2017 Toyota Prius PrimePosted on October 3rd, 2016
Plug-in hybrid builds on new Prius technology
By Nina Russin
When Toyota introduced the first Prius over 15 years ago, the world fell in love with a car that combined energy efficiency with practicality. The plug-in model that arrived twelve years later never enjoyed the unprecedented success of the original liftback, with buyers expressing concerns about the car’s maximum speed in EV mode as well as its EV range. So Toyota engineers went back to the drawing boards, reinventing the model as the new Prius Prime, building on technology introduced last year with the four-generation Prius liftback.
Improved range and efficiency
While the former Prius Plug-in utilized a nickel metal hydride battery pack, the 2017 Prime features a more compact lithium-ion unit packaged under the rear seats, delivering twice the capacity of that in the previous plug-in.
Owners can manage charging from their smart phones to take advantage of lower off-peak electricity costs. The Prime will recharge in about 2-1/2 hours using 240-volt current or 5-1/2 using conventional household current. A pre-climate function remotely turns the climate control system on ten minutes prior to departure.
Range in EV mode is 25 miles, with a maximum speed of 84 miles-per-hour. Electric motors power both axles, so the car is effectively all-wheel drive.
Engineers reduced parasitic energy loss by utilizing LED technology for both headlamps and tail lamps. A heat pump replaces the traditional air conditioning unit, and a new battery warming system enables the car to start in EV mode when temperatures are below freezing.
The 1.8-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine is now mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission with one-way clutch, enabling the motor generator utilized primarily for start-ups and regenerative battery charging to also provide drive force.
Engineers lowered the car’s seating position and enhanced its aerodynamic profile with a wave-style rear window similar to that used on the Mirai fuel cell vehicle. Adding aero stabilizing fins and active grille shutters lowered the Prime’s coefficient of drag to 0.25.
Test drive in Southern California
At a recent media event in Ojai, California I had the opportunity to test Toyota’s new plug-in hybrid on two-lane canyon roads, freeways and surface streets. The new Prime earns its stripes and new name with quantum improvements over the outgoing model. The powertrain is more refined, EV mode more functional and the interior adds numerous infotainment features including an 11.6-inch multi-media display with pinch and swiping functionality and Qi compatible wireless charging.
A double wishbone rear suspension replaces the torsion beam on the former generation for enhanced ride comfort. Because of the location of the battery pack, the former plug-in would make a clunking noise when going over bumps; the Prime does not.
The engine has plenty of power accelerating off the line and climbing steep canyon hills. As with all of Toyota’s hybrids, the integration of gasoline engine and electric motors is seamless and hence invisible to the driver.
The Prime is four inches longer and 300 pounds heavier than the Prius liftback, most obvious when cornering. The electric power steering system offers ample assist at low speeds but on-center response is on the soft side. Drivers who don’t push the envelope shouldn’t be bothered by this, with steering delivering a pleasantly heavy feel as speed.
Four-wheel disc brakes deliver firm, linear stopping power.
Recognizing the car’s limited rear visibility due to its unusual window design, Toyota has made rearview cameras standard across the model lineup. Our upscale Advanced grade test car also came with blind spot monitoring that illuminates LED signals in the side mirrors when vehicles in adjacent lanes pass through the driver’s blind spots. For anyone dealing with rush-hour traffic on a regular basis, it’s a worthwhile investment.
Gone are the days when Prius interiors were rather Spartan. The Prime’s stylish interior is spacious and versatile. Battery location under the rear seats enables owners to fold those seats flat, making the car bicycle and large cargo friendly.
Interior finishes include Softex upholstery on upscale grades with cloth on the base model. The new center stack screen contains bright, easy-to-read graphics. A charging station map enables drivers to find plug-in spots on the go.
Engineers did an excellent job minimizing noise intrusion from wind and the engine bay. Drivers will notice some noise from the low rolling resistance tires.
An available JBL audio system produces excellent sound quality, making the miles go by on longer road trips.
The Prius Prime is equipped with eight airbags, antilock brakes, traction control, stability control and tire pressure monitoring. Toyota Safety Sense with pedestrian detection is standard across the model line-up.
Pricing for the base model begins at $27,100 excluding destination, with the upscale Advanced model priced from $33,100. Customers are eligible for a $4,500 federal tax credit.
Like: Toyota’s newest plug-in hybrid offers extended EV range and higher speed capability, more refined suspension and high tech interior.
Dislike: Soft on-center steering response.
Model: Prius Prime Advanced
Base price: $33,100
As tested: N/A
Horsepower: 95 Hp @ 5200 rpm (gasoline engine); 121 net horsepower
Torque: 105 lbs.-ft. @ 3600 rpm (gasoline engine)
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 124 MPGe EV mode; 55/53 mpg city/highway2017, Green Hybrid 2017, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, performance, pricing, Prime, Prius, standard safety, Toyota