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2017 Toyota Prius Prime Quick Take

By Keith Buglewicz on October 6, 2016 11:30 AM

We drove the 2017 Prius Prime in prototype form back in July, but we recently got a chance to play with one in the hills around Santa Barbara, California. Since July, Toyota has refined the specs a little bit: pure-EV mode gets you 25 miles of range, combined gas and electric range is around 640 miles, and the 133 MPGe rating is the highest of any electric car of any sort currently available.

Like the rest of the Prius lineup, the focus is not on spirited driving. It takes about 11 seconds to get to 60 mph, but it's much quieter than its predecessor while doing so. Handling is acceptable, limited by body lean and low-grip energy-saving tires, but it's exceptionally comfortable on the road. The Prius Prime made short work of expansion joints and bumpy pavement wherever it went. You'd be hard pressed to find a more comfortable cruiser, electric or not.

Better electric

It's a much better electric car, too. While the range is less than half of its primary rival, the Chevrolet Volt, the Prius Prime's 25 miles of pure electric mode are easily accessible regardless of your driving style. It won't flip into hybrid mode even if you floor it, and you have to exceed 84 mph for the engine to come on. Despite various drive settings -- a Power mode only makes the throttle more sensitive, so don't get excited -- the best thing is probably to just leave it in the EV Auto mode, which lets the car's computers decide when to use or not use the gas engine. And it tries hard to ignore the 1.8-liter 4-cylinder's existence. Still, there's a hybrid mode, and by holding down the EV button you can put the Prime into a recharge mode, where it runs the engine to help recharge the battery. Regardless, it returns excellent fuel economy. During a loop to Santa Barbara and back, we managed somewhere north of 65 mpg, a figure that included quite a bit of EV driving, but a lot more gas-powered motivation as well.

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You can keep an eye on exactly how you're using the car's various powerplants -- the engine is augmented by two electric motors -- thanks to the new 11.6-inch infotainment display in Premium and Advanced models. It's mounted vertically, and big enough to display two things at once without compromising either. The map, for example, can be displayed on top while your efficiency graphics dance a multicolored energy jig below. In fact, it could be too much, as there's also a lot going on in the center-mounted gauge display on the dash, well beyond just speedometer and fuel level. It's a good thing you can shut off the big display if it gets too distracting.

Pricing

The real news about the new 2017 Prius Prime is the price. Base Prius Prime Plus models get a price tag of just under $28,000 including destination, while the top line Prius Prime Advance comes in at just under $33,100. The MSRPs undercut the Chevrolet Volt by several thousand dollars on the low end. On the other hand, the Volt has twice the EV range of the Prius Prime, seats an additional person, is quicker, and is generally just more fun to drive. It also offers a bigger tax incentive than the Prius Prime -- about $7,500 vs. the Prime's $4,000 -- which mitigates the price premium you'd pay for the Volt by a noteworthy margin.

In other words, you pay less for the Prius Prime, but you also get a little less car than the Volt. You also get what's easily the best version of the Prius that Toyota has ever made, and we think that's going to be more than enough for this sub-brand's fan base.


 

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