup to fully recharge the Volt. Toyota’s 120 MPGe is higher than the Volt’s 106 and the Japanese automaker claims a combined range of over 600 miles from the 11.3-gallon tank of gas and a full battery charge, while the Volt’s is just over 400 miles.

Although the Prius Prime’s lithium ion battery is smaller than the Volt’s, the pack is larger than the one used on the previous plug-in and weighs about 150 pounds more than the battery used on non-PHEV Prius models. As a result, the load floor in the rear is raised slightly higher than the hatch opening.

Flexible driving modes

The 2017 Toyota Prius Prime offers three distinct driving modes: HV (Hybrid Vehicle), EV (Electric Vehicle) and EV Auto. The first operates the vehicle as a conventional hybrid similar to the standard Prius, while EV mode will run the vehicle as a pure electric vehicle for up to 22 miles, which includes the ability to accelerate to 84 mph and maintain that speed without the engine. In EV Auto mode, the vehicle will operate in the most efficient manner, using pure EV in lower speeds and kicking in the 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine when more power is needed.

The Prius is equipped with two electric motors with one functioning as a drive motor and the other as a generator to recharge the batteries through regenerative braking. That second motor, thanks to the use of a new one-way clutch, can also be used to assist in driving the car and enhance overall performance, especially when applying full throttle in EV mode.

Also: Class of 2017 - New Cars Ready to Roll

Behind the wheel

Thanks to the new architecture that includes the independent rear suspension, the 2017 Prius Prime has a solid feel and crisp handling. Driven back to back versus the previous Prius plug-in, the new model feels much more substantial, quieter, and thanks to the dual motors powering the car in EV mode, more responsive. While the driving experience is fairly similar to that of a standard Prius, you can feel the extra heft from the larger battery pack.

In toggling back and forth between EV and HV modes, the Prius Prime shines when it’s running on electricity alone. The acceleration is linear and quick, the cabin calm, almost serene. Perhaps the best thing about the Prime is this pure EV capability. It’s so good that it could be a potent sales tool to convince owners that their next vehicle should be a full-time electric. In Hybrid mode, power delivery is solid and the vehicle works well overall, but the cycling of the engine in and out of the driving process isn’t as smooth as the pure EV mode. There’s a bit of engine drone and the interplay between the gas and electric systems isn’t as seamless as having either an engine or battery pack doing all the work.

Pivotal role

The 2017 Toyota Prius Prime is expected to play a pivotal role in introducing greater electrification in the Japanese automaker’s fleet. As such, it will be a showcase not only for plug-in capabilities, but also safety and infotainment technologies. On the former, the Prime will be equipped with the "Toyota Safety Sense P" package as standard equipment. TSSP includes pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection function, lane departure alert with steering assist, radar cruise control with smart stop technology and automatic high beam headlamps. Parking assist and sonar-based obstacle detection are optional.

On the infotainment front, the cabin of the Prime is equipped with a tablet-style 11.6-inch high definition screen with Toyota’s Entune multimedia system that includes apps to remotely manage the vehicle’s charging schedule and status, locate charging stations, as well as track and compare eco driving scores with others on social media. Other high-tech features offered as options include wireless cell phone charging, a premium JBL sound system and a color head-up display.

Pricing for the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime will be announced closer to its October on-sale date, although the company is targeting the previous Prius plug-in’s base price of $29,900 as a starting point. The vehicle will also be eligible for $4,500 in federal tax credit as well as state and local incentives.


 

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