Hate pumping gas? Love having it all? Read on.
The Prius Prime is like taking all of the greatest hits of the genre and put them in a single car version. Sort of like Squeeze’s 45’s & Under, greatest hits that were even greater because they were part of this collection (if you are under 40, click here).With extensive experience in electric and hybrid research, engineering, and data, Toyota has evolved the Prius from an audacious concept of partially powering a car with a battery to getting the best MPG for a four door sedan, to upping the game by adding a plug in version that also has a hybrid battery and also has a gas engine. So you can have all Prius’s greatest hits in one package.
When the Prius was new to the market, many people drove them with the blind passion of a cult member. Remember Larry David’s unofficial ‘Prius nod’ in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm? Nothing destroyed his mood faster than another Prius driver not reciprocating the alternative energy salute while driving through Los Angeles.
Hybrid cars have come such a long way since then. Toyota and Lexus dominate the hybrid automotive landscape with 13 models between the two brands and 70% of all hybrids on the market.
How do you make something better? Listen to your fans
You’d think Toyota would be happy with market dominance. But no. They believed they could make the Prius even better with a whole new version based on consumer feedback.
What’s different from prior models? It starts with the plug in EV mode, but doesn’t stop there:
- The plug-in charge capacity gives drivers up to 25 miles of pure electric driving
- An engine heater. According to Prius customers of older cars, cold climates could create issues with starting the car
- An expanded lithium ion battery. The new version has twice the number of battery cells with double capacity, making this one of the most efficient electric cars with the longest range on the market
- The most fuel-efficient hybrid drive Prius model
- More cargo space due to the smaller charge unit in the back and an added 4 inches in overall length
The Prius Prime is available in three versions: Plus, Premium and Advanced. Plus starts at $27,000; Premium starts at $28,800 and the Advanced version starts at $33,100. Many buyers will be eligible for incentives like a $4,500 federal tax credit as well as $2,000 in state incentives (depending on your state). Visit fueleconomy.gov and energy.gov for details. Pricing and incentives make the Prius prime about $6,000 less than the Chevy Volt.
Three ways to drive: Electric, hybrid and gas
The Prius Prime’s default driving mode is EV mode, which uses electric power from the HV hybrid battery to get moving. The Prime will stay in EV mode until the battery charge has been used up and then switch into hybrid mode. The engine won’t start out in gasoline mode unless the car hasn’t been sufficiently charged, and will quickly shift to gas mode if you’re driving fast, say merging onto a highway and quickly getting over 80MPH.
- EV-Auto mode powers the car purely on electric power; the system automatically switches between the EV and HV based on driving conditions.
- HV mode is most like the familiar Prius driving experience, combining the gas engine and electric power from the HV battery.
- The gas engine is there as your backup, safety net and to get you to your destination when the battery’s charge is depleted.
How does Prius Prime drive? It doesn’t fool around
I really liked how the car handled the roads we went out on for our test drive. Despite the starts and stops, the seamless interchange between the electric and hybrid driving experience was hardly discernible; the Prius did what it needed to when it needed to without sharing the experience with me.
Less seamless was the steep learning curve any new driver will experience in understanding all of the fuel efficiency data that appears on the dashboard. It didn’t look simple and takes time to learn and put all that information to use in order to get the best MPG this car is capable of.
More ways to save money on gas
The Prius wins the MPG game with overall fuel-efficiency is at 54 to 55 miles per gallon in its current models. But what most customers will focus on is that they can drive about 25 miles without using gasoline. Drivers can drive can drive 25 miles and up to 84 mph in EV mode before using a drop of gas. This means that by charging the battery daily, Prime owners could fill up the tank only a few times a year.
With the growing number of charging stations, including lots of stations that are still free, Prime drivers can save serious cash. And when plugging in at home, it’s estimated that it will cost between .75 and $1.50, depending on our electric rates, to charge the battery.
And when they do have to fill the tank and actually use gas, the combined electric, hybrid and gas performance should take Prime owners up to 640 miles on a tank of gas. Road trip, anyone?
Charge it? OK!
Every Prius Prime comes with a charging cord that can be plugged into a grounded three-prong socket at home. It takes about five and a half hours to fully charge.
Buyers can also install a faster charging station. Prius Prime’s relationship with Change Point offers all new buyers will a $100 credit toward installing an at-home 240V charging station. A home system for your garage will run typically just over $500, and it can reduce your full charging time to two hours and ten minutes. This might be handy if you have two plug in cars in your garage.
Toyota Safety Sense features complete the package
Toyota has been pushing its active safety technology as standard features in all of their models. In the Prius this is especially great. Its quiet engine –or silent in EV mode– can make it hard for other drivers or pedestrians to know you’re there, so you have to be extra vigilant.
Among the safety features are head up display, which projects relevant car and driver information like speed, battery life and navigation prompts on the windshield so you don’t have to take your eyes of the road. This feature is only available in the Advanced model, which I didn’t have the chance to drive, so I can’t speak to how well it works but it sounds great.
The Safety Sense package also includes pre-collision detection, lane departure alert, pedestrian detection and adaptive cruise control. And I did love the driver alertness warning: A coffee cup icon appears if the Prius Prime detects that a lack of driver alertness to let her know it’s time to stop and rest.
Sleek Design offers extensive features
The Prius Prime interior is either a solid black or a two-tone black and white. When I sat in the black and white car, staring at the two-tone dashboard with accents of the exterior color, a turquoise blue, it made me think I was sitting in the car version of those 1990’s iMacs and laptops that came in lime, purple, or aqua. It says stylish and simple and highlights the technology of the car.
The interior is very focused on the car’s technology, with commands at your fingertips, on the touch screen and on the steering wheel. Even the gear shift has been reimagined, but I found the joystick style shifter on the dashboard a little awkward; it was sometimes hard to shift gears or know what gear you were in without double checking.
The newer body style looks more like other small sedans, a cousin to the Corolla. The more aerodynamically mirrored glass hatch represents the next generation of Prius for those who may not of been a fan of the original generation’s abrupt hatchback style.
How does the interior feel?
A striking in feature of the Prius prime is the scale of the touch screen on the dash; at 11.6 inches it’s one of the largest in the industry, similar to the touch screen in Tesla models. This iPad-like device for your car controls including climate, navigation, fuel information, and audio, all in a large screen format. It shows rear camera views when parking and in reverse as well.
The Prius Prime is deceptively designed for roominess and offers 91.5 cubic feet for passenger space and 19.8 cubic feet of cargo space. The Toyota Camry, by comparison, offers only 15.4 cubic feet of cargo space.
Who is this car for? Commuters, but perhaps not families
I can appreciate that for a family with one parent who has an extended commute, this may be a smart investment; however if back seat passengers will spend a lot of time in the car, it’s worth noting that there is a hard, immobile mounted armrest in the back seat preventing more than four passengers. If you need room for a fifth passenger, car pool or friends, a gasoline-consuming, eight-seater SUV might be a must for your other car. And then the Prius prime may be just what you need for karma’s sake.
Others who should consider the Prius Prime:
- Tech fans who love the coolest new things
- Drivers who drive a lot of miles each year
- Drivers with short commutes who can take advantage of the 25 mile EV range
- Drivers who have a place to charge the Prius Prime at home (city dwellers might want to check with their garage, building or office before investing)
- Singles, couples or small families
- Buyers who can benefit from the federal and state incentives
Commuters in states like California have an additional incentive to qualify for the HOV as a single driver because it meets state energy efficiency requirements.
The best drivers for the Prius Prime are young professionals who are not yet parents or are empty nesters, both childless populations capable of hitting the open road for spontaneous 640-mile road trips on a single tank of gas.
And when hitting the road for the weekend? We recommend plugging in your phone and tapping the Squeeze playlist.
Disclosure: I was Toyota’s guest for this test drive; travel and accommodations were provided. All opinions are my own.