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2017 Toyota Prius Prime Plug-In Review By Larry Nutson

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2017 Toyota Prius Prime
A Plug-in Hybrid

By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor and Bureau Chief
Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel

Around the world the auto industry spent the first decade of this century bringing electrification into vehicles. Now, in this second decade, electrification is here and continues to improve.

To wit, new for 2017, Toyota’s Prius Prime is a plug-in version of the regular Prius gas/electric hybrid. The previous Prius Plug-in, last offered for 2015 provided just 11 miles of electric range at speeds up to 62 mph. The new Prius Prime with its 8.8kWh lithium-ion battery pack has now improved with 25 miles of electric range at speeds up to 84 mph.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

The other key factor in any plug-in hybrid, or pure EV for that matter, is battery charging time. On a household outlet, the Prime needs about five and a half hours to go from empty to full. It can be charged in a bit more than two hours using a 240-volt Level 2 charging system.

Yes the Prius Prime is a hybrid, so range anxiety is not really an issue. However, to maximize your return on the purchase of the Prime, and minimize trips to the gas station, the battery should be kept charged so you can drive in the EV-mode as much as possible. I reside in Chicago and could drive in EV-mode all the time with the low speeds and frequent stops typical of crowded city traffic.

I’ve seen data that says 82% of homes in the U.S. have two-car garages but only 15% use them. I guess a lot of us need to de-clutter. And in a big city such as Chicago many car owners park on the street. The point I raise here is that of even having access to a plug to charge the battery. More of a challenge would be the ability to install a 240-volt level 2 charger.

Toyota has partnered with ChargePoint, the world’s largest public charging network. ChargePoint provides access to more than 30,000 charging spots, the majority of which are free to users today. I’ve used a nearby level 2 charger installed in a Whole Foods parking structure that’s a 10-minute walk from my residence.

Granted, the charging infrastructure is not what it should be. There should have been more infrastructure growth this decade, but the low cost of gasoline hurt that initiative.

With the relatively short five and a half hour charging time on house current, plugging in the Prius Prime while parked overnight should work just fine. If you drive to work, hopefully you have access to a level 2 charger installed by your employer or at a public charging station.

Once the battery is depleted the Prius Prime runs in hybrid mode. A 95-horepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine combines with both an electric motor and the motor-generator to produce 121 system horsepower. Transmitting the power to the front wheels is an electronically controlled CVT. In hybrid mode the EPA test-cycle estimated mileage ratings are 54 mpg combined, with 55 mpg city and 53 mpg highway.

Regenerative braking recaptures electrical energy under deceleration and braking and stores it in the battery. I used it a lot around town with the transmission selector in the “B” position. Total driving range is estimated at an impressive 640 miles.

The 2017 Prius Prime is offered in three trims -- Plus priced at $27,100, Premium at $28,800 and Advanced at $33,100.

Toyota’s Safety Sense package is standard and includes forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic braking, lane departure warning with steering assist, blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, automatic high beams and an adaptive cruise control system with stop function.

There’s also a standard rear view camera.

The Advanced trim has standard Intelligent Clearance Sonar with Intelligent Parking Assist that uses ultrasonic wave sensors to size up a parallel parking space and then, when activated by the driver, steer the car into it. It will also steer the car out and also back the vehicle into a perpendicular space. The Intelligent Clearance Sonar provides visible and audible warnings if you get too close to obstacles on the vehicle’s sides. It’s a great feature for Chicago when squeezing between a parked car and a double-parked delivery truck.

On the outside the Prius has a lower, wider look and styling that’s been completely redone. Still distinctively Prius, the edgy look is attention getting and perhaps polarizing. The lightweight carbon-fiber rear hatch has a dual wave rear glass design that’s split and takes getting used to.  

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In order to fit in the battery the Prius Prime only seats four. The rear seat is 60/40 split fold-down with a center armrest with cup holders and center console. The rear cargo capacity is 19.8 cuft, but the load floor is quite high over the battery.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

In the cabin a huge center-mounted 11.6-inch multimedia touchscreen controls climate, audio and navigation functions. The instrument cluster is center-mounted and a standard head-up display helps to keep your eyes looking forward. Battery and charging information is also all displayed in the screen.

Toyota's Entune infotainment system provides smartphone interface but here is no Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.

Beyond my slight surprise at the Prius Prime being a four-seater, I thought the overall driving dynamics during city-type lower speed driving were fine. Wind noise is minimal, but tire noise is a bit more than I thought it should be. Acceleration is very adequate. I did a few highway drives and took a couple clover-leaf off ramps. I did notice the suspension working a bit to manage the weight of the Prime.


All-in-all the Prime fits the bill quite well for big-city urban use. As the population continues to re-urbanize across the U.S. we’ll see more and more electrified vehicles in use.

Very noteworthy is that the Toyota Prius Prime was declared the 2017 World Green Car, chosen from among the best “green vehicles” around the world.

© 2017 Larry Nutson, the Chicago Car Guy

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