Toyota’s new Prius Prime

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2017 Toyota Prius Prime Advanced

By Roy Nakano

I’m listening to The Temptations sing “Beauty is Only Skin Deep” on the Toyota Prius Prime’s 10-speaker JBL premium sound system, and I can’t help think about the car I’m driving. This Prius Prime ain’t no beauty. The Prius has never been pretty, but with the new, fourth-generation model, The Prime is actually even more polarizing to look at. It’s like a Prius with aftermarket cosmetics from Pep Boys.

Word has it that the original fourth-generation proposal was rejected by Akio Toyoda as too mild a makeover from generation three. Well, no one can accuse the final design of being too meek and mild. For green drivers who want to project their colors to the outside world, the Prius Prime is an illuminated disco ball.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime Advanced

Now that we’ve gotten the visuals out of the way, let’s talk about the rest of the new Prius Prime. Aside from the phenomenal fuel economy, there’s a lot of car here. It looks like a compact, but there’s quite a bit of room for front and rear passengers. Like the Prius going two generations back, you can pack quite a load into the rear. Fold down the back seat, and the car can be used to gather up just about anything from your neighborhood yard sale. A twin bed mattress, box springs, and bed frame? It’ll swallow it up, and the still allow you to close the hatchback. An office desk? I’ve seen it fit, with room to spare.

Unlike previous Prii, this new one is fitted with a four-wheel independent suspension. In addition to a better ride, there’s improvement in the handling department. Hey, it’s no sports sedan, but there is a slight semblance of a fun-to-drive experience when taking the Prius Prime through winding roads. Aside from the fun offered in working the fuel economy dashboard graphics, Prior Prii could never be accused of being fun to drive.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime Advanced

The new Prius Prime has the largest touch screen ever to be fitted on a Prius. The dashboard graphics—including all the functions to maximize your economy—are pretty dazzling. Unfortunately, the screen is not a model of user-friendliness. Even operating the radio requires a second thought. Let’s hope owners of the Prime find it easier to use over time.

So, how does the Prius Prime stack up to the regular Prius? As a two-time Prius owner, I’d say quite well. I couldn’t say that about the previous Prius Plug-in, which had a marginal electric car range and was expensive to boot. The new one has a decent electric-only range (around 25 miles), and is significantly less expensive than the previous generation Prius Plug-in. It’s about $7,000 less than its most obvious competitor, the Chevrolet Volt (it has to be, since Chevrolet Volt purchasers still enjoy the $7,500 federal tax credit; Toyota Prius Prime owners don’t).

I still consider the regular Prius the better buy, but if you can make good use of the California single-occupant HOV lane sticker that the Prime qualifies for—or if your commute falls with the electric-only range of this plug in vehicle—the Prime may be worth your time. If that disco ball exterior illumination is off-putting, go for one of the darker, more incognito hues.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime Advanced

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Name of vehicle:
2017 Toyota Prius Prime Advanced

$27,985 (base)
$33,985 (Advanced model)

EPA fuel economy rating:
EPA city/highway driving: 55/53 mpg
EPA electricity combined: 133 MPGe

DOHC 16-valve Atkinson-cycle 1.8-liter inline-4, 95 hp, 105 lb-ft; 2 permanent-magnet synchronous AC motors; combined output, 121 hp; 8.8-kWh lithium-ion battery pack

Continuously variable automatic

Drive configuration:
Front engine, front-wheel drive

EPA size classification*:
Mid-size car

* Passenger car classes are designated by the EPA based on interior volume index or seating capacity, except the ones classified as special vehicle. A two-seater is classified as a car with no more than two designated seating positions.

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