Should You Buy A 2017 Toyota Prius Prime?

The first Toyota Prius Prime shipment has arrived in the U.S. en route to dealers as part of a nationwide “soft launch” rollout, and the all-new plug-in hybrid is more competitive than the model it replaces.

Toyota’s 2012-2015 Prius Plug-in Hybrid caught heat from plug-in advocates for its diminutive 4.4-kWh battery, 11 miles EPA-rated “Elec + Gas” range, sales in only 15 states, and pre-subsidy pricing from the low $30,000s to just below $40,000.

The new Prime doubles battery size to 8.8 kWh, increases EV range to 25 miles while increasing EV-only speed from a former 62 mph to now 84 mph. It also seriously exceeds the old plug-in Prius’s 95 MPGe (electric drive efficiency) with 133 MPGe, while fuel efficiency tops the base 52-mpg Prius non-plug-in hybrid with 54 mpg in gas-hybrid mode.

Toyota is not clear on how soon all states will have the vehicle, but its in process of distributing to dealers now as cars arrive in regional ports.

As cars arrive in U.S. ports, Toyota is in process of distribution of “practically all” first cars in California and the Pacific Northwest. “We do expect shipments to begin arriving soon in other ports including the East Coast,” said Toyota’s Sam Butto. Green car analyst Alan Baum notes while the Prime is improved, it would be better received if it were a crossover, and there are other competitive models now and pending.

Toyota may not be swinging for the bleachers in all ways with an only mid-pack EV range, but in other ways it is. The car – which is about as quick as the former model, while handling much better, is also eligible for a bigger tax credit than the old one while being now also cheaper for the entry level of three trims. In fact, the new Prime before subsidy starts midway in the non-plug-in Prius Liftback’s price range. That’s aggressive considering plug-ins often demand a premium that may only hope to be offset by a tax credit and/or other incentives.

Its 133 MPGe, by the way, exceeds that of every other all-electric and plug-in hybrid sold in the U.S. and Toyota says its 25 miles range ought to serve half of all drivers’ daily traveling needs.

Advanced Prime model in photos. All Prius Primes are based upon the same basic car and powertrain. They start with  the Prime Premium trim ($29,665) and Prime Advanced trim ($33,965).

All Prius Primes are based upon the same basic car and powertrain. They start with base Prius Prime Plus, mid-level is the Prime Premium, and top is the Prime Advanced trim. Pricing ranges from about $28,000-$34,000. All are eligible for a $4,500 federal tax credit and potential state incentives. Advanced Prime model shown in photos.

This said, success is guaranteed to no one in a time of cheap gas, other competitive vehicles, and some of these we’ll look at.

A comprehensive analysis of all potential direct and indirect competitors would mean writing a short book, so this will just be a consciousness-raising session, with a few salient points and commentary on each.

If you want a list of every green car sold in the U.S. today, you can also check out our monthly sales Dashboard.

Toyota Prius Liftback

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The Prius Liftback is the world’s best-selling green car, but did Toyota make the Prime too competitive against it?

Time will tell, but the Prime’s spec sheet and Liftback’s spec sheet reveal the same underlying 1.8-liter hybrid vehicle.

The Prime is the range topper, says Toyota, with larger li-ion battery and even better mpg in hybrid mode than all Liftback trims except the 56 mpg Prius Two Eco.

The four-passenger Prime does weigh 300 pounds more, and its 91.5 cubic feet of passenger room is scooch less than the five-passenger Liftback’s 93.5. Also reduced is cargo volume at 19.8 cubic feet versus 24.6-27.4, depending on which of the six trim levels of the Liftback are in question.

SEE ALSO: 2016 Toyota Prius Review – Video

Toyota does price the subsidy ineligible Liftback from $25,550 including destination – less than the base Prius Prime Plus which starts at $27,965, but the $4,500 federal credit lopped off the Prime make it net cheaper. Assuming simple math sans taxes, fees, or potential discounts, the base Prime nets to $23,465 – $2,085 less than the base Liftback Two, and this does not count potential state incentives.

The Prime also comes in a Prime Premium trim ($29,665) and Prime Advanced trim ($33,965). The Liftback ranges through the upper $20,000s to $30,880.

You may be well advised to kick the tires on both, and for sure the value proposition is far closer than the last go-around.

Ford Fusion Energi/C-Max Energi

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Converted from a non-plug-in hybrid which in turn was converted from a conventional gas burner, the Fusion Energi is the techno whiz kid in the Fusion family line.

Its sibling, the C-Max Energi, shares the same basic 2.0-liter hybrid powertrain and 2017 EPA numbers are not in yet, but the 2016 C-Max was rated 88 MPGe and 38 mpg in hybrid mode, versus the 2017 Fusion’s 97 MPGe and 42 mpg in hybrid mode.

2016 C-Max Energi

2016 C-Max Energi

The all-important efficiency specs to be compared to the Toyota’s are that MPGe – far less than Prime’s 133 MPGe, and the Fusion’s 22 miles and C-Max;’ 20 miles “Elec + Gas” range is less, than the Prime’s 25-mile estimate. And, while we’re taking note, mpg is significantly lower for the Fords too.

Beyond that, it comes down to styling and type of car you wish to drive. The $33,995 sedan from Ford is handsome among vehicles. The $27,995 C-Max is a larger hatchback and closer in general design to the Toyota, helping those who like the style and want the room.

Performance also is stronger than the 121-horsepower Prime and 0-60 mph for the Fords could be 2-3 seconds quicker than the Prime’s maybe 10-second range.

Meanwhile, the love-it-or-not revised Prius family’s styling has had some most ungracious commentary bestowed on it by more than a usual number of detractors.

If you are one of the ones who likes the Prime, that’s good for you. It’s cheaper than the Fusion, relatively close to the C-Max, and otherwise is closer to a purpose-made and highly evolved car from a well-regarded Japanese maker known for reliability and resale value.

Chevy Volt

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The first plug-in to get a full redesign, the Volt has a wonderfully effective powertrain but is a compact class car, whereas the Prime is a midsized.

Its 53-miles EV range at up to 102 mph, and 42 mpg in hybrid mode from its 1.5-liter powertrain basically make the Volt feasible for more people to never turn the gas on at all, day to day.

SEE ALSO: 2017 Chevy Volt Review – Video

The 149-horsepower, 294 pounds-feet-torque Volt is also quicker with 0-60 mph at around 8.5 seconds, and very quick 0-30 at 2.6 seconds.

Oddly, Toyota also deviated from the five-seat Liftback and made the Prime a four-seater like the 2011-2015 Volt, whereas Chevrolet, after being criticized for that, did make a concession to a middle rear “seating position.”

Not hurting the Toyota, however is that it is, well, a Toyota. Consumer Reports has long praised that brand, and it actually just dinged the Volt as no longer recommended.

That assessment heard strong disagreement from Volt owners who have said their new Volts have been trouble free or nearly so, and there is otherwise reason to believe GM has had much improved quality control, especially for “halo” vehicles like the plug-in Volt.

As for price, the Volt starts at $33,995 and is eligible for $7,500 federal tax credit. The $6,030-cheaper $27,965 Prime is eligible for a $4,500 federal credit. Assuming simple math sans taxes, fees, or potential discounts, that nets the base Prime to $23,465 and the base Volt to $26,495.

Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid

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The Hyundai Sonata PHEV is closest in spec to the Fusion Energi, and similar comparisons apply.

Pending is the virtual sibling Kia Optima PHEV, with 103 MPGe, 40 mpg,l and 29 miles "Elec + Gas"  range.

Pending is the virtual sibling Kia Optima PHEV, with 103 MPGe, 40 mpg, and 29 miles “Elec+Gas” range.

Its claim to fame is 27 miles EV range, better than the 25-mile Prime, while 99 MPGe and 39 mpg are lower.

Power is also greater for the roughly 200-horsepower car good for 7-8 second 0-60 mph times.

Styling is a matter of what you want, as is the case for the Fusion, but not helping things is its $35,435 and up price including destination fee, with $4,919 potential tax credit.

That’s a big jump to make for 2 extra miles of EV range. Toyota likely gives nothing up in reliability and resale value, but the Hyundai is a sleek sedan, and worth a look.

Hyundai Ioniq

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The Ioniq is to be available in hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and battery electric form, and while not here yet, it promises to be competitive with the Prime as it was benchmarked to go head-to-head with the Prius family.

Speaking of the plug-in hybrid Ioniq, due third quarter 2017, Hyundai’s Derek Joyce reports all-electric range is over 25 miles miles and range is 600 miles per tank, comparable to the Prime.

EPA certification data is otherwise not available, but Hyundai has indicated its mpg will be in league with the regular hybrid, targeting a healthy mid-50s potential.

Design wise, the Ioniq is less angular and more conventional, so when it is released it may come down to looks, pricing, and other design factors that individuals will give the nod to.

Joyce says pricing is “too early” to announce, but it will be “fully competitive” with PHEVs in the segment, including the Prius Prime.

Chevy Bolt

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A completely different alternative, this all-electric car is here for all those we’ve heard from disappointed with the Prime’s 25 miles EV range.

The 2017 Chevy Bolt compact crossover offers 238 EPA-rated miles, is an all-new, purpose-made EV, and with quick 6.5-second 0-60 mph acceleration, 2.9-second 0-30, and roomy five-passenger interior.

SEE ALSO: 5 Cool Things About the 2017 Chevy Bolt EV

The $37,495 before $7,500 federal credit car now being launched in California and Oregon – on the way to nationwide distribution – is the most EV range for the dollar going by a large margin. It thus may be enough to let some would-be plug-in hybrid buyers let go their need for gas backup and go pure EV.

Obviously it is not a direct competitor, but it has in common the goal of being frugal with zero tailpipe emissions, quiet EV drive, and is worth considering for those who can work with what it offers.

Tesla Model 3

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Another future product, it is not speculation to say the Model 3 is worth waiting for, as 400,000 or so have already placed $1,000 pre-order deposits on Tesla’s 215-plus mile 2018 model year EV.

To be priced from $35,000 plus possible delivery fee, and less $7,500 federal credit and any available state or local incentives, the Model 3 offers advantages the Bolt does, but with sleek style as well.

In all, this one pings the excitement meter the loudest among alternative energy fans.

Tesla’s Supercharger charging network will also be in place to make longer range travel possible, and the vehicle will offer all-wheel drive and longer range batteries – for a price, of course.

This also is an apple-to-orange comparison, but people mulling the merits of the plug-in Prius may wish to consider what many view as the new ultimate due as soon as late next year, and after mid 2018 for those placing new orders.