There are 13 plug-in hybrids on the U.S. market, and revising its offering last week was Toyota, which rolled out its 2017 Prius Prime.
Toyota’s first plug-in hybrid version of its Prius was introduced in 2012, midway through the third-generation regular hybrid Prius Liftback’s lifecycle.
Now, on the heels of the fourth-generation Prius revealed last fall comes the Prius Prime – positioned as the range topper for the line.
No longer called “Plug-in Hybrid,” it is a plug-in hybrid just the same as a badge on its flank indicates, and aims for a demographic which likes the Prius but want some electric range.
When its preliminary specifications were released last week in New York, the scuttlebutt among plug-in fans included disappointment that more electric range was not offered, but the vehicle has rested somewhat on the laurels of its Prius namesake.
Worldwide the Prius Plug-in Hybrid has ranked as well as third-highest among the budding plug-in electrified vehicle market which includes plug-in hybrids and battery electrics.
Through December it accounted for about 75,000 cumulative global sales since launch, and follows the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (about 92,000), Chevy Volt and variants (over 106,000), Tesla Model S (about 107,000), and Nissan Leaf (about 202,000).
Following is a rundown of major changes to the plug-in Prius now called the Prime and due to launch in dealers this fall.
22 Miles Electric Range
The major sore spot for plug-in fans was addressed to a point with the new Prime. A former 4.4-kilowatt-hour battery was replaced with an 8.8-kwh unit expected to get 22 miles electric range pending EPA certification.
Further, miles per gallon equivalent is a market-topping 120 MPGe, and all-electric driving in EV mode can be maintained without the gas turning on at up to 84 mph while the battery is charged.
Its electric range is 3 miles more than the Ford Fusion Energi and C-Max Energi, five miles short of the Hyundai Sonata PHEV and Kia Optima PHEV, and 3 or more miles short of the Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid due early next year.
Compared to the 2016/2017 Chevy Volt, it’s a substantial 31 miles less. The Volt is heads above all, and is a purpose-built extended-range EV.
That said, Toyota notes 22 miles is enough to accommodate 51 percent of average daily driving needs. With intra-day charging factored, the Prime could work for almost 80 percent of average daily driving.
The 2012-2015 Prius plug-in was on the other hand rated just 6 miles all electric, and 11 miles electric plus gas. Careful driving could net 11-15 miles pure electric driving, so the 22 is better.
Whether it is enough for many will be determined by sales. As noted some people have expressed dismay that Toyota did not do more, but this is what it is, and the Prime will be assessed by shoppers as a complete package.
Toyota has not announced the projected number. Its regular 2016 Prius is rated 52 mpg for five trims, and an Eco model is rated 56. Toyota has only ventured to say it is expecting mpg to be “similar” to the regular Prius.
The former Prius plug-in was rated the exact same – 50 mpg combined – and so it would be no surprise if the 2017 Prime also matches the regular Prius upon which it is based.
New Chassis and Design
The Prius line is Toyota’s first to ride on its modular Toyota New Global Architecture.
It’s lower slung, and torsional rigidity is a substantial 60-percent better. By comparison the 2015 Camry refresh saw a 10-percent improvement.
Design-wise, the new look has been as controversial as the electric range, if not more. Differentiating it from the regular Prius are quad LED lights and LED rear combination lamps.
Inside the car is a bit roomier though one other head-scratching moment came with the deletion of the middle rear seating position.
Toyota says it saved weight by installing armrests and cupholders to make the new car a four-seater.
The 2011-2015 Chevy Volt had been lambasted for only offering four seats, and GM went out of its way to make a middle rear hump at least a passable short-range seating position.
Apparently un-fazed by that market demand, Toyota is positioning the relatively upscale Prime for those who will not mind only four seats.
The stiffer chassis along with revised suspension tuning and trailing arm double wishbone suspension promise better road manners in the corners.
This was a concern for the Prius which has had something of a gelded reputation among auto enthusiasts, and it has been addressed.
While 0-60 is expected to be about the same in the 10-second ballpark, the vehicle should be more fun to drive.
Our test drive of the regular Prius against a third-generation Prius revealed significant improvements.
50 State Available
The former Prius Plug-in Hybrid which ceased production last June was sold in just 15 states in the U.S.
Toyota is signaling its revised Prius Prime offers a better value proposition by taking it beyond a primarily ZEV-state focus to nationwide.
Pricing has not been announced but the new car is expected to be eligible for a higher federal tax credit.
The former car was eligible for the minimum $2,500. Per the IRS, the credit is equal to $2,500 plus an additional $417 for each kilowatt hour of battery capacity in excess of 5 kilowatt hours.
This should equate to $4,502 plus any state incentives that may be available.
This is Toyota’s only plug-in car and will not satisfy everyone, but Toyota is banking that the sum total package stands to offer improved value.
It is evolved and evolved again, as the Prius was first launched in 1997 in Japan, and the plug-in is itself the second plug-in car to go through a complete redesign.