Next month Toyota’s 2017 Prius Prime plug-in hybrid will go on sale in dealers as the premier product within the Prius line.
Based on the Prius Liftback with 1.8-liter engine and Toyota’s “Hybrid Synergy Drive” along with 8.8-kWh battery and limited-range all-electric drive capability, the car is the follow-up improvement to the 2012-2015 Prius Plug-in Hybrid.
In green car circles, that original PHV met with mixed reviews for a relatively short EPA-rated electric range. That said, while sold in only 15 U.S. states, it still managed to globally rise as high as third best seller a couple years ago among all plug-in cars.
Baked in is Toyota’s reputation established with the Prius which was launched in 1997 in Japan, and 2000 in the U.S.
We’ve covered this car in some detail already, but following are a few more-recently revealed stand-out advantages it will bring to the market.
Potentially Highest Energy Efficiency*
Toyota swung for the bleachers in maximizing the Prime’s “miles per gallon equivalent” (MPGe) – its electrical energy efficiency – above any other plug-in hybrid or all-electric vehicle sold in the U.S.
Its 133 MPGe not only obliterates the 95 MPGe of last year’s Prius PHV, it surpasses all current pure EVs which normally achieve better MPGe than plug-in hybrids from Ford, Hyundai, Kia, formerly Honda, and others which scored in the 90s to lower 100s.
The highest pure EV right now is the pending Hyundai Ioniq Electric with 125 MPGe, which just eclipses the 124 MPGe BMW i3. The highest full-range plug-in hybrid car is the Chevy Volt with 106 MPGe.
What this means is for an EPA-rated 25 miles, the Prius Prime is the most efficient. Pure EVs stand to be more efficient on longer drives because they never use gas, but Toyota observes more than half of all drivers can stay in EV mode for their daily travel needs with 25 miles to work with.
When the Prime switches to gas, it’s rated a chart-topping 55 mpg city, 53 highway, 54 combined.
This is extremely high, and beats most of its Prius siblings which are rated 52 mpg combined, and is a bit behind the Prius Two Eco’s 56 mpg.
The pending Hyundai Ioniq plug-in hybrid and regular hybrid may also come close, but for now, this is a strong showing next to other competitive PHEVs that score fuel efficiency in the high 30s and low 40s.
Better Electric Range Than Promised
Toyota introduced the Prime saying it expected 22 miles EV range, but it turns out the EPA rating will be 25 miles – no doubt thanks to the high MPGe powertrain.
In the world of plug-in hybrids where Ford Energis still get 19-20 miles EV range, and the Hyundai Sonata/ Kia Optima get 27 miles, every extra mile of range matters.
Among full-range gas-electric cars, only the Chevy Volt with its 53 miles range handily beats the Prius Prime, while being a compact next to the Prius’ midsized status, and getting 42 mpg, versus 54.
Not a Compliance Car
Toyota will sell the Prime in all 50 states, instead of just limited states where plug-ins do best.
The move suggests it is more confident it will be competitive enough and signals hope even that Toyota may be moving toward more plug-ins.
Recently, a lead Toyota engineer actually hinted Toyota is considering making the entire next-generation Prius lineup plug-in to meet tightening emissions regulations, though this has otherwise not been announced.
All New Design
The Prius Prime is a second-generation plug-in hybrid based on the fourth-generation Prius, and they have refined the formula quite a bit.
While efficiency numbers went up, that did not stop the automaker from designing the Prime 6.5 inches longer, 0.6 inches wider and 0.8 inches lower than the original Prius PHV, with a bit more room on the inside.
Toyota initially introduced the car with a 4-seat configuration, but the company has said it aims to introduce a five-seater.
Underpinned by the Toyota New Global Architecture modular chassis which increases torsional rigidity and includes a double wishbone rear suspension, the Prime promises superior handling to what came before.
Our road test of a conventional Liftback confirmed that while no faster than last year, that car is more composed in corners, and distances the Prius from what critics before would call an uninspiring drive.
As for its looks, people have had a lot to say about that, and exterior design is cited as the most-important factor why buyers choose a new car.
It is an emotional purchase for many, so in this case, those who dislike it may pass, but for those looking at how it functions, the Prius Prime is better than ever.
Priced Within Regular Prius Range
Toyota has stated the Prime is the top-of-the-range Prius, but it has priced it as starting midway in the pricing of the non-plug-in hybrid versions.
The regular hybrid Prius Liftback costs between $25,500 and $30,880 including destination fees. The Prime has three trim levels starting with the Prius Prime Plus which carries an MSRP of $27,965. The next-up Prius Prime Premium is $29,665, and the Prius Prime Advanced is $33,965.
The plug-in vehicles are eligible for a $4,500 federal tax credit and potential state subsidies that the regular hybrids are not eligible for. This means even if one buys a home 240-volt charger – not necessary for overnight charging but it does speed charging over 120 volt – it is net cheaper to get into the plug-in than the regular hybrid.
This pricing overlap is aggressive and nothing like the lower 30s to just below 40 pricing of the outgoing model, and lower federal credit that made the former Prius PHV a tougher sell.
And while it will cost to get the most options, even the base Prime Plus includes the same basic powertrain.
Standard features include fabric-trimmed heated front seats with armrests; power windows with auto up/down; integrated navigation and backup camera; dual sun visors with illuminated vanity mirrors and heated power outside mirrors.
We will have our eyes open to see how this plug-in does sales-wise next to the regular Prius.
Certainly it is more competitive than last year – and even more competitive than some might have thought it would be before these prices from a net $23,465 or less were announced.