While few people would look at a Prius and see it as a high-performance vehicle, the truth is that they are every bit as rigorously engineered as a Porsche or BMW. Toyota's designers maintain a ruthless pursuit of fuel economy, improving whenever and wherever they can.
For 2017, four variations of the Prius are available, intended to appeal to the variety of hybrid car buyers who have different requirements. The Prius, the standard on which all the others are based, is a 4-door compact hatch. Two other variants offer more flexibility and a greater price range. The "Prius c" is a bit smaller, but still offers 4-door access for five occupants and a cargo space of 17 cubic feet. The "Prius v" is the largest of the standard cars. Passenger volume is a capacious 97 cubic feet and it offers 34 cubic-feet of cargo space. Meanwhile, the Prius Prime also comes with four doors, though it's a 2+2, with seating for four.
All three standard Prius models are powered by a 1.8L 4-cylinder engine connected to Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive electric motor. The only transmission choice remains a continuously variable transmission (CVT) which, rather than have distinct "gears" is able to choose whatever ratio is perfect for the job. The Prime, too, utilizes the fuel-sipping 1.8-liter engine and CVT, but pairs them with an 8.8 kWh battery pack. The car can run on battery power alone for up to 22 miles, perfect for the daily commute, while total range in hybrid mode is about 600 miles.
The interior of the Prius is big and airy, offering an open feel and a good view of the road ahead, with improved headroom over previous generations. Two 4.2-inch multi-information displays are housed within the instrument panel. Basic information such as speed and fuel level are displayed on the right. The left display, on the other hand, is programmable, allowing the driver to choose what information he or she wants to see at any time. A heads up display projects onto the windshield and serves to further keep the driver in the know without ever having to look away from the road. The Prime benefits from an 11.6-inch touchscreen display that is centrally mounted vertically, similar to that found in the Tesla, and it is controlled through simple tap/swipe gestures, much like a tablet.
Basic features on the Prius include 15-inch alloy wheels, low rolling resistance tires and four-wheel disc brakes. Higher trim levels include a navigation system, 17-inch alloys and synthetic leather seating surfaces. A suite of safety options include a pedestrian detection system and a pre-collision warning system, as well as a radar-controlled dynamic cruise control system.
Options include a premium JBL sound system and a full parking assistance system, which will make parallel parking much easier with the help of ultrasonic sensors.
Believe it or not, I'm actually a fan of the standard Toyota Prius -- but don't go telling everyone that, I've got an image to maintain. Over four generations, Toyota has continued to refine and improve its signature hybrid into one of the most fuel-efficient cars that you can buy without a plug. (It's second only to the new Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid.) Of course, adding a plug to the equation -- and all of the advantages that come with a plug-in hybrid -- should only make the Prius more desirable.
Only, Toyota didn't just add a plug and a bigger battery to the 2017 Prius Prime and call it a day. The automaker also made a host of changes to the cabin tech, visual style and features, some good and some very bad.
In the end, the Prius Prime is, in some ways, worse at being a car than the standard Prius liftback while also being a much better Prius. I'm sure that sounds confusing, so allow me to explain.
The Good The Toyota Prius Prime's plug-in hybrid power train is more flexible and efficient than the standard model. It boasts 25 miles of electric range per charge and up to 133 mpge.
The Bad The Prime's batteries add noticeable weight to the package and significantly impact cargo space. The vertical version of Toyota's dashboard tech is needlessly complex.
The Bottom Line The 2017 Toyota Prius Prime adds much flexibility and efficiency to the Prius's eco package with its electric range, but its compromises can make it more frustrating to live with.
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