The Toyota Prius Prime is for those consumers tempted to buy a fully electric vehicle, but who aren't willing to contend with the range anxiety that typically goes hand-in-hand with owning an electric car. For anyone who can charge frequently and thus maximize the electric drive, it's a compelling car. Otherwise, using it as a hybrid compromises fuel economy. You also get a $4,500 federal tax incentive, at least for now.
Toyota rolled out a Prius plug-in back in 2012, promising some electric-only driving range. But in reality, this was a reluctant EV that resorted to turning on the gas engine at every opportunity. In our owner satisfaction survey, the Prius Plug-in ranked well below the regular Prius hybrid. But the all-new plug-in -- now called Prius Prime -- has the ability to go all electric more often and for longer distances.
Thanks to an 8.8-kWh lithium-ion battery, the car averaged 22.5 miles of range on electric power according to our testing. Unlike its predecessor, the Prime remains in electric mode even under full throttle or climbing hills. It's still not an unconditional EV, however, as it will start the engine in sub-freezing weather and when driving needs demand high power. Once past those electric miles, the Prime reverts to regular hybrid operation. We got 50 mpg overall -- two less than the regular Prius. This difference can be attributed to the Prime's 300-pound weight increase over the Prius. With its combined electric and hybrid power, the Prius Prime has a 590-mile range.
It takes two hours to replenish the battery, which takes in about 6 kWh in each session through a 240-volt connection. The cost for recharging a drained battery is about 60 cents based on the national average for electricity rates. It takes five hours to charge on standard 120-volt power, so even then the Prime can easily be fully charged overnight without requiring the added cost of a special charging equipment.
Don't be fooled by the mere 121-horsepower stat; the Prime takes off with authority. With a fully charged battery, the Toyota delivers an electric car experience, complete with near-silent running and brisk initial spurt. The 0-60 mph is ultimately modest, and ends up quicker in hybrid mode in which the Prime functions much like a regular Prius.
Like the Prius, the Prime serves up a comfortable, steady ride. Handling is responsive and secure, though not sporty. The cabin is quiet in electric operation, but engine noise can be pronounced in hybrid mode.
Unlike the regular Prius, the Prime is only a four-seater. And due to the unique curved rear window, there's no rear wiper. On Premium and Advanced trims, a large tablet-like touch screen serves as the gateway to controls for the audio system, trip information, phone, and navigation. But you'll get access to Toyota's various apps and other secondary items before you'll figure out how to get simple good-old FM radio. And the seat heater controls seem like they were added as an afterthought -- the switches reside low and far away on the dash, practically by your ankles.
Kudos to Toyota for making advanced active safety systems standard, including forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and automatic high beams.
The Prius Prime is a compelling option for people who think the regular Prius is too much of a commodity and relies too much on gas.