When the fourth generation Prius hybrid made its debut last fall, it was clear that Toyota intended to follow it up with a plug-in version, and here it is. Unveiled at the New York Auto Show, the 2017 Prius Prime is expected to achieve an EPA rating of 120 MPGe fuel economy equivalency rating, a 26 percent improvement over its predecessor and best among all plug-ins, according to Toyota.

Toyota also cites a pure electric driving range of 22 miles, double the distance achievable in the previous generation, as well as the ability to achieve 84 mph without engaging the system’s gasoline engine.

Toyota’s hybrid synergy drive is essentially the same as the system employed in some 14 U.S. models (including six from Lexus), incorporating an electric motor and generator to supplement the 1.8-liter Atkinson cycle 4-cylinder gasoline engine. Unlike previous versions, however, both the motor and the generator can contribute to propulsion, sending power to the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission with planetary gears.

In addition to improved fuel economy, Toyota anticipates that system tweaks allowing electric drive mode to engage more frequently, plus increased battery capacity (8.8 kilowatt hours), will add up to a potential driving range of more than 600 miles. As with the previous generation, the new battery pack is lithium-ion. Toyota claims recharging time of 5.5 hours on household current, about half that with a 240-volt system.

Slick Skin

Like the standard Prius, the Prime is bigger than its predecessor, 2.4 inches longer and just over a half-inch wider, closing in on the size of a Corolla sedan. It’s also an inch lower, contributing to improved aero, enhanced by active grille shutters that close when the radiator doesn’t require airflow.

The Prime also shares the edgy styling of the regular Prius, as well as its increased use of high-tensile steel in the body shell. But the Prime also gets a lighter carbon fiber liftgate, in contrast to the aluminum rear hatch of the basic Prius.

Standard interior features include heated front seats and a climate control system with an integrated heat pump, allowing it to operate whether the engine is running or not, a useful update for urban drivers operating primarily on electric power.

The Prime shares the extensive list of telematic and connectivity features available with the regular Prius via Toyota’s Entune system, displayed on an 11.8-inch color touch screen that resembles a tablet-type computer. Available with Entune is a 10-speaker JBL audio, along with a collection of other features including a user-friendly nav system.

Prime Apps

There are a number of exclusive Prius Prime Apps that allow owners to check battery status, manage a charging schedule, locate charging stations, remotely run the climate control, and compare eco driving scores with other Prius pilots via smartphone.

Safety, highlighted by the available Toyota Safety Sense P suite of features—forward collision alert with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking; lane departure warning with lane keeping assist; adaptive cruise control capable of stopping the car—duplicates the array of systems offered in the standard Prius.

Another available feature is Intelligent Parking Assist. When activated, the system will automatically take charge of parallel parking, parking perpendicular to the curb, steering out of a parking space into traffic, and warn the driver of insufficient clearance on either side of the car. Prius Prime is due in Toyota showrooms this fall, as a 2017 model.


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