2017 Toyota Prius Prime

OJAI, California — When it comes to pioneering vehicles that get exceptional fuel economy no one would argue that Toyota is the world’s leader with over 25 years of alternative fuel vehicles under its belt. Offered products include gas-electric hybrid, plug-in hybrid and even a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle in a few select markets.

Toyota dominates the hybrid market with a total offering of 13 models accounting for a 70 percent market share. Unlike many auto manufacturers Toyota does not offer a pure all-electric vehicle instead, favoring a plug-in hybrid.

With the recent introduction of the all-new Prius Prime plug-in hybrid for 2017, it becomes the most fuel efficient vehicle in the industry with an impressive 133 MPGe (Miles Per Gallon Equivalent, is a measure of how far a car can travel electrically on the same amount of energy as contained in 1 gallon of gasoline) rating besting the all-electric BMW i3 first introduced for 2014.

In hybrid mode, The Prius Prime exceeds all competitors’ fuel economy ratings with EPA-estimated 55 MPG city, 53-MPG highway. It also has a class-leading total driving range with an EPA-estimated 640 miles.

Toyota has never been much interested in fully electric vehicles but did build a few RAV4 all electric drive, but abandoned the notion in favor of its pursuit of hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles. The Toyota Mirai is a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle that began selling in southern California last year.

The Prius Prime is the second go for Toyota’s plug-in hybrid technology. The previous Prius plug-in offered only about 12 miles of all electric only driving range however the new Prius Prime plug-in hybrid which begins arriving at dealerships in early November more than doubles its range on pure electricity to 25 miles.

While the 25 mile range now beats the Ford C-Max and Ford fusion Energi’s 19-mile EV range, it still falls behind the Hyundai Sonata plug-in hybrid range of 27 miles and well behind the Chevy Volt which can go an impressive 53 miles on electricity only. The Prime can be driven up to 84 mph in EV mode. Toyota says it will take 2.5 hours to plug-in and recharge the battery using 220 volts, and 6 hours with standard household 110 voltage.

I first drove the new 2017 Prius Prime last in September 2016 at the media launch for the vehicle in and around the scenic landscape and twisty roads of Ojai, California.

Our first drive was a required 20-mile loop with driving speeds ranging between 25 to 60 mph to demonstrate the Prime’s all-electric driving capabilities. Once the battery is depleted the Prius Prime converts to a conventional hybrid Prius where the vehicle is alternately powered between gas and available electric. Both of the vehicle’s gas engine and electric motors combined to perform a seamless driving experience and we especially noticed a much improved handling, braking, driving and comfortable experience compared to the conventional non plug-in Toyota Prius.

Still, driving the Prime lacks most sense of any driving engagement, which is to say there isn’t much fun behind the wheel. The Prius is a vehicle dedicated and devoted to driving efficiency, not sportiness or driving performance.

While still immediately recognized as a Toyota Prius, exterior styling of the Prius Prime is a significant departure especially from the rear of the vehicle where some members of the media described the look as a set of puckering lips. Personally it looked more like a whale fluke – not a bad thing, just different. Additionally, because of the curvy nature of the rear window there’s not a rear wiper.

Inside the most noticeable feature is the massive 11.6-inch hi-resolution screen that you can pinch and pull similar to your Smartphone and functions as the gateway to numerous vehicle functions such as the audio system, navigation, phone and other vehicle operational information. But we found the touchscreen didn’t work very well, was far from intuitive and the capacitive buttons small and hard to use.

Unlike the regular Prius the Prime is only a four-seater. Toyota says the larger battery that powers the vehicle takes up more space.

We were impressed with the standard advanced active safety systems included such as active cruise control, automatic emergency braking and automatic high beams.

The Prime Plus is available in three trim levels with a starting price of $27,965 and up to $33,965 for the heavily equipped Prius Prime Advanced trim level. Prices include delivery fee of $865. The above prices do not include a $4,500 federal income-tax credit.

Vital Stats

Price: $27,965 - $33,965
Price as Tested: Not Available
Seating: 4
Engine: 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle, 4-cylinder combined with two-electric motors
Horsepower: 121 – total system horsepower
Fuel Economy: 133 – MPGe and 55-MPG – City, 53 MPG - Highway

Fab Features

Stellar Fuel Economy
640-Mile Driving Range
Advanced Standard Safety Features

— Jim Prueter