Pure Energy: Go Farther This Summer in the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime

Prius Prime
A bit more muted, styling-wise, than the Four; but still very distinctive (Image: Anthony Karcz)

Forget the other hybrids and plug-in electrics. Forget other Prius vehicles, even. I’ve driven the the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime and it’s the perfect summer road trip vehicle that’s guaranteed to drastically shrink your fuel budget.

Much like last year, as Toyota pulled up with my loaner car for the week, I was impressed before the wheels had stopped rolling. The Advanced trim model they sent was loaded with all the features (pushing the MSRP over $33k!) and clad in “Blue Magnetism,” an eye-catching color exclusive to the Prime.

Sympathy for the LED

Prius Prime Infotainment
It’s big, but is it useful? (Image: Anthony Karcz)

Sliding into the driver’s seat, my eye was immediately drawn to the star of the Prime’s interior upgrades, the 11.6-inch LED touchscreen multimedia display in the center of the dashboard. Here all of your radio, climate, navigation, and energy information is displayed in HD resolution. The extra real estate is great for things like driving directions and it’s nice for scrolling through long lists of satellite radio stations or tracks on your Bluetooth connected phone. However, while some functions utilize the full screen, most of the time you spend in the infotainment system will feel more like you’re working with two separate touchscreens stacked on top of each other. As much as I love the Prime, I find myself wishing again that Toyota would embrace Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and let phones serve up their own infotainment interface.

Prius Prime Interior
A distinctive, comfortable interior that can be pressed into some light hauling (Image: Anthony Karcz)

The rest of the interior in the Advanced model is premium all the way, with high-end speakers, vibrant trim accents throughout, and a HUD that displays current speed, posted speed, and driving directions. That last one is a major boon as taking my eyes off the road to check my upcoming navigation step is something I’ve been guilty of. There is also an integrated Qi charger in-between the seats. For those who have wireless charging capabilities on their phones, it works perfectly. The two-tone black and white SofTex finish seats left me impressed with their almost-leather feel (but made me wonder how they would hold up in the long run when pitted against my childrens’ predilection towards messiness).

Charge Me Up

Prius Prime Charge Port
The charging port is what you’ll see the most of. The engine and gas tank? Not so much (Image: Anthony Karcz)

I backed the Prius Prime into my garage and immediately pulled out the star of the show. The charging cable. While people have modified the Prius to be fully-electric or plug-in hybrids, this is the first official Toyota to be plug-in capable. There is a larger battery hiding under the back row of seats, allowing you to go even farther on all-battery power. Grab the cable, plug it into a standard socket, and then plug it into the charging port on the Prime. You can schedule charging to take advantage of lower nightly power rates (though I wonder if that will stay true once everyone has plug-in vehicles and are all charging at night) or you can have it start immediately. Since charging the battery to full from a standard wall socket can take 6-8 hours, I opted for the latter. What’s nice is that, while charging, you can let your Prius know when you will return. If your Prime is plugged in, it will activate the climate control system ten minutes before that time to start bringing the cabin temperature back to your previous settings. Extremely helpful if you live in Florida and don’t want your car to be a sweatbox at the end of the work day.

Honky Tonk Commute

Prius Prime Rear
I tried to find an angle that I didn’t like. I couldn’t (Image: Anthony Karcz)

Firing up the Prius Prime the next morning, I was struck, as I was the last time I got to test drive a Prius, by how impossibly quiet the experience is. With the push-button ignition and keyless entry, all I had to do was walk up to the car, put my hand on the door to unlock it, get in, press the ignition, and head out. The big difference this time around is that the electric motor engaged and stayed engaged all the way to the I-75 on ramp, even when I accelerated above 25 (which is usually enough to kick a normal Prius out of EV mode). The Prime will stay in EV mode until it exhausts the battery, switching seamlessly over to the (almost as quiet) gas engine. This being Florida, I burned through the battery charge on my first 25-mile commute of the day, every day, due to heavy AC usage. But I still managed to squeeze out nearly 800 miles on a single tank of gas. That’s about 500 more miles out of an 11.3 gallon tank than I get with the 18.5 gallon tank on my 2001 Toyota Avalon!

The adaptive cruise control had a lot to do with the impressive MPG. Normally, my commute is fairly clogged, resulting in me turning off cruise after a few attempts. But with adaptive cruise, I can dial in my desired speed and let the Prius Prime figure out how fast I need to be going to keep one car length between me and the other cars. They slow down and I slow down automatically. They speed up? I cruise up to the speed I’ve set once it’s safe. The only caveat is that the pre-collision detection system will freak out when traffic in the right lane ahead of you slows down to exit. If you spend your highway time on the right, you’ll need to keep a steady hand on the wheel and be ready to switch cruise off when you get near exits. What’s nice is that the engine is zippy enough to zag around traffic snarls when needed and then settle back into “easy mode.”

Additional features, like the HUD, blind spot monitor, back-up camera and collision warning system, and lane departure alert (with steering wheel assist) all work together to make sure that you stay safe. It’s a lot of information the first few times you drive the Prime, but after a week, they all faded into the background unless I needed them.

Parent’s Little Helper

Spending one week (and 800 miles) in the Prius Prime, I can attest to it being a comfortable, pleasant ride. The kids had plenty of room in the back seat and when I’d dropped them off at school, the fold-down seats left me with just enough room to truck around my other battery-powered gear. With the seats up, even though the larger battery does eat into the available cargo space, you can easily fit a couple of suitcases. It left me wishing that I had picked up the Prime earlier in the summer. It would have been perfect for travelling to Orlando or St. Augustine for the weekend, sipping fuel and streaming podcasts from my phone to the entertainment center (my daughter’s recently discovered “Wow in the World” and it’s all we listen to…when we’re not listening to Hamilton).

The 2017 Toyota Prius Prime is my perfect vehicle. I get the benefits of an electric car, but without the range anxiety (we’ll see how I feel about that when I test out the all-electric Chevy Bolt next month). I get a car that can easily fit my family and our gear. I get a quite ride in a vehicle that’s packed to the brim with safety features. The downside is that, for a loaded vehicle like my loaner, you’ll need to shell out nearly $34,000. A maximum Federal tax credit of $4,500 can bring that down a little bit; but it’s still a lot of money for a mid-sized hybrid. It’s honestly the one thing that’s kept me from pulling the trigger on picking up a Prime of my own. With the Bolt and Tesla 3 coming in at similar prices, I want to test both vehicles to see how viable an all-electric solution is before committing to a hybrid.

If you’re in the market for a hybrid, check the Prius Prime first. It’s set a new standard to which other hybrid vehicles should aspire.

Thanks to Toyota for providing a loaner vehicle for the week. Opinions and hypermiling are my own.

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