Everyone who drives an electric vehicle immediately notices two things: the acceleration and the fuel economy. Driving an EV means instant power from a stoplight, and the feeling is addicting. Likewise, finishing a trip with 100 mpg or better makes you want more. Both elements are major selling points for consumers.
Yet plug-in hybrids and all-electric models still post small sales numbers. Which leads us to the two things everyone dislikes about EVs: charging a car and paying so much extra for the battery. Once you start talking about installing a charger in the garage and paying thousands extra to go electric, you lose about 95% of the car-buying public.
Then Toyota released the second generation of its plug-in hybrid, calling it Prius Prime. With this model, you would charge the car when you had a chance and travel 25 miles getting the best economy around. When you couldn’t charge, you would get the best economy of any car without a battery on the standard (54 mpg) hybrid system. Plus, there was another kicker: It cost the same as the regular Prius after the $4,500 tax credit.
In other words, the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime represents a small revolution in electrified vehicles. Here are 10 things we learned about the world’s most sensible plug-in vehicle over an eight-day test.
1. Prime styling: a giant leap forward
No matter how much people loved Prius’s economy over the years, hardly anyone really loved the car’s style. That consensus applied to multiple generations of the hybrid and included the original plug-in model. Even the redesigned 2016 Prius features some severe angles and a polarizing overall look. Prius Prime, on the other hand, can pass for a stylish car. The plug-in is unanimously the most attractive Prius to date.
2. We averaged 101.4 mpg
Prime received an EPA rating of 133 MPGe in electric mode and 54 mpg during hybrid operation. Over our week-long travels that extended nearly 500 miles, we averaged 101.4 mpg. That amazing figure came with just one charging session outside the home. Using a base in Echo Park on L.A.’s east side, we traveled to Santa Barbara and back and made multiple excursions to Malibu yet hardly used half a tank of gas. Had we hung around L.A. proper and avoided extended highway driving, we probably would have averaged over 150 mpg.
3. You charge it like a phone
When Prime debuted, Toyota touted its ability to charge on a regular home outlet (110v) in 5.5 hours. Indeed, that’s a huge selling point. You drive electric without worrying about a home charger or a subscription to a charging station network. We just plugged in our car at the end of a day’s travels and started over in the morning. Looking at charge times of Ford Fusion Energi (7 hours to 21 miles) or Hyundai Sonata PHEV (9 hours to 27 miles), Prime has a clear advantage. If you use a Level 2 (240v) charger, the battery needs just 2 hours.
4. The touchscreen challenges Tesla’s
In the premium ($28,800) or advanced ($33,100) trims, Prime comes with a touchscreen measuring 11.6 inches. It may not stack up against Tesla’s massive 17-inch screen, but it competes and creates an impressive centerpiece in what is a tech-heavy automobile. The screen is responsive and generally easy to operate. Navigation comes standard in every available trim. Base Prime models called “Plus” start at $27,100.
5 . The 25-mile EV range is real
A hallmark of the new generation of plug-in vehicles is accurate range readings. We noticed it in our Chevrolet Bolt EV drive in January 2017 and we saw it in our run in Toyota Prius Prime. The estimated 25 miles is actually 25 miles. If you manage your acceleration and braking perfectly in city driving, you will even push it beyond the EPA mark.
6. You feel the tech at work
In advanced trim, Prius Prime offers a head-up display (HUD) that projects a hologram into the windshield featuring your current speed and other details. We found it especially useful when we were using the navigation system. Instead of having to glance at the map to clarify where you make the next turn, you see the important data right in front of you — right where your eyes should be when operating a vehicle.
7. Hatchback utility
No one will be wowed by the 20 cubic feet of cargo space inside a 2017 Prius Prime. That number puts the plug-in model well behind the standard Prius (27 cubic feet) and slightly head of Chevrolet Volt (19 cubic feet). On the other hand, Prime easily fits a 6-foot surfboard inside and has room for much more with the back seats down. (You will need to use the back seat if you bring several large suitcases or other large objects aboard.) One thing about the hatch: It has a tall reach when open, so consider that inside a low garage.
8. Visibility issues
In the past, Prius was known as a vehicle with multiple blind spots, a product of its raised rear end. Prime’s window inside the hatch helps a bit, but we still had trouble seeing clearly in the back corners. Advanced safety equipment largely neutralizes this disadvantage. backing up in the one-car garage where we parked, the sensors were quite adamant about us getting out unscathed. The system works, and a rear camera comes standard, but drivers will notice this element, especially in the base trim.
9. Standard Prius reliability
Over the years, Prius has appeared on lists of most of the lists of most reliable and longest-lasting cars on the road. Prime buyers get access to that heritage, which includes keeping the hybrid EV batteries working for the long haul. Consumer Reports has yet to deliver its final verdict on this model (it’s still in testing), but we expect more of the same from a trusted brand on the reliability front.
10. A competitive World Green Car Award
In any other year, Prius Prime would have been a lock for the World Green Car Award. But in 2017 Toyota’s plug-in faced off against both Chevy Bolt EV and Tesla Model X. We believe the overall convenience of Prime — no home charger, unparalleled efficiency — gave Toyota the win over this stiff competition at the New York Auto Show.
Though economy and convenience are Prime’s biggest selling points, we can’t ignore the plug-in’s excellent drive character. In electric mode, you will experience the joy of EV driving in ways you would never expect from a Prius. This element may be Prime’s biggest achievement of all. You get the thrill of EV driving without the hassle; meanwhile, the world-class efficiency quietly hums along in the background.
Disclosure: Toyota provided Autos Cheat Sheet with a 2017 Prius Prime, insurance, and a full tank of gas in order to bring this first-person report to our readers.
Follow Eric on Twitter @EricSchaalNY.