By on October 24, 2017

2017 Toyota Prius Prime white front quarter

2017 Toyota Prius Prime Advance

1.8-liter inline-four, DOHC, with plug-in hybrid electric motor (121 combined horsepower)

Continuously-variable transmission, front-wheel drive

55 city / 53 highway / 54 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

133 (EPA Rating, MPGe)

64.2 (As Tested, MPG)

Base Price: $33,985 (U.S.)

As Tested: $35,112 (U.S.)

Prices include $885 freight charge.

Like it or not, bias is always going to be a concern whenever consuming any sort of media. Efforts can be made to present fair and balanced reporting on any issue, but the problem is, quite simply, that news organizations are made up of people who hold their own opinions. The best way the reader/listener/viewer can navigate the bias is to know what those biases are, and account for them.

Let me be clear – I’m biased against the Prius. Nearly two decades of negative reinforcement about the Prius and Prius drivers have hardened a dislike of the little wedge that promises nothing but slow driving in the left lane. Minimal performance and a focus on fuel economy above nearly all else is foreign to those of us who truly enjoy driving.

Thus, I dreaded the arrival of this 2017 Toyota Prius Prime to my driveway, worrying that I might doze off from sheer boredom during my commute. When I saw the white paint applied to the vehicle’s sharply-angled flanks, I was further concerned about the appliance-like nature of this plug-in people hauler.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime profile

It’s certainly not shaped like a Maytag washer. Toyota’s familiar long, low hatchback shape has been iterated through the generations, but this is still clearly a Prius. From the lines of the windowsills and side moldings that parallel themselves gently upward from front to rear, to the sharply cut-off tail, Toyota could easily credit Bernoulli and Kamm as co-designers of the Prius.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime rear quarter

I won’t pretend to know the finer points of aerodynamic theory, but I believe the deep valley found in the rear window glass must make a significant impact on drag. Otherwise, that funky contour is simply form leading function – there seems to be no good way to wipe that quite-close-to-horizontal glass surface clear while driving. It was an annoyance with morning dew and mild rains, and I can’t imagine the annoyance when the snows come.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime rear

Inside, Toyota stays true to form with the Prius Prime dashboard, combining the main gauges in a wide, central-mounted display, with another 11.6-inch touchscreen handling basically every audio and HVAC function.

The big screen is flanked by volume and temperature buttons that give no tactile feedback when pressed – I’d rather have knobs for functions so frequently accessed while driving – but the screen itself is remarkably bright and clear. Due to its size, multiple functions can share the screen at once. A map can be shown all while monitoring the charge status and performance of the plug-in hybrid system.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime dash

The vinyl seating surface – Toyota calls it “Softex” in a clear homage to the MB-Tex found for ages in Mercedes-Benz vehicles – is reasonably comfortable, but is by no means a convincing leather substitute. While normally I’d consider that a problem, in the case of the Prius that may be a feature rather than a bug. Consider that a significant proportion of hybrid buyers are likely to be eco-conscious. I have to imagine that a material that too closely emulates an animal product might be prove very desirable to those buyers.


Driving the Prius Prime reveals a few significant differences even from a traditional hybrid. Since the plug-in hybrid system gives the car a larger battery (which does affect trunk space – Toyota quotes 19.8 cubic feet in the cargo hold, versus 24.6 cubes in a standard Prius), one can spend much more time driving in full EV mode – even up to and exceeding typical highway speeds.

After a full overnight charge, the Prius Prime indicated 27.7 miles of EV range. My typical commute is right around eight miles, so there were several days where I didn’t use a drop of gas. Yeah, I burned some extra natural gas and coal when I plugged into the wall of my garage, but that’s another story.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime front seats

I don’t love the location of the charging port – where most electric vehicles I’ve experienced have a port on a front fender, the Prius Prime has the plug on the right rear quarter panel, symmetrically opposite the fuel filler. Since I park in my driveway, I needed to back the Prius up close to the house to plug in. It’s likely not an issue for most buyers, but it’s something to consider.

After a week of commuting and kid-hauling, this Prius Prime averaged 64.2 mpg. That number is beyond stunning, especially considering that our current fleet struggles to reach 20 mpg on a good day. I found myself idly spreadsheeting a break-even point of fuel cost versus miles driven versus purchase price for my wife’s next car.

Yes, I’m the geek who plays with Excel when bored.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime interior

Regarding driving manners, the braking is still typical of a hybrid. There is a transition between regenerative braking and traditional friction braking that can be a bit indecisive – it can feel jerky when gradually slowing to a stop. As I spent more time with the Prius Prime, it wasn’t as noticeable. It takes getting used to.

The low rolling-resistance tires do project a good bit of tire noise into the cabin, but it’s mostly canceled by the minimal noise from the electric drivetrain. Even when the petrol engine kicks in, the sound is well muted. Driving manners are quite good for a small car, and I found that longish highway drives were relaxed – aided by the lane departure warning, steering assist, and radar cruise control found on this Advanced trim package. It’s not autonomous, but the Prius Prime does a nice job taking some of the drudgery of a long drive away from the driver.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime cargo

I mentioned Prius drivers earlier, and I must apologize for the generalization. I do have friends that own various prior generations of this iconic hybrid, and as I tend to steer most conversations around to cars eventually, discussions veered toward this Prius.

Several of these friends told me the only way they found driving the Prius bearable was to keep the car in “sport” mode, which sharpens throttle response at the expense of fuel economy. In driving non-Prime versions in the past, I agree that the car does feel less lethargic when driven in “sport” mode.

In the Prius Prime, such sport-mode shenanigans are no longer necessary. The electric motor is backed by the larger battery, so the instant electric torque seems to be more responsive to the right foot. The only time I wished for more power was during an interstate drive when the battery was depleted and I needed to accelerate briskly to pass. The gas engine is taxed in those situations.

Like I mentioned above, I really wanted to hate this Toyota Prius Prime. It represents all that driving enthusiasts despise. But damned if it doesn’t work so well for what it is – an appliance for getting people places efficiently. It affords nearly all the advantages of a pure electric vehicle with the ability to cross the country using  traditional gas-centric infrastructure, rather than planning stops around chargers. If it meant I could drive a gas-guzzling sports car on the weekends, I’d happily drive the Prius Prime the rest of the week.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime front

[Images: © 2017 Chris Tonn/The Truth About Cars]

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54 Comments on “2017 Toyota Prius Prime Advanced Review – All Charged Up...”

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    And if it didn’t look like—as one Jalopnik commenter once stated—a graphics card rendering accident, I would consider one. The Prime does, at least, look somewhat better than the regular Prius.

    I wonder how this compares to a Volt or a C-Max Energi.

    • 0 avatar

      It may *look* better than a 4th gen Prius, but you give up a lot with the Prime. No option for 17″ wheels, no center rear seat, no rear wiper, cargo hold is far smaller than the numbers suggest when you look at the vertical space between the top of the load floor and the underside of the cargo cover.

      • 0 avatar

        The silly thing is why the battery takes so much space.

        The leading theory is that Toyota was going to put a battery that was similarly sized to the previous plug-in Prius, and fit it in and somewhat above the spare tire well, just like the previous one, which had a level load floor. For the Japanese market’s charging behavior, this was perfectly fine. However, it became apparent that it wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of selling here, where plug-in buyers want as much EV experience as possible. So, an emergency redesign happened with a new, larger battery placed above the spare tire well – most of the area under the battery is a 4″ gap that’s completely unaccessible without removing lots of stuff from the car. There’s pictures of people putting their arm under there.

        Had the larger battery been planned from the beginning, I suspect Toyota could’ve done it in the same way as Volkswagen (on the Golf GTE/Audi A3 sportback e-tron) and Hyundai (on the Ioniq PHEV) did, as those designs even use the same rear suspension design, have very similarly-sized batteries, and similar fuel capacity (and the Golf/A3 are smaller vehicles). Battery under the rear seat, fuel tank moved up into the spare tire well (where a complex shape isn’t a huge problem).

    • 0 avatar

      “a graphics card rendering accident”

      ha! Perfect.

    • 0 avatar

      I want to see one in this color with the black painted bits on the front painted body color instead. It would look much better.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, My C-Max Energi is giving me identical MPGs and EV range, so it looks like Toyota is catching up with what Ford was doing four years ago. And given a choice, I’d rather have the car that offers 17″ wheels & 50-series rubber, a real speedometer in front of the driver’s seat, real knobs and buttons for the stereo and HVAC, and top-hat headroom. Oh, and the one with eight-second 0-60 (what’s the Prius Prime’s score?) and smooth regen braking. And leather, and an upright rear window.

      I understand why the C-Max isn’t popular. It had a bad launch, gets no advertising and looks odd, though not this odd. It has almost no online fanbase, and little media buzz. The only way to understand its merits is to drive one.

  • avatar

    There must be different Prius drivers where Chris Tonn lives.
    Here in SoCal there is a sport I named Prius Racing.
    When I commuted to work, usually quite early before 5 AM, I would frequently get passed by one or more Prius-es in the very sparse traffic at that hour. I would be driving at 65 mph and I would estimate the typical Prius at 75-80. Sometimes one would go by on either side of a 3 lane highway when I was in the middle lane.
    I see perhaps one out of 20 Prius-es driving at or below the speed limit.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Ditto. I’m in Oklahoma, but normally when I see Prii on the highway, they are driving well above the speed limit. Otherwise, Prius drivers tend to be thoughtful, aware motorists in these parts.

      • 0 avatar

        When I think Prius driver, it’s usually a senior citizen driving well under the speed limit. Quite often they’re camped out in the left lane. Occasionally you see a younger female with a myriad of “Legalize Now!” or “Coexist” stickers covering the entire rear of the car. This driver usually faces the judgmental wrath of the 4×4 Brodozer proudly featuring his own stickers (“Salt Life”, “Bone Collector”, “Realtree”, or my personal favorite: “I’d Rather Be Cummin’ Than Strokin\'”).

    • 0 avatar

      I’d say it is about 50/50 around here, either in the left lane doing 10 over the prevalent speed, ie 20 over the posted limit, or they are in the center or right lane holding up traffic doing the speed limit. Left lane bandit Prius are not that common.

      • 0 avatar

        The ones in the left lane are mostly Uber and Lyft drivers trying to squeeze in one more fare.

        • 0 avatar

          Well if you want to talk that you’ll see a steady stream of Prius vehicles doing 80mph in the express lanes on 5 between downtown and Seatac, or 405 to the east side, yes a few have pink mustaches but many are good old fashioned Taxis.

    • 0 avatar

      Here in Denver, the left lane bandit will more than likely be in a Subaru.

      Outbacks and Foresters are the main suspects.

      (Notable exception: first-gen Forester XT, which is actually a pretty legit little stealth warrior.)

    • 0 avatar

      Same here in Chicago.

      In my commute, left lane campers are more likely to be early-/mid-2000’s Chrysler minivans with lots of rust and no rear shocks.

    • 0 avatar

      You emphasize Prius like they’re out of the norm, but almost everyone do close to 80 on the freeway.

  • avatar

    “If it meant I could drive a gas-guzzling sports car on the weekends, I’d happily drive the Prius Prime the rest of the week.”

    I’d rather live in a smaller house or become a vegetarian and drive a gas-guzzling car every day.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. I never, ever pull out in my CLS63 and think, “I wish I was still saving all that gas money in that LEAF we had.”

      Never thought about until I reading this.

  • avatar

    My observation here in Los Angeles as well, all versions of this car are routinely driven surprisingly hard and aggressively. Having driven one, I don’t know how they do it considering the not sporty handling.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Unless you’re truly being reckless, it’s hard to exceed the handling limits of the average car these days, especially if it isn’t an SUV. The main things that seem to get people in trouble are spirited driving in not-ideal situations, such as driving with bad / worn tires or during inclement weather. We live in a remarkable time. So it doesn’t surprise me that a Prius can be driven hard.

      • 0 avatar

        A week after I bought my Jetta, I got a little over-enthusiastic on a sharp corner to a freeway entrance, and the stability control system kicked in.

        Otherwise, I’d have royally screwed up my front suspension on a curb.

        (One must respect the turbo…)

      • 0 avatar

        “So it doesn’t surprise me that a Prius can be driven hard.”

        Chicago pedestrians, bicyclists and taxi passengers are also not surprised that a Prius can be driven hard. Terrified, perhaps. But not surprised.

        • 0 avatar

          Chicagoan here: can confirm.

        • 0 avatar

          I see usernamealreadyregistered and notapreppie have met the fine gentlemen of Royal 3 CCC.

          From what I’ve observed, though, out-of-state-based Uber drivers actually are scarier. They’re less inclined to speed than licensed cabbies are but are even more likely to disobey traffic signals and make illegal turns or lane changes. It seems to be a product of having no clue of where they’re going and not believing the rules apply to them. (Granted, the latter problem afflicts a huge percentage of Americans these days.)

          In my experience, civilian Prii are more, not less, considerately driven than the average car.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree fully on the capability, and if you “lose it” these days, you will likely be going mighty fast and finish with a big thump.

    • 0 avatar

      The Prius remains fairly composed on LA Freeways even at silly speeds. The combination of it’s understeering setup, and hard rubber wheels that doesn’t follow raingroves, makes it less darty than many ultimately sportier cars. Above a certain speed, you also get out of the zone in which nothing in the powertrain; whether brakes, multiple engines nor transmission; is really linear. So if you don’t mind crashiness and bouncing around on bumpstops, it’s not a horrible “high” speed option for LA at night (the only time LA traffic moves above walking pace….) The nonlinearity, and lack of cooling capacity, of the friction brakes, also puts a premium on not slowing down much.

  • avatar

    Who says this thing isn’t sporty? It’ll beat a CVT-equipped Corolla to 60.


  • avatar

    I know the TTAC readership is proudly biased against the Prius, but many of the readers are also pretty misinformed.
    The Prius drives just like any other car, so statements, like “it doesn’t surprise me that a Prius can be driven hard” don’t make any sense.
    Many people think that the Prius is some sort of niche car that is slow, requires some form of special care and maintenance, maybe ran on unicorn urine, I heard people ask if it can drive on the highway without overheating.
    Let me make this perfectly clear. The Prius drives just like any other car, an average driver does not need to care about the internals, because for the driver, it’s the same as any other car. It can drive fast. I drove it 100 MPH on the highway, no sweat, it climbs hills, just like any other car, it drinks regular gas, requires normal maintenance, it is reliable, it is quiet (mostly), but in the same time it is indeed very efficient.
    Prius drivers are a different topic. There are bad and good Prius drivers, just like bad and good SUV drivers. Where I live, there are much more problems with soccer moms driving Highlanders and Explorers. They drive like sloths, hold up traffic, sleep at the green light, don’t use their blinkers, and can’t decide which lane to use.

    • 0 avatar

      The soccer moms driving SUVs around here are the most aggressive drivers on the road.

    • 0 avatar
      Felix Hoenikker

      I test drove a regular 14 Prius along with a Corolla and a Camry at the local Toyota dealer. The Prius had a depleted battery and was the doggiest of the three. But yes it drove like a normal, albeit slow car.
      To my eyes, the Prius Prime shown here is a much better looking car than the regular Prius. As I said here before, the first time I pulled behind the current generation Prius, the fugly tail lights overloaded my optic nerves and jumped into other nervous pathways in my brain resulting in a sharp pain in the groin. After that experience, I avert my eyes when pulling up behind a new Prius.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      ‘The Prius drives just like any other car, so statements, like “it doesn’t surprise me that a Prius can be driven hard” don’t make any sense.’

      Is that not the exact context of my comment? I lumped in the Prius with other modern cars, because it doesn’t drive all that different. And just like other cars, it can be driven hard or spiritedly without incident.

  • avatar

    Chris Tonn writes: “After a week of commuting and kid-hauling, this Prius Prime averaged 64.2 mpg. That number is beyond stunning”

    Since the plug-in electricity that makes that number possible is entirely omitted from your fuel consumption calculation there’s nothing stunning, or even faintly surprising about it. It’s like saying you flew all the way to Mars on just one banana.

    • 0 avatar

      All right, let’s include it.

      During the current tank on our C-Max Energi, we’ve driven 1386 miles of mostly short trips. The energy use for those miles is 1) 7.65 gallons of gas (for overall gas-only efficiency of 181 mpg) and 2) roughly 313 kWh of electricity.

      Our average electricity rate is about 12 cents/kWh, so that electricity cost $37.56. Our current gas price is $3.04 (yes, it’s WA), so the electricity cost is about equal to 12.3 gallons of gas. Combine that with the 7.65 gallons of gas actually used and you get an MPGe for this tank of 1386/19.95, or 69.4. Not bad at all, especially since when I signed the lease the Energi was actually cheaper to lease than the Hybrid.

      For comparison, if I would have driven my LS460 on the same mostly short trips, it would probably have returned about 15 mpg. Our previous Forester XT might have reached 18.

      • 0 avatar

        Also for what it’s worth: we’re lucky enough to live in a place where the electricity is 97% renewables (mostly hydro, with a substantial side of wind and solar). So using it really does make a difference in carbon emissions.

      • 0 avatar

        Thanks for the numbers, lots of people like to tout how far they went on a tank of gas with their plug in hybrid and leave out the amount of electricity and the cost of that electricity.

        So doing a rough estimation with 40mpg running “standard hybrid” mode that 7.65 gallons would have taken you about 300 of those 1386 miles at about 8 cents per mile vs electric miles costing about 3.5 cents each. So the electricity certainly is cheaper even if it isn’t free.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    With those looks, the Prius makes a louder statement than ever before. There are better-looking hybrids; I’m not sure 60 mpg is worth the price of being inside that car.

    • 0 avatar

      I looks like someone sat on the trunk lid. Then they went all Telsa with the portrait orientated iPad as a center console thing stuck in a sea of black. As a bonus it has the floating roof deal with a random plastic triangle in the back. So much ugly here.

  • avatar

    “I have to imagine that a material that too closely emulates an animal product might be prove very desirable to those buyers.”

    Sounds like the logic collapsed under the weight of its own convolutions.

  • avatar

    “Consider that a significant proportion of hybrid buyers are likely to be eco-conscious.”

    I’d say for a lot of them, “owning a Prius” is the sum total of their “eco-consciousness.” Y’know, the type who acts like they’re saving the world by buying a Prius for their hour-long commute instead of doing something like living closer to work.

    • 0 avatar

      The Prius owners I know don’t use it for long distance commuting. The one likes to tout how a tank of gas will usually last her about a month of daily commuting and weekend errands.

      The other part of the equation is in some areas many people just can’t afford to buy a house or pay the rent near where they work, or don’t want to send their kids to that school district, and certainly can’t afford to pay the high housing costs and private school.

    • 0 avatar

      As usual, a hybrid review gives the ttac chatterati an opportunity to vent all their pent-up personal attacks on hybrid owners. Just waiting for the “virtue signalling” bs.

      Maybe they would like the comment section for every pickup and performance car review to be burdened with childish personality evaluations of the people who drive them. Tiresome. Enough.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m with you here, brandloyalty.

        “I’d say for a lot of them, “owning a Prius” is the sum total of their “eco-consciousness.”

        JimZ, this statement is simply no longer warranted, if it ever was actually true for a section of Prius owners very early in its introduction.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Somehow this doesn’t grate on my eyes as much as the regular Prius, but the back end is just overstyled. I’m failing to see the attraction of plug-ins given the significant price difference over a regular hybrid and the cargo space lost to the bigger battery.some of you who are fluent with the math ought to calculate the payback period for the incremental cost of the plug-in version of the car.i would think the extra weight of the larger battery would take a performance hit on an already very sluggish highway car. As an urban/suburban runabout, this makes sense, but in that role a true EV like the Leaf or the Bolt makes even more sense. The days of the one car family are behind us, so you don’t need a jack of all trades car. A friend of mine who lives in Silicon Valley loves his Fiat 500e, which he got on a dirt cheap lease. His other car is an RX-400 hybrid.

    • 0 avatar

      A lot of people nowadays don’t have a place to park or can’t afford a second car. As for a performance hit resulting from a large battery, it doesn’t seem to work that way for Teslas.

  • avatar

    How’s it handle? Didn’t they give this generation a dual-wishbone suspension or something shockingly sporty like that? I drove the final model year of the previous-gen one for a very long road trip and around town a bit as well, and found most of the stereotypical Prius faults gone: no excessive road noise, actual throttle response available, and the luxury of that pillowy Prius ride still there. The only ill that remained was that it did, indeed, handle like a banana. If the fancy new suspension means this one doesn’t, and if you like the way it looks (I do), then Toyota has done a good job indeed.

    The plug-in (Prime) version is a bit of a head-scratcher though. It’s better than most other PHEVs, which tend to run from “compromised” to “cynical,” but it still can’t hold a candle to the Chevy Volt (technically an EREV rather than a PHEV but whatevs). For about the same real-world price, Chevy gives you a car with way more electric range, way more power, literally no engine noise whatsoever 90% of the time, a nicer looking interior and a more conventionally sporty exterior. The rear half of the interior is a bummer in the Chevy though, with poor headroom and nasty cost-cutting; I’m not sure how the Toyota compares in those regards.

    • 0 avatar

      Here’s the thing about plug-in hybrids; 20 or 30 miles of EV travel sounds pretty lame, compared to the Teslas and Bolts of the world. But just as every journey starts with one step, every longer drive as a first 20 miles, so if you drive every day, you can count on 150-200 miles of gas-free driving per week. If you can charge the car midday between commutes, that range doubles.

      Beyond that, you’re driving a hybrid, very efficient on its own terms. A hybrid with a bigger battery that can store more energy from regeneration. I’ve regained about 12 miles of EV range simply by coasting down I-70 from the tunnel to Summit County, ten miles of steep downhill. You can tap that big battery harder for acceleration, too. I often look down to see the Ford’s power gauge indicating combined gas and electric power, performing a long, well-timed dance between them. You need those gauges, because below half-throttle, there’s little indication the engine is running.

      So I think the plug-in hybrid — well, not this Prius, necessarily – is the best of both worlds. The car is using each of its three power sources (gas, battery, regen) at optimum times for best advantage. And — this is huge for me — you can drive it anywhere, any time. I’ve already taken two trips, for one mountain wedding and one for the eclipse, that would have been out of range for any electric car.

      • 0 avatar

        On those trips, totaling 600 miles, the C-Max saved about seven gallons of gas, versus my other 30 mpg vehicle… which shows the modest efficiency gains in the real world. My sloppy math suggests that driving a 100 MPGe EV instead of my 65 MPGe hybrid for 600 miles of would have saved three gallons. So it would take 1500 miles of city driving in a 100 MPGe EV to equal the gas I saved using the hybrid on 600 miles of rural highways.

        Every time I do the math on fuel economy, I run into the same law of diminishing returns. The higher your MPG figure goes, the smaller the actual savings become. Replacing a 30 mpg car with even a 50 mpg one will save more fuel than moving from 50 to 100 MPGs.

  • avatar

    I’m still waiting for the Optimus Prime model.

  • avatar

    Looking at that trunk I’m assuming the raised floor is the way they hide extra batteries. That’s fine. It’s a $33K car and the extra battery capacity is exactly the point of the Prime. This same trick is much uglier in the Cadillac Escalade which costs more than twice as much and the raised floor is there because it was the only way they could convince buyers that the 3rd row of seats folds flat.

  • avatar
    cRacK hEaD aLLeY

    And this is exactly why I drive a Volt 5-days a week and a CB1100 and KTM200 XC-W on the weekends :-)

  • avatar

    I cannot wait to see what Toyota dealers will mark these up to …List + + +

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