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Quick Spin: 2017 Toyota Prius Prime

Kamil Kaluski July 13, 2017 Featured, Quick Spin, Toyota Reviews 24 Comments

Most enthusiasts have a hard time appreciating the Toyota Prius mostly because it is a vehicle which has become sort of the symbol of the anti-gasoline world. While it was not first, the Prius has defined what a hybrid vehicle is and has influenced the world with its technology. We now have hybrid luxury sedans, hybrid SUVs, and some of the fastest exotics in production are hybrids, too, and are loved by enthusiasts all over. 

But the Prius remains what it has always been – a more fuel efficient alternative to an econobox. I must admit that while I always appreciated the technology and the fact that Toyota has made this vehicle available to the masses, I never loved it. It handled and drove poorly, the internal combustion engine kept switching on and off while driving, and the design, both inside and out, just seemed weird to me.

The new, fourth generation Prius was introduced some time ago. Despite being an all-new vehicle, it was very clearly a Prius. The interesting/different/weird styling was there, both inside and out. It still had its signature gasoline-electric powertrain, too. But in a Super Bowl commercial Toyota was insistent on telling the world directly that the new vehicle is fast, can outmaneuver police cars, and outlast them in driving range, too.

That commercial wasn’t exactly true. With 121 horsepower net, the new Prius still isn’t fast, but it is faster than the previous version, or at least it feels it as the electric motor is quite torque-y. And it doesn’t handle great, either, mostly due to its super-eco tires that simply loose grip quickly when driven in any kind of enthusiastic manner. But it does ride rather nice. 

Instead, the commercial should have focused on the things that have really improved in the Prius – smoothness and refinement. The interior, while still very quirky and very different than anything on the road, is much improved, too.

Where it would once send a shiver through the whole vehicle, the switch from internal combustion engine and the electric motor is now absolutely seamless. There also less whine, fewer vibrations, less noise, and just less of anything that could be contributed negatively to the feel and sounds of the powertrain. It’s less mechanical and more digital in overall feel. It’s quieter and more refined overall, which is what in my opinion was needed.

Previously, even the nicest previous Prius had a very Corolla feel to it, back when Corolla interiors weren’t actually nice. But here, especially in this Prius Prime Premium (really, that’s its full name), the interior was simply great. It was quirky and weird, but great. It had a very modern Apple feel to it – high quality white plastics, no knobs (it could really use a volume knob!), large touch-screen, logically laid out, and nice to touch. The center speedometer, screen and the shifter are still very different than anything else, because that’s what the Prius is really about.

The exterior styling of the fourth generation Prius was at first polarizing but I got used to it rather quickly. The Prius Prime is the electric plug-in version of the Prius and it is styled differently. The front, with its narrower quad LED headlights, can be confused for the Toyota Mirai hydrogen vehicle.

The interior of the Prius Prime hatchback is different, too. Most notably the rear bench seat has been replaced with two individual seats and a center console. The rear trunk floor has been raised to accommodate the additional battery of the plug-in system. The dash is unique too, with the large vertical touch-screen which is not extremely intuitive to use and lacks Apple CarPlay.  

Because of where I live and work I was not able to charge this vehicle. Despite that, in my four days of city driving the Prius Prime used a shockingly minimal amount of gas. I only used the PWR driving mode, too. Depending on the state of battery, the Prius Prime can travel in EV mode up to 25 miles at speeds as high as 84mph. EPA rates the Prius Prime at 133 MPGe in the EV Mode and combined 55 city/53 highway miles per gallon and equivalent energy of a gallon of gasoline. Fully charged and with a full tank of gas it can travel as much as 640 miles – try that in your Tesla!

No, it’s not much faster and it doesn’t handle any better than the previous model. But it is a much more improved vehicle in a sense that it is easier to live with. The driver no longer feels how and what the black box under the hood is doing. In a way, the Prius went from being a hybrid car to being car that happens to be hybrid, while remaining a quirky Prius. 

[Disclaimer: Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. provided the vehicle for the purpose of this review. All images were provided by Toyota because I keep having camera issues.]

  • Fred Talmadge

    Since moving to California from Texas I expected to see more Priuses, but I don’t. Suspect it’s because I moved into the Sierras where Subarus rule the road.

    • Take a trip to the Bay Area and you’ll see them everywhere.

  • I’m one of the few “car guys” who actively looks for reasons to like the Prius:
    – My sister has commuted up and down the hell that is the Virginia Peninsula in a Prius for years, and claims that it is the least burdensome means of transportation she’s ever had in her life. That’s cool.
    – I am not politically offended by environmental activism. I think it’s a good thing to let the next generation grow crops and breathe and stuff.
    – It’s a five-door fastback, which we need more of.

    But in the end, I just can’t quite get there. I’m okay with the lethargic performance and goofy styling. I even get spec’ing tires that are little more than nitrile rim protectors, because All The MPGs! But I can’t help but object to the numb steering and rubbery handling, because nothing in the eco-friendly hybrid formula requires it. Toyota, you COULD give us a Prius with precise, communicative steering; you’re just selling enough of these that there’s no corporate will to do it.

    • P161911

      I went with the anti-Prius, that is almost the same thing, a Volt. At least it looks different. Steering and handling aren’t great, but not horrible either. When I was getting away with using the 110V outlet in the parking deck at work, I got up to a 89 MPG average on a 70+ mile commute.

      • Wayward David

        I recently took the plunge with the Volt’s little sister, the Bolt EV. I chose the Bolt because I prefer the hatchback/CUV body style for practicality and because I wanted a full electric car. I love it. Handling is precise up to the point where the skinny tires fail it, acceleration is quick, it’s roomy, comfortable and has some seriously good tech features (no autonomous gadgets, but that’s fine). The only thing I miss (and this surprised me) is noise. My 2006 MINI Cooper had a nice, satisfying buzz when you wrung out the revs in each gear; the Bolt does 0-60 faster, but I miss the vroom vroom sounds a bit.

        • P161911

          The Volt is really odd in that, the gas engine is just a generator, so acceleration and engine noise do not necessarily correspond. Plus the engine noise that it does have is much louder than I expected.

      • Rover 1

        Has anyone done an actual comparison test of the plug-in hybrids?

        • P161911

          Not sure, but that really seems to be the way to go at this point. Pure EVs just aren’t practical as an all around vehicle with the limited range, even the newer 200+ mile range of the next gen ones like the Bolt and send gen Leaf. The charging time is just too long and the charging stations too limited. The Volt is not so great as a plain hybrid, it gets less than 35mpg on premium gas and only has a 9.3 gallon gas tank.

    • Sjalabais

      Agreed! I checked out the Prius+, or whatever they call their seven seater, as a blobbily decent people mover. It drives so weird and numb, it’s unbelievable. Sucks every attempt of joy out of driving. They also hold their value in Norway like few others, some try to sell them with less than 10% value loss per year.

      What I can appreciate a lot though is also the approach Kamil took above: Toyota usually is a company that plays safe. Safe designs, well-proven tech, resulting in reliability being the #1 selling point. With the Prius they took a completely different approach. They might have taken VW’s “Auto 2000”-design at first, but from there on out it’s a lot of new ideas and new priorities. As ugly as the current Prius is, it’s got a very standalone design and the rear, at least, is fairly spirited.

      Of course, all of this is easier appreciated in 20 years time, for better or worse.

  • Polarizing and weird doesn’t begin to describe the styling. It’s aggressively unattractive. I don’t understand why the push for such horrifying design elements has taken hold, other than the idea that people who want to buy a Prius are going to buy a Prius, no matter how stupid it looks.

    • Fuhrman16

      I agree. The whole industry seems to be heading toward making cars that are these overly styled blobs, and Toyota is leading the charge.

      • JayP

        The Jeep Cherokee is selling like mad, Hyundai has their own version now.

      • Vairship

        Don’t forget Lexus! The ugliest of the Toyota clan.

    • Rover 1

      “and the design, both inside and out, just seemed weird to me.”

      And most people too.

  • I’m still not prepared to forgive Toyota for the choice of Prii as the plural.

    • Fresh-Outta-Nissans

      I believe it was decided democratically, on a Facebook poll. Not Your Prius?

  • Maymar

    Just waiting for someone to call it Oprius Prime, and paint it blue and red.

    If nothing else though, the restyling over the regular Prius make going for the Prime worthwhile. Although, I’m curious to see if they have plans for a 2nd generation of the Prius V, which I find strangely appealing.

  • I’ve always liked the Prius. Even since the original, with the uniquely strange noises it made in Gran Turismo 2. I liked the ‘this ain’t a car’ looks, and the deliberately unconventional interior. As a fan of ‘the car’ holistically, I like anything that shows a degree of alternative thinking.In truth, I never really got the Prius hate.

    The thing is, everybody has this strange idea that a car should engage the driver, cause heartbeats to soar in corners, accelerate with breathtaking urge, look like Renaissance art and sound like Vivaldi. This is like saying that every song should have a blistering guitar solo and be played in a 5/8 time signature. Thank Christ for variety.

    I love jumping into a crappy old car and revelling in how different it feels to cars of the moment. It means I have to adjust my technique and drive within unfamiliar parameters. I’m delighted to know that there are still new cars that force me to do this.

    • On the few occasions when I’ve driven a Prius, either for work or for endurance road racing, I came away unconvinced that the car was taking full advantage of both its own shortcomings and my own shortcomings in a way that would constantly remind me of my frail mortality.

      I’ll stick with the older stuff.

  • alex

    I’ve been a Prius hater since Day 1.

    Not so much because of the car, which is or was kinda crappy.

    Mostly because of the suitcase full of government cash (yours) that came with each new car.

    And, the incredible smugness that all Prius owners had that they were SOOOO virtuous because they were saving the planet.

    Was offered one at a rental car outlet in Toronto a while back. I replied that “I’m more of an environmental criminal, and I enjoy burning carbon based fuels.”
    Still got a crappy car, but it wasn’t a Prius.

    • wunno sev

      most people i know who drive Prii just like that they get 45mpg and don’t ever break. i’ve heard a lot of talk about the smugness of Prius owners, but i’ve never experienced it.

    • Vairship

      All the “Flex Fuel” trucks also come with a suitcase of Government cash… a.k.a. disguised farm subsidies and Big 3 Auto subsidies (let’s take food and turn it into fuel, then subsidize it because foreign truck makers won’t sell enough to make developing a Flex fuel truck worth it). Also, the Chicken Tax. So it’s not just the Prius.

  • The Prium causes strong neutral feelings in me. I liked the simple and patented gear to marry the drive trains, and hated the noise at 75+ mph. The hatch swallowed a reasonably sized fridge, and has window kindles in the a-pillae. I would not buy one, I don’t mind owning one, Your Neutralness.

  • The Prius is a fantastic car, if you don’t care about driving. Excellent fuel economy, bullet proof reliability, and 5 door versatility. Ours has been all of the above.

    I hate it.

    Everything about how it drives says slow down, take it easy! It’s the only car I’ve driven where I look down and routinely find myself under the limit. It treats every turn as a dangerous event. It’s buzzy and slow and makes all kinds of odd noises.

    My wife loves it and I, frankly, like that I never need to think about it, maintenance wise (and it just crossed 200K miles). I’m hoping to be able to talk her into something a little more interesting, like an Accord or Mazda6, at replacement time.