- New plug-in capability in Prime
- Drives (mostly) like a regular car
- Quiet, isolated engine
- Prime’s expanded electric range still only 22 miles
- Polarizing rear styling
- Tight rear headroom
The 2017 Toyota Prius remains the most fuel-efficient model on the market without a plug, while the new Prius Prime adds full plug-in hybrid capability.
Last year marked the introduction of an all-new fourth-generation Prius that brought with it much improved steering and handling, better fuel efficiency than ever and, for the first time, rather daring, love-it-or-hate-it styling that strays from the kammback look the Prius had carried along with for more than a decade.
Now Toyota is rebranding its Prius Plug-In as Prius Prime—”prime” here meaning best. Toyota has effectively doubled this model’s potentially all-electric driving range, and claims that it now otherwise offers the same driving experience as the other Prius models.
The Prius remains a wide-ranging nameplate, and if you think they’re all the same, follow closely here: The Toyota Prius C is a smaller, mostly unrelated model, while the Prius V is a taller wagon variant of the previous-generation Prius; both of those models are covered under separate review pages, while the Prius and Prius Prime liftback models—the ones with the leading-edge look and technology—are covered here.
Last year, the Prius was given its most dramatic restyling since the introduction of the “kammback” (liftback) design for this model in 2004. It’s still recognizably a Prius, with a steeply raked windshield, a high tail (now ending in a distinct spoiler), and a long, tapered roofline that Toyota says was "inspired by a runner in the starting blocks."
Compared to its predecessor, the Prius has a lower nose and a higher tail; and the peak of the roof has been moved forward. Meanwhile a slimmed-down front-end design, with LED headlamps, and a sharp accent line that follows through the doors helps reduce the car’s visual height. The new design is at its most controversial in back, where chevron-shaped light units flank the tail spoiler and trail down as long extensions to the lower fenders.
The control layout inside is a little more scattered than that of the previous model, although this generation of the Prius has a more cohesive, “normal-car” design inside. The dash now wraps around into the door panels, and there are more soft-touch surfaces throughout. A center console—no longer as tall, with a conventional collection of bins, trays, and cupholders—sweeps up to a touch screen (closely following the look inside the Mirai fuel-cell vehicle). On some models, a nice beige-and-black two-tone lightens the interior considerably, and overall the effect is up to date and feels far less downmarket than any Prius before.
Overall, the fourth-generation Prius is 2.4 inches longer, almost an inch lower, and half an inch wider than the outgoing 2015 model.
With the new generation of the Prius, Toyota has again engineered each component of the Hybrid Synergy Drive system to be smaller and lighter. The 121-hp, 1.8-liter inline-4 is capable of more than 40 percent thermal efficiency under some operating conditions—well beyond the normal upper reaches for a gasoline engine. The least expensive model, the Prius Two, uses a 1.2-kilowatt-hour pack that sticks with the tried-and-true nickel-metal-hydride chemistry, while every other version adopts a 0.75-kWh lithium-ion pack. Each is located under the rear seat now, rather than below the cargo floor.
The 2016 Prius is built on a new set of underpinnings known as Toyota New Generation Architecture, or TNGA, the first of more than a dozen cars that will ultimately use this component set. And the Prius benefits from this, as it allows this frugal model to get the double-wishbone rear suspension design that's used in sporting sedans; the ride is definitely more refined and the handling more engaging versus previous Prius models, which tended to the numb side. All said, the 2017 Prius models handle more like regular cars and less like gee-whiz eco-tech specials.
The previous Prius Plug-In was more sluggish than the standard Prius hybrid; this time Toyota says that the plug-in Prime drives with the same verve, partly due to the new high-strength platform.
Final fuel efficiency numbers aren’t yet out for the plug-in Prius Prime, but Toyota is estimating it at 120 miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe) with the use of charging.
The Prius Prime still doesn’t come close to the Chevrolet Volt’s 53-mile all-electric mode, however. Yet at 22 miles it’s now in the vicinity of a number of other plug-in hybrids like the Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid, Ford C-Max Energi and Ford Fusion Energi. The Prime has Toyota’s first dual-motor hybrid system, in a setup that allows both motors for drive force when accelerating in all-electric mode. Toyota says that the range of conditions over which the Prius Prime will use its all-electric mode has been greatly expanded.
The automaker hasn’t yet been specific about whether a true EV mode can be locked in, but it does say that the Prius Prime can be driven up to 84 mph without leaving EV mode. Official fuel economy ratings aren’t yet out for the Prius Prime, but Toyota says that with a full charge and a full tank, can go more than 600 miles.
The new Prime models, Toyota says, require no special charging equipment. It has an 8.8-kwh battery that can be charged in about two hours on 240 volts, or in 5.5 hours with a standard household AC outlet. Unlike many other plug-in hybrids, the Prius Prime will be available in all 50 states.
As for the rest of the Prius models, fuel economy ratings remain the best among any vehicle without a plug—54 mpg city, 50 highway (52 combined) for most of the lineup, or 58/53/56 for Prius Eco models.
The current Prius has a far more refined interior than models preceding last year’s redesign. In front, you’ll find better seats than the short, rather flat ones that were used previously, although in back headroom seems more restricted than before. Road noise is now well isolated, and engine noise is better kept from the cabin under acceleration.
The interface itself remains advanced. Throughout the entire lineup there’s a 4.2-inch “floating” instrument display—a 4.2-inch TFT screen—that has multi-mode trip, energy, and efficiency readouts, toggled through steering-wheel buttons.
Across both models you can get an Entune App Suite, with several ways to stream audio (Slacker, iHeartRadio, and Pandora), plus Facebook Places, Yelp, Destination Search, and real-time traffic, weather, fuel prices, and more—all using your smartphone’s data connection.
That App Suite is part of a top Entune Premium JBL system with a wide 11.6-inch display, integrated navigation and ten speakers. It has HD radio, predictive traffic, and satellite radio, voice recognition, and Siri Eyes Free for the iPhone.
Prius Prime models come with a heat-pump climate control system that can either heat or cool the cabin when driving in EV mode. Through a smartphone app, or an optional key fob, the driver can activate the climate control remotely, to pre-condition the cabin on grid electricity, while the vehicle is still plugged in, so as not to use up any driving range.
Other so-called Prius Prime Apps exclusive to the plug-in model will allow you to remotely manage vehicle charging and check charge status, as well as compare eco driving scores with other owners.
Qi wireless inductive charging is also available, and a new Intelligent Park Assist feature extends to the Prime. Pre-collision and pedestrian collision systems with automatic braking will be standard on the Prime.
Check back for more details on the Prius Prime, and on the entire 2017 Toyota Prius lineup. The Prime will start reaching dealerships in late fall 2016, shortly after other 2017 Prius models.