Toyota’s Prius Prime
Let’s get the one negative out of the way right away: With an overall height of just 56 inches, the all-new Prius is tough to find in a crowded parking lot. In fact, if Toyota – or anyone else, for that matter – wants to sell a bigger mix of conventional cars, they’d do well to throw a drone into the trunk or hatch…if only to make it easier to find your car in that parking lot. With virtually everyone driving crossovers or big-ass pickups, at Wal-Mart a drone’s eye-in-the-sky couldn’t hurt. The good news: Once you’ve seen the new Prius, it’ll stop you in your tracks.
Of course, there was nothing conservative about the Prius initiative some 25 years ago, and there isn’t anything conservative in its makeup today. Introduced at a time when a warming climate was far removed from most radars, the idea of wringing super efficiency from a practical 4-door (without resorting to what was already regarded as ‘dirty’ diesel) was jaw dropping, especially when that idea came from one of the world’s largest manufacturers. And in its subsequent iterations the Prius only got better – although I wouldn’t say the same about its design. That sheetmetal, in this view, went from benign to wholly objectionable over its 20+ years of production.
With this all-new Prius the intent is obvious: Disarm prospective buyers with leading edge (both figuratively and literally) architecture. Having sold, in a much earlier life, the Lotus Turbo Esprit, I’m familiar with those designers (the Series 1 Esprit was penned by Giugiaro) adapting the doorstop when drawing an exotic. Even with that, I wasn’t quite prepared for the proportions assigned to this new Prius. It’s as if two Lamborghini Gallardos had a high speed (is there any other kind?) shunt, creating the world’s most radical 4-door. And while my reaction is purely subjective, it’s reasonable to say that there aren’t more exotically drawn 4-door hatches in any market, at any price point.
Of course, with something so dramatic you automatically consider its day-in, day-out livability. And in this, the Prius works. Obviously, with that low roof height this ain’t a Highlander, but if you can adjust to a Miata – which I have – you can adjust to the low step-in of the Prius. Once inside you’ll be surprised by the spaciousness; notably, the EPA regards the Prius as midsize, although to most eyes it seems compact when parked. Despite that low roof, headroom is adequate in front and passable in the rear. (Obviously, NBA players will go elsewhere; they’ll probably buy Lamborghini’s Urus…) Behind the folding rear seat Toyota claims to have 20 cubic feet of cargo, and with the rear seat folded you’d have a reasonable chance of stowing your bike or a couple of snowboards. Surfboards? Put ‘em on the roof.
Behind the wheel you’re faced with a new age layout appropriate to this car’s new age mission, while there’s ample evidence – at least in its materials – of the base car’s $30K price point. To its credit, the plastic doesn’t underwhelm you – but comes mighty close to overwhelming you. Necessary info is provided, along with some unnecessary info. In doing my driving during the week in and around Dallas and taking in its many sights, I was often reminded of what the Prius perceived as distracted driving. Let me assure you, Toyota…I wasn’t distracted.
With its Prius Prime Toyota supplies 220 net system horsepower from a 2.0 liter DOHC 4-cylinder developing 150 horsepower, in combination with an AC Synchronous motor offering 161 horsepower. And how that ends up totaling only 220 is for Toyota to know and us to – at some point – find out, but the result is surprisingly responsive; Toyota claims a 0-60 time of just 6.6 seconds. And while I wouldn’t describe its handling as sporty, the on-road dynamic is as composed – even at Dallas-area freeway speeds – as you’d hope.
The reason, of course, for a Prius is its efficiency, and in this the Prius – and specifically its Prime plug-in variant – is superb. With the battery fully charged our top-of-the-line XSE will go just shy of 40 miles on all-electric, while the two lower trims will reach 44 miles. And when the battery is down you can motor on with just the gas powerplant and still get 50+ miles per gallon.
From Dallas to Austin and back, that’s under $30 worth of gas. And if you can charge the Prius Prime before leaving Dallas and charge again in Austin, you could do it on a $20 bill.
At an as-tested price of $43K I find the XSE Premium on the wrong end of pricey. But the Prime in its SE grade can be had for something below $35,000, while the more conventional Prius Hybrid starts at under $30,000. At those numbers the all-new Prius may be more than just a good deal – it may be an outright steal.