A Victory & Reseda review of the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime
Plug-In Hybrids are the wave of the future…
OK, before the haters have their chance to speak, let me offer up my explanation to that statement.
We live in a world where everyone is squeezed between putting gasoline in their automobiles and the messaging that we would have to drive automobiles without fossil fuels. We would plug into the electric current that runs through our homes, our workplaces and the public infrastructure. Electric cars are the future…Tesla is leading the way…
Hold on there! As much as we are reading about mandates on expanding the use of electric cars over the next few decades, there are some questions to ask here. First, is the current national and regional electrical grid ready to handle a major increase in electric vehicles? Secondly, is your household ready to take on an electric vehicle? Thirdly, is your workplace ready to take on the charging of an electric vehicle while you work your usual shift? Fourth, if you live in a multi-dwelling housing unit, will it be ready to take on an electric vehicle? Fifth, are people who will wind up with second- or third-hand electric vehicles are able to maintain them – including charging them up?
Believe me, I have more questions. If I take my own example here, having even a Tesla at home would require the landlord (my roommate, to be exact) to figure out how much it would cost to charge a car based on the monthly electric bill and to find a provision for a charging station to be installed at the house.
There is a compromise. Why not a plug-in hybrid?
A plug-in hybrid is exactly what it is – a combination of a gasoline engine with an electric motor, but you can charge the batteries through a plug-in port. It is not dependent on battery range to drive it further. You can casually charge up the plug-in hybrid either at home, at work or at a public charging station. You can also fill it up with gasoline.
I understand that the advocates of pure electric vehicles think that getting a plug-in hybrid is a cop-out in not getting off of our addiction to gasoline. But, it is a compromise. That does mean the exact plug-in hybrid vehicle should not be one.
In the next few years, we will see a lot of plug-in hybrids introduced in our marketplace. So far it has been a mix of various companies offering wares at several price points. On the top of the food chain is Porsche with its Panamera E-Hybrid lineup. It is a desirable machine, especially its Turbo S E-Hybrid offering a total system output of 680 horsepower. To get such a car, you have to fork out over $185,000.
But, what if you had just $30,000? Or less? What options do you have to get a plug-in hybrid?
Look no further.
When it comes to hybrid technology and system reliability, Toyota's name pops up first. The Hybrid Synergy Drive system simply works – and very well, thank you! Toyota has also made a plug-in version of the same system, adding more EV priority to the total drive system enabling higher efficiency than the normal Prius…or, even the hyper-efficient Prius c.
Like I said, look no further.
For 2017, Toyota introduced the plug-in hybrid version of the fourth-generation Prius. They call it the Prime. "Transformers" fans may start making geeky references here.
The Prius Prime is more than just a plug-in version of the most popular hybrid on Earth. Toyota took the current Prius and make further distinctions beyond just adding a door to the plug-in port. The front and rear ends are different than the “regular” Prius with its grill-less front clip, thinner, more textured headlamp units, and curving tail light design. Even the curved rear glass and deck shapes are not shared with the standard Prius.
Still, the Prius and its plug-in brother were designed to disturb the universe. It will disturb your "old" Prius. The car is lower in stature and exhibits a set of lines designed to entertain the eye.
The body still speaks "hatchback," but with a sleeker profile. Missing is a pane of glass in the C-Pillar seen on the last two generations of the Prius. Instead, there is a black accent piece to bridge the roof with the beltline. The side glass area is longer to minimize blind spots. The hatchback still has a split glass pane, broken up by a curved deck.
On this Prius Prime Plus tester, Toyota chose to run the car on 15-inch wheels, wearing plastic wheel covers instead of an alloy wheel. I could understand why since they needed a ultra-low rolling resistance tire to optimize vehicle efficiency.
When you step into the Prius Prime, there are a few shocks to what was familiar with this vehicle. The center high-positioned instrument cluster has switched to a wider TFT screen with excellent graphics and an abundance of information. An information center offers more than before, including fuel economy history and tracking, and the usual screens still exist, such as the energy transfer map and power rating indicator. There are some white pearlized trim to go along with the two-tone black-and-"moonstone" upholstery and main interior space. The white contrasting trim is actually quite cool.
Dominating the middle of the instrument panel of the Prime Plus tester was a center stack pod crowned with a seven-inch diagonal Entune touch screen. In this model, Bluetooth connectivity, navigation, SiriusXM, and Entune App Suite access are included. The standard six speakers emitted great sound throughout the cabin. If you chose the Premium or Advanced model, the seven-inch screen increases to 11.6 inches, almost mimicking a Tesla or one of the latest Volvos.
The Prius Prime Plus wore a two-tone "moonstone" cloth, which was very comfortable and pretty supportive. There is plenty of room in the back for only two people. Although anyone taller than six feet would have some challenges for headroom. Rear legroom has improved tremendously. Cargo space is just 19.8 cubic feet with the rear seats up, with the availability of an attachable soft cargo cover.
Taking a look at the plug-in version of Hybrid Synergy Drive system, it starts with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine putting out 95 horsepower and 105 pound-feet of torque by itself. Add the electric motor, and you get a net horsepower rating of 121 between these two power sources. When the battery is charged, power priority goes to the electric motor in EV Mode. You can drive at highway speeds in this mode, but battery drain will be quicker if you do so. Once the battery dips to the charge line, both power sources come into play, depending on the kind of driving you are doing and which maneuvers are being done – such as passing and going onto a highway.
The rear plug-in area only had the Level 1 and 2 port available, A second port is there to add a Fast Charging plus, but there was no plug added for it. You can charge the 8.8 kWh Lithium-Ion battery either through a provided 110-volt plug or roll up to a 220-240 volt Level 2 charger where available – including the one you might need to install at your home. It takes just over two hours to fully charge the battery at a Level 2 charging station. You should be good for about 25 miles on a full charge driving on EV Mode.
This system is connected to a Continuously Variable Transmission, sending power to its front wheels. For a combined fuel/electric driving loop, I averaged 60.6 MPG.
Driving a Prius Prime in no different than driving a normal Prius. It has a smooth ride, mostly thanks to its ultra-low rolling resistance Toyo tires. Handling and cornering are pretty soft, but very well controlled below the limit. The electric steering system, however, felt very artificial. Though it would seem you can make tight maneuvers, there was a lag in doing so and wider than expected turns were executed. Otherwise, it felt just fine out on the road. On-center feel was OK with minimal play at the wheel. Toyota did work on the braking feel for the Prius. The lag in braking response with the regenerative system was practically reduced, which made for decent stops in normal and panic situations.
The Prius Prime Plus did come with the Toyota Safety Sense-P package. Active safety features included in this tester were a Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Auto High Beams, and Full-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control.
Prius Prime models are priced from $27,100 for the Plus model. My tester came with a complete sticker price of $28,418.
A plug-in hybrid is not be feared. They are indeed the future. This is the kind of car that does not require you to charge up after every drive – though it does help occasionally. You can get high efficiency with a combined full charge on the batteries and a full tank of gas. They might not be as engaging as its non-hybrid, non-plug-in cousins, but if you want an edge on environmentally friendly, energy-sipping vehicles – this may be the way to go in the future.
Toyota wants you to believe that the Prius Prime is the future to be had right now. Well, yes, but you have to embrace everything about it. For those who rather not want to drive the Prius Prime for some aesthetic reason, there are other options. One such option is the regular ol' Prius. In particular, the Four Touring model with its independent rear suspension, larger wheels, and expanded safety features. You lose the plug-in port and battery powered priority, but you can gain a solid driving car.
The most important piece of the Prius Prime puzzle is its price. If you want to explore plugging in your automotive future, this is quite the value.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Toyota Motor Sales USA
All photos by Randy Stern