Finding The Elusive Prius Prime (+ Toyota Prius Prime Review)

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Going into 2017, I wanted to test drive some of the new plug-in hybrids hitting the market. Unfortunately, I found the newest plug-in hybrid EVs (with the exception of the 2017 Chevy Volt) difficult if not impossible to find in my area (in a populous part of Florida, which is ranked 5th for EV sales in the US).

After a disappointing call to the Toyota dealership closest to me (no luck), I called around to find that I would have to drive quite a distance to have a first-hand look at a Prius Prime.

I started check on nearby dealerships late at night with the hope of spotting one and going to test drive it before it sold. Last week, I noticed that my local Toyota dealership got one in. I went in the next morning. The salesman was informative. The only way to get one is with a deposit, he noted. If you take that step, you will then wait about 3 months for the Prius Prime.

[Editor’s Note: That’s not at all as easy as we presumed it would be to get a hold of one of the most popular plug-in cars in the country. Again, Southwest Florida may not be California, but it also isn’t a rural, poor region of the country where you might expect it would be so hard to find a popular plug-in car. —Zach]

I gathered that the deposit at this location needs to be about $1,000. The salesman said that production is slowly ramping up and providing more access to the 2017 Prius Prime, but orders are the only way to be sure one will be available in many areas of the country.

The salesman sold some of the original Prius hybrids that Toyota offered. He sold those first (non-plug-in) hybrids that became so popular that we all became familiar with conventional hybrids. He explained at that time it was a similar situation with the Toyota Prius — slow production and orders with deposits. Things changed since then for the normal Prius. The Prius Prime is another generation, though, and this plug-in hybrid is still quite limited in exposure and availability.

I was hopeful regarding the Prius Prime. What follows is now my impression of the new model.

Toyota Prius Prime

The first thing I note is a spacious cab. Both the front cab and the back seat are airy and roomy, with an interior that seems superior to the previous incarnations of the Prius.

Storage space is adequate. Due to the additional battery, the storage room is smaller than the normal Prius. The cupholder in the back seat makes the car a 4 seater. But I am not disappointed. The Prius Prime offers a certain quality of comfort for the driver and passengers.

Toyota Prius Prime

Visibility from the driver’s seat of the Prius Prime in the front is excellent. The dash is nice and low, with windows giving a comprehensive view of the road — to the front and sides of the front. My feeling is that it’s similar to the 2017 Chevy Volt. In this way, the Prius Prime impressed me as did the 2017 Volt.

Unfortunately, the visibility out the back is not as good as the Leaf — which you probably know by now I praise often — or the BMW i3. The cut of the back window is a bit too small for me. However, it is probably still safe enough with the other features of the Prius Prime considered.

Toyota Prius Prime

Toyota does have a big presence with safety features. It has pedestrian detection, vehicle detection, and automatic braking in extreme circumstances. It has cruise control that’s responsive to the vehicle ahead of it (what it calls “Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control”). In something approaching autopilot, it keeps beeping like crazy if you drift out of the lane and will apparently even take over the steering a bit in certain circumstances (“Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist”).

The Prius Prime has some other nice features as well. We left the dealership and the salesman drove us to another spot where we switched seats. I left my passenger side door open and jumped in the driver’s seat. As I looked over expecting him to sink into his seat, I saw the wide open door simply and gently close automatically. Nice. He was standing behind the Prius looking for something and the door naturally and automatically closed.

Toyota Prius Prime
Drive Quality

The smooth quality of the ride during the initial passenger period convinced me this EV is electric in part — no notable loud sound or vroom (which I dislike). The sound is quiet, but not as silent as a Leaf or Tesla.

As I drive, the EV floors it quite well. The pickup is smooth and strong. The steering brings back memories of a Toyota Camry that I drove for years. It is rather stiff compared to the Leaf; however, no plug-in hybrid EV yet has compared.

The Prime is a revitalization of Toyota’s initial Prius Plug-In Hybrid. It differs quite a bit from the first Prius Plug-In (which had not so many miles of electric range). Comparing to the 2017 Chevy Volt, the Prius Prime still has much less electric range, but what plug-in hybrid doesn’t?

The Prius Prime does have an advanced energy integration system. The sales rep calls it a seamless integration. The following YouTube reviewer suggests that the Prime is competitive in overall miles per gallon versus the Chevy Volt. They are not the same kind of hybrids, it should be emphasized. The Chevy Volt has an impressive 53 miles of electric range on one charge, which is enough for the vast majority of a normal person’s driving needs. Still, the Prius Prime does offer exceptional fuel economy for gas driving when that is needed.

Toyota Prius Prime

I generally mix up the ways I charge the Leaf, depending on time. I appreciate the fast-charging capacity of the Nissan Leaf. The Prius Prime does not have the ability to fast charge — the same as with all other plug-in hybrids.

The sales rep mentioned that it is best to buy a home charger. I mentioned there are 39 charging stations in the area. He was notably surprised. However, the public charging options are probably superfluous with this model. With relatively low electric range, one can simply plug this car into the wall at home and get a full charge before too long, but many people do still prefer a quicker home charging station.

The Prius Prime has a couple of different drive modes. Certainly, everyone wants more electric range. The earlier generations with 11 miles were criticized for low range and the Prime now has up to 25 miles, according to the EPA, before gas kicks in. If the battery gets low, it reverts to a standard 4th gen Prius.

In an earlier comparison between the Prius Prime and Chevy Volt, we noted these technical details:

  • the Volt has 149 horsepower, an 18.4 kilowatt-hour battery pack, and a fuel economy of 42 mpg;
  • the Prius Prime has 121 horsepower, an 8.8 kilowatt-hour battery pack, and a 54 mpg fuel economy on gasoline.

Toyota Prius Prime

The infotainment screen in the vehicle I tested was fine, typical of good-quality but small infotainment versions. It is not the larger tablet-like version that can be special ordered (seen in the video above). The two higher trims of the Prius Prime offer the bigger screen.

Toyota Prius Prime

The Prius Prime I drove has a competitive price of $28,385. The starting MSRP of the Prius Prime is $27,100.

However, Prius Prime buyers are eligible for a federal EV tax credit up to $4,502, which brings the base MSRP down to $22,598, or the price of the Prime I drove down to $23,883.

There are also various incentives in individual states and, of course, in other countries around the world.


Gas2 mentions that Toyota targeted three areas of improvement for the second-generation Prius Prime plug-in hybrid:

1. Longer electric-only cruising range.

2. Clearer differentiation from the standard Prius.

3. Easier battery recharging.

With all of that in mind, if you are interested in efficiency and want a Prius, the Prius Prime is a clear choice from Toyota. The look of the Prius Prime is considerably changed and more visually distinct from its conventional hybrid cousin. “It has different headlight treatment, tail lights that are set further apart, and an optional tablet sized touchscreen on the inside,” as Steve Hanley noted.

Toyota has a well-deserved reputation for the integrity of its cars. The standard that Tesla cars and other pure-bred electric cars such as the Nissan LEAF and BMW i3 set is difficult to match, but the Prius Prime offers its own benefits for some needs and desires.

My advice is to test drive as many electric vehicles — all-electric cars and plug-in hybrids — as you can, then decide. If you love Toyota, definitely try this one and compare it to the Chevy Volt, Ford Energi models, the Nissan LEAF, the BMW i3, etc.

If you are getting a Prius, this is the one to buy. I was quite pleased with the test drive. Although, as always, nothing compares to the adept mobility and visibility of the Nissan Leaf for me. In itself, that mobility and visibility is a valuable safety feature.

Related Stories:

Toyota Aiming For 60,000 Prius Prime PHEV Sales A Year

2017 Electric Car Sales Projections — From You & EV Volumes

The 20 Electric Cars For Sale In The USA, Canada, &/Or Europe

The 24 Plug-In Hybrid Electric Cars For Sale In The USA, Canada, &/Or Europe

Images 1–4 by Cynthia Shahan for, 5–6 by Toyota

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Cynthia Shahan

Cynthia Shahan, started writing after previously doing research and publishing work on natural birth practices. Words can be used improperly depending on the culture you are in. (Several unrelated publications) She has a degree in Education, Anthropology, Creative Writing, and was tutored in Art as a young child thanks to her father the Doctor. Pronouns: She/Her

Cynthia Shahan has 947 posts and counting. See all posts by Cynthia Shahan