2017 Toyota Prius Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection Expert Review

Aaron Cole Aaron Cole Managing Editor
June 14, 2017

The 2017 Toyota Prius closes the gap between "driving a hybrid" and "driving a normal car," even though it still looks like nothing else on the road.

One year removed from a complete overhaul, the 2017 Toyota Prius is another big step for the automaker—but maybe not for the reason you're thinking.

The Prius this year is part of Toyota's larger push to make active safety affordable and accessible on cars for the car-buying masses. Even sub-$26,000 models now include forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and active lane control. They're one of the first automakers to make the jump in mass-market cars and we can't applaud the effort enough.

The Prius comes in three grades with two trims in each grade. Starting at base Two models, Two Eco models improve on the battery systems, Three models add a bigger infotainment screen and navigation, Three Touring models add better seating, Four models add blind-spot monitors, and Four Touring models heap on creature comforts and bigger wheels.

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The Prius gets a 6.5 out of 10 on our overall scale thanks to its great fuel economy and admirable safety record. It's styling and performance are the two biggest boat anchors here, dragging the score down out of the stratosphere and into the realm of "better than average." (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Styling and performance

The Prius made a big leap in exterior styling for 2016—but we don't know where. The nose is now more sculpted and the exterior has more shape, but the rear end is where it all starts to fall apart. The roof pillar is shiny black, which gives it a "floating roof line," but the roof color has two odd little comma-shaped tails wrapping around the corners of the rear hatch.

But those taillights have tails of their own, making them almost into question marks that point down toward the ground, drawing attention to the height of the tail, despite a blacked-out lower section of the rear bumper cover.

(At least they tried, right?)

Under the hood is an updated highly efficient 1.8-liter inline-4 paired to an electric motor that puts out 121 combined horsepower. A 0.75-kwh lithium-ion battery pack provides the electrons to that motor (base Two versions still use a 1.2-kwh nickel-metal-hydride setup, however) and helps the Prius achieve a combined rating of 52 mpg. Eco models, which shed even more weight, are rated at 56 mpg combined.

The ride quality of the Prius has markedly improved over earlier generations, but the engine's performance and overall handling take a back seat to efficiency and aerodynamics.

Comfort, safety, and features

The Prius is a better place to sit, especially in the front seats. This generation's chairs are better bolstered and more comfortable than older models, and we've logged plenty of miles without a backache or complaint. Higher models get eight-way power adjustability, including lumbar support, for fine-tuning a better driving position.

This generation's shape sacrifices a little more in terms of rear head room, but we've found that most passengers will fit in the back—two if you can; three in a pinch. The basic Prius liftback concept remains, and split folding rear seats make the little hatch just as practical as outgoing editions.

Where this Prius makes a statement this year is its suite of active safety systems, which are now standard across every trim level. The Toyota Safety Sense P package adds forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, and active lane control.

Combined with all "Good" scores from the IIHS, the Prius is a Top Safety Pick+, and one of the most affordable with that designation.

Base models are well-equipped with a 6.1-inch touchscreen for infotainment, 4.2-inch color information display, 15-inch wheels, a rearview camera, keyless ignition, and LED headlights. Stepping up to pricier trims nets softer touch materials, better seating, a 7.0-inch touchscreen, bigger wheels, and Bluetooth connectivity.

Unfortunately, it also adds a pearlescent white center console that we're not big fans of, although Toyota will sell a $200 kit to cover it up and hopefully keep it from scratching and aging quickly.

This year's Prius remains the most efficient vehicle without a plug, although a plug-in version, called Prius Prime, will go longer on electrons alone. We cover it separately.

3

2017 Toyota Prius

Styling

It's still a Prius, after all.

We're not going to bury the lede: The 2017 Toyota Prius looks like nothing else on the road.

That may not be a good thing, in our eyes. We gave the Prius a 3 out of 10 because we're not convinced it'll win many beauty pageants, and the interior layout has too many conflicting elements that take away from where the Prius actually succeeds. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Considering the Prius is the most popular hybrid on the planet, we're sure you're familiar with the idea: egg-shaped and eco-tastic. It's effective marketing, if anything else, because the Prius can't be confused with any other mainstream car. (It heavily borrows from the Toyota Mirai, which is only available in select places in California.)

The front of the car sports a lower and sleeker nose, which is the first cue that this version is lower and wider than previous iterations. The Prius is less upright and more in line with other sedans on the market, including the Honda Civic and Chevrolet Volt.

Along the sides, stylists at Toyota have added much-needed visual elements that help break up the long stretches of sheet metal between the ground and the windows, but it all starts to go wrong at the rear. The roof pillar is shiny black, which gives it a "floating roof line," but the roof color has two odd little comma-shaped tails wrapping around the corners of the rear hatch. The rear end is high, as before, with chevron-shaped taillight lenses at the top outer corners of the tail.

But those taillights have tails of their own, making them almost into question marks that point down toward the ground, drawing attention to the height of the tail, despite a blacked-out lower section of the rear bumper cover. To many eyes, the rear end has too many conflicting elements, turning it into a jumbled mess—although you'll definitely be able to see a new Prius ahead of you, since no other car on the road looks like the Prius.

Inside, the dash wraps into the door panels and last-generation's hard plastics have been replaced by more conventional soft-touch surfaces—or at least textured plastics.

Toyota has replaced its center instrument display with a color screen that's definitely upmarket and the console sweeps into a sizable touchscreen that we like. From there, the Prius descends into questionable glossy plastics and clunky bins that we're not sure will age well.

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2017 Toyota Prius

Performance

The Prius is about a different kind of performance, but its ride comfort is remarkably better this time around.

The 2017 Toyota Prius is one year removed from a full redesign and carries over mostly unchanged from last year. It's about a different kind of performance (see: Economy, Fuel) but it's also markedly better than earlier generations.

Still, we're not sure anyone is going to confuse this generation with a sports car, so we're rating it a 4 out of 10 for performance. Its ride is good enough to forget that it's a Prius, but its engine and handling are like Al Pacino in "Godfather 3," they bring you right back in. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The driver sits 2.3 inches lower in the new Prius, and the car is slightly wider, 3 inches longer, and somewhat lower. That automatically makes it feel sportier than its tall, slab-sided predecessor. But the best demonstration of the new car's fundamental normality is that many times during 65 miles of driving, we simply forgot it was a Prius—something that was impossible in the old car. The new Prius simply feels like a regular compact to mid-sized hatchback.

Its powertrain is carried over from the last year, which means that it's the same 1.8-liter inline-4 that makes 95 horsepower. That's paired to a 53-kilowatt electric motor that combines for a total system net of 121 hp that's down from the last generation's 134 hp combined output. There's an asterisk there (albeit a little shaky) in that Toyota said the combined output of the two motors were measured with different standards—but don't ask the new engine to go on the old math for an apples-to-apples comparison, Toyota says it's simply not possible. Um, sure.

For the first time, two different batteries are used in the Prius—housed not under the rear deck but beneath the rear seat. The base Prius Two comes with a 1.2-kilowatt-hour nickel-metal-hydride battery pack, using the same technology seen in every Prius since 1997. But every other model, starting with the Prius Two Eco and up through the rest of the range, swaps in a lighter, more compact 0.75-kwh lithium-ion battery. (The size difference is due to using a greater portion of the lithium pack's total charge range, compared to the nickel-metal-hydride battery, kept within a small band right in the center of the charge range.)

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2017 Toyota Prius

Comfort & Quality

Better front seats and a more quieted ride make the Prius less economy and more easy going.

The 2017 Toyota Prius improves over earlier generations, notably in front-seat comfort and overall packaging.

It earns a 7 out of 10 on our scale for its more adult look and comfort, and its ability to carry four people in relative comfort. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The interior is less Space Age and more mid-range sedan this time around. The central instruments indicate that the Prius is a little different than a regular sedan, and in the optional two-tone beige and gray upholstery, the Prius looks more adult and is clearly a nicer place to spend time.

The front seats are more supportive and have better shaped cushions than previous iterations, but the more aggressive slope of the roof line means that very tall rear-seat passengers will have a tough time fitting in the rear seats. The bolsters on those seats also subtly push passengers toward the middle of the rear seat, meaning that if a third person sits there, the two outboard occupants may find themselves all but sitting on top of the bolster, making the seats less comfortable.

More soft-touch materials are used, and even the harder plastics have more attractive graining to them. The dashboard now wraps into the tops of the doors, giving the interior a cleaner and more sophisticated look. And we're delighted Toyota dumped the awkward "flying buttress" console design for a more conventional layout with cupholders, bins, and so forth.

We appreciate how quiet the new Prius is while accelerating. With an all-new engine, Toyota has clearly put work into making the combustion half of the powertrain less noisy when maximum power is required. The old Prius had a strained howl when the gas pedal was matted; the new one still produces engine noise, but it sounds more remote now. It's not as refined as the new Volt, but it's heading in the right direction.

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2017 Toyota Prius

Safety

The Prius is out front on safety thanks to Toyota's push for accessible advanced safety features.

This year's biggest addition to the 2017 Prius is Toyota's active safety features that are now standard on all grades. The suite, called Safety Sense-P, includes forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, active lane control, automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control.

In a car that starts under $26,000, that's nearly revolutionary, and something that will surely change the way automakers package their cars in the future. That, combined with good crash-test scores means the Prius gets a near-perfect safety score from us, a 9 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The only thing holding the Prius back? A pair of four-star scores from federal testers in their front and rollover crash tests.

The Prius still manages a five-star overall score from the feds and across-the-board "Good" scores from the IIHS. Its crash avoidance system, which is standard on all grades this year, has been rated "Superior" by the agency and netted the Prius a Top Safety Pick+ award.

All Prius models come standard with eight airbags and hill assist, and Prius Four models add blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alert as standard.

Toyota has stuck with its two-window tailgate, in which rear vision out the long and almost horizontal tailgate window is supplemented by the view out a second, almost vertical panel in the lower portion of the gate. It's about the same as before, but vision over the driver's shoulder is notably worse due to the rising beltline and the lack of a third side window. That, of course, is where the standard rearview camera comes in handy.

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2017 Toyota Prius

Features

Good in base trim, the Prius can heap on relatively good tech features from there.

The 2017 Toyota Prius comes in three different grades, with two trims in each grade, for a total of six configurations. Starting with the One trim, all Prius models get LED daytime running lights. LED taillights, active grille shutters to cut aerodynamic drag, rearview camera, a 4.2-inch color information display, keyless ignition, Toyota's suite of active safety features (which we cover separately) and a 6.1-inch touchscreen for infotainment.

We think that's pretty good base content for less than $25,000, a good base infotainment system, and the Prius can add a few tech features—but not many. It earns an 7 out of 10 on our scale for features. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The Prius One arrived midway through the 2017 model year at about a $1,200 savings over the Prius Two that was previously standard. It's aimed at fleet buyers, but it may be worth considering if you can live without a rear wiper and pockets behind the front seats. The Prius Two adds those, plus a few more goodies, and is generally the gateway to the Prius lineup for consumers. 

Opting for the Prius Two Eco swaps out the base models nickel-metal-hydride battery pack (Prius Two models are the only versions with that type of battery) with a lighter lithium-ion unit and removes the spare tire to save weight.

Prius Three models are equipped more for comfort and add Bluetooth connectivity, wireless charging for some smartphones, softer materials on the door and armrests, 7.0-inch touchscreen with navigation, and a pearlescent white console trim that we can't run away from fast enough. It's hard to imagine the glossy white plastic won't scratch in such a high-traffic area, and when dirt or oil gets into the scratches—yikes.

Prius Three Touring models add softer vinyl seats, which Toyota calls SofTex, instead of cloth.

Prius Four models add heated front seats and a power adjustable driver's seat, and top-of-the-line Prius Four Touring models add power passenger seat, rain-sensing wipers, and blue contrast stitching.

The only available package for Prius Three and Four models (including Touring trims) is a technology group that adds head-up display and parking assistants such as automated steering for parking maneuvers.

Last year's moonroof option has been removed.

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2017 Toyota Prius

Fuel Economy

You can't get better fuel economy in anything else without a plug.

The 2017 Toyota Prius lives up to its billing as the most fuel-efficient car sold in the U.S. without a plug, earning more than 50 mpg in any configuration.

Most Prius models will earn 54 mpg city, 50 highway, 52 combined, according to the EPA, and it earns a near-perfect score on our fuel efficiency scale for that return. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

One Prius model earns even better mileage through weight reduction and other efficiencies. The Prius Two Eco version has been rated at 58/53/56 mpg.

The Two Eco model represents a 10-percent improvement over the last generation Prius, which was already ahead of the pack.

In several drives of many Prius models, we registered readings in the mid- to high-40s through 53.7 mpg after energetic driving. We're comfortable saying that nearly every version of the 2017 Prius should return 50 mpg or higher, in temperate weather.

A plug-in version of the Prius, which is called Prius Prime, carries more batteries that boost its all-electric range up to 22 miles, and we cover that separately.

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January 23, 2018
2017 Toyota Prius Three Touring (SE)

Prius Red Baron ready for battle

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First month, took it on a 3700 mile round trip to New England over the Christmas Holidays. Safety , fuel economy and cargo space were all a concern. The only safety issue I experienced was the OEM tires were... + More »
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December 8, 2017
2017 Toyota Prius Three (GS)

I like everything about it but I do wish it had more conventional styling especially the dashboard.

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Styling is quite unconventional - wish it were less so. Performance comfort quality safety fuel economy and expected reliability are all 5 rated. I wish blind spot detection and warning system was included on... + More »
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February 23, 2017
2017 Toyota Prius Four (GS)

Wow, this is the best car you can buy today.

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It's not that I am inexperienced in terms of cars. I had Mercedes cars for more than 20 years. And an Audi. And several Volkswagen. And yes, I have a Porsche in my Garage. It's new (well, sort of). My Prius is... + More »
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December 23, 2016
2017 Toyota Prius Two (GS)

very reliable car, excellent mileage

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Toyota has chosen to omit a number of features I was used to on my previous Prius' such a rear window washer, rear light bar, sturdy hatch cover, instead of flimsy one. 2016 model had more eye pleasing design... + More »
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