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In this ongoing series, Boston.com talks with automotive authorities about why you should consider driving — or avoiding — a specific model.
2017 Toyota Prius Prime
Toyota, which sells the majority of the world’s hybrid vehicles, has taken a second crack at building a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. The 2017 Toyota Prius Prime, which reached dealerships in November, is less expensive, better looking, and more fuel-efficient than the first-generation model.
With 25 miles of all-electric range, the Prime is still not as potent as its main competitor, the Chevrolet Volt, which can travel 53 miles on a battery charge However, the Prime is more fuel efficient than Chevy’s model, eking out 54 mpg combined compared with the Volt’s 42 mpg. The Prime’s total range is 640 miles, while the Volt can only travel 420 miles when the battery is charged and the gas tank is full.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety hasn’t yet tested the Prime for crashworthiness. The nonprofit group tests plug-in models separately due to structural and weight differences from the standard model, according to Russ Rader, senior vice president of communications at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The regular Prius hybrid has earned the institute’s highest designation of Top Safety Pick+.
The Prime seats four passengers and features more headroom than its predecessor. Its lower, wider stance, and elongated body create a sleeker silhouette, too. A rearview camera and a USB power outlet are standard. Unfortunately, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity are not yet available in the Prime.
The Prius Prime starts at $27,100 and is eligible for $4,500 in federal tax credits. Unlike the first-generation Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid, the Prius Prime is available nationwide.
What the experts are saying
A true contender among plug-in hybrids
“With the Prius Prime, Toyota has found its own ground in the plug-in vehicle landscape. The company has never really taken pure electric vehicles seriously, favoring hydrogen fuel cells instead for long-range electric drive. This attitude shows in the company’s plug-in hybrids, which have lower electric ranges than comparable products from other companies. The first-generation Prius plug-in had an embarrassing official all-electric range of only 11 miles. This second-gen model got more than a name change, it also got a range increase to 25 miles, which should be enough get most commuters through most of their daily drives without using any gas. The Prius Prime still can’t compete with other plug-in hybrid electric vehicles like the Chevy Volt (53 miles of EV range), but it does now beat the Ford C-Max Energi (20 miles). But where the Prime shines is in the same places that the Prius family has always shined: straight-up fuel economy numbers. Fifty-four combined mpg is a standout number no matter where you are, and if you’re looking at the PHEV field for a car with decent range and excellent gas-sipping abilities, there are no other options.” – Sebastian Blanco, editor of AutoblogGreen
No safety scores yet
“Unfortunately, we don’t have safety ratings yet for the Prius Prime. Our policy is to test plug-in models separately due to structural and weight differences from the standard model. The regular Prius hybrid is one of our top performing small cars, earning Top Safety Pick+. We can’t yet apply the same ratings to the Prius Prime. Toyota improved the Prius’s headlights for vehicles built after August, so the safety rating for post-August Prius models improves from Poor to Acceptable. This affects how well the headlights illuminate the road and reduce glare for oncoming drivers. The Prius headlights also get extra credit for high-beam assist, which automatically switches between low and high beams depending on the presence of other vehicles. This is an important safety feature because research shows that drivers don’t switch to high beams as often as they could.” – Russ Rader, senior vice president of communications at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
A new and improved plug-in
“The new Toyota Prius Prime is a much better car than its predecessor led anyone to expect. It operates entirely as an electric car while it has battery range left, without kicking on the engine like other plug-in hybrids when it’s asked for maximum power. It’s not the fastest car in the world, but it’s now the closest rival for the much-lauded Chevrolet Volt. The Prime loses out to the Volt on range—it only has 25 miles versus the Volt’s whopping 53 miles—but it gets better fuel economy once the battery is depleted, at 54 mpg combined versus the Volt’s 42 mpg. Either one is a great choice for buyers interested in driving some or most of their miles on cheap grid electricity without ever worrying about running out of range.” —John Voelcker, editor of Green Car Reports
For more information on the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime, visit a Toyota dealership near you.