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.]