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2017 Toyota Prius Prime Test Drive Review

It’s not Optimus or Amazon. It’s the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime, and it is Toyota’s next-generation plug-in hybrid. Like the 2012 to 2015 Prius Plug-In which it replaces, the new Prius Prime gets a more advanced drivetrain for improved efficiency and a longer EV driving range, but taking things a step further, this plug-in hybrid is now more easily identifiable from the standard Prius thanks to added technology and a distinctive style.

Toyota is the undisputed leader when it comes to global hybrid sales with more than 10 million of the fuel-efficient cars sold since 1995, and the addition of the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime once again boosts the Prius family to four models—Prius, Prius c, Prius v and Prius Prime. The market for plug-in hybrids is heating up, and to see how the Prius Prime stacks up against rivals (current and upcoming) like the Chevrolet Volt, Hyundai Ioniq and Kia Niro, we had another chance to drive a 2017 Toyota Prius Prime, this time in the mid-level Premium trim.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime Exterior

As big of an improvement as the new Prius was over its predecessor, the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime has an even bolder look that got attention from all sorts of people—hybrid lovers or not. While the hard parts carry over, the new face and rear end give the Prime a totally different look than the standard Prius. Up front, the standard LED headlights flank a blacked-out grille, and vertical LED turn signals mimic air vents similar to a Lexus F Sport car. The rear of this Prius has also been revised with a dual-wave rear glass and horizontal LED taillights that almost full encompass the lower portion of the rear glass. One of the most unique elements of the Prime is that its liftgate is made from carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) to help save weight.

This mid-grade Premium trim level adds auto on/off headlight feature and a locking charging cable, so the only option on this tester is the Hypersonic Red paint for an extra $395. Love it or hate it (and there is no middle ground here), the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime is a huge improvement over the wedge-shaped Priuses—or Prii, whatever you want to call them—of the past.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime Interior

The biggest changes made to the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime might be on the inside, though. This is the same basic interior design as the Prius with the exception of the four-passenger seating arrangement and the vertical, Tesla-like infotainment screen, which is standard on this Premium trim level. The lack of a middle rear seat is a result of the larger battery pack, which also accounts for the reduction in cargo space from the Prius Liftback’s 27.4 cubic feet of cargo volume down to the Prime’s 19.8 cubic feet.

My favorite part of the Prius Prime is that its trim levels aren’t as ambiguous as the Prius’ numerically based models (One, Two, Three and Four). On the Prime, you get a base Plus, mid-level Premium adding upscale goodies and the Advanced with all the high-tech goodies. The alliterative Prius Prime Premium brings SofTex-trimmed (fake leather) seats, heated front seats, eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat with power lumbar support, keyless proximity entry with push button start, Qi-compatible wireless smartphone charger and Entune Premium Audio with Integrated Navigation and App Suite. On the Premium and Advanced trim levels, the infotainment screen is upgraded to the aforementioned 11.6-inch vertical high-resolution display. That big display might look good but it is a jumble of information, and it isn’t exactly intuitive to use.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime Powertrain

The powertrain found under the hood of the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime is the same as the standard Prius with a 1.8-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder putting out 121 net horsepower, and this is mated to a continuously variable transmission and two electric motors. The big difference is the battery pack, which in this case is an 8.8-kWh lithium-ion battery (exactly twice the capacity of the previous Plug-In model) allowing for an all-electric driving range of 25 miles at speeds of up to 84 mph; that’s a vast improvement over the Prius Plug-In’s 15 mile range and top EV speed of 62 mph.

This battery charges in about five hours from a standard 120-volt outlet, which I tried to do every night. Doing so helped minimize the use of the gasoline engine helping me return an average of 74.6 mpg after driving the Prius Prime 284 miles in a week. I was surprised that the trip computer said that the car still had enough range to drive a minimum of 332 miles assuming no more battery charging, and this wasn’t too far from Toyota’s claimed range of 640 miles. The Chevy Volt’s all-electric range (53 miles) might be more than the Prius Prime, but the Toyota is more efficient with the engine kicked on, as official EPA-rated fuel economy estimates are 133 MPGe in combined city and highway driving** in EV mode and 54 mpg in combined city and highway driving** in hybrid mode—compared to 106 MPGe and 42 mpg, respectively, for the Volt.

In EV mode, the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime is fun to drive with smooth, sudden acceleration, and even in hybrid mode, it doesn’t suffer the same disconnected driving experience of its predecessor; something I pointed out in my test drive review of the standard 2017 Prius. The Prime is about 300 pounds heavier than the standard Prius, and this heavier battery pack (positioned low and toward the back of the car) actually helps give the Prius Prime noticeably better handling.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime Safety

The 2017 Toyota Prius Prime comes standard with the Toyota Safety Sense P suite of features that includes Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Land Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Auto High Beams and Full-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. Also standard is the Star Safety System packing in even more safety content like Enhanced Vehicle Stability Control, traction control, Anti-lock Brake System with Electronic Brake-force Distribution, Brake Assist, and Smart Stop Technology. The 2017 Toyota Prius Prime was rated as a 2018 Top Safety Pick under the more rigorous standards from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but this new model has yet to be tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime Overall

The 2017 Toyota Prius Prime is both the most-efficient Prius ever made and the coolest-looking Prius ever made. And that is definitely saying something on a car that has become the global definition of a hybrid. Most importantly, this car is extremely easy to live with. Keep the battery charged the battery, and the daily commute for most Americans can be gasoline-free. Even if you just drive it like a hybrid, you’re still going to pass a lot of gas stations.

Aside from its efficient drivetrain, the Prius has become a popular hybrid due to its affordability. This plug-in Prius Prime has a base price starting at $27,100*, which is only $3,625 more than a base Prius and $6,120 less than a Chevy Volt. Optioned up to the Premium trim level only raises the as-tested price to $30,060, and that is considerably less than the Advanced trim level we tested last year. These prices, of course, don’t even factor in available tax credits that some states offer.

Make sure to visit your local AutoNation Toyota dealership and test drive the ultra-efficient 2017 Toyota Prius Prime plug-in hybrid today!

*MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.
**Based on 2017 EPA mileage ratings. Your mileage will vary depending specific vehicle trim, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, driving conditions, and other factors.

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