Driven: 2018 Toyota Prius Prime
  • Car Review

Driven: 2018 Toyota Prius Prime

By David Undercoffler | March 22, 2018

Autolist rating: 3/5
But would we buy it? No
Price range: $27,995 - $33,995

Key takeaways

  • Unique styling sets it apart (thankfully) from the regular Prius.
  • It doesn’t have enough meaningful all-electric range.
  • No middle seat in the back, so it only holds four people.
  • Massive touchscreen in the dashboard is a great feature.

What is it?

TLDR: A Prius with a plug and seating for only four.

The Prius Prime is the plug-in hybrid version of Toyota’s regular Prius.

For this generation, Toyota gave it its own name (Prime) and unique styling to set it apart from the garden variety Prius. This is a good thing, as the look of the normal Prius is awkward at best.

Like the mainstream Prius, the Prime is a four-door, compact hatchback. Unlike the normal Prius, this Prime only seats four people; a fixed console with an armrest and cupholders sits in the middle of the two rear seats.

The main advantage of this Prime model over its regular Prius cousin is that it’s a plug-in hybrid which means it can drive on electric-only power for 25 miles. After that, it runs on gas, and it has a total range of 640 miles.

The EPA rates it at 133 MPGe (when factoring in its combined electric and gas mileage) and 54 MPG when running on gas power.

The Prime is powered by a small four-cylinder engine and an electric motor that work together for 121 total horsepower. The lithium-ion battery pack recharges fully in two hours and 10 minutes with a 240v plug, according to Toyota.

Because it’s a plug-in hybrid, the Prime is eligible for up to $4,502 in federal tax credits and possibly more from your state government ($1,500 in California, for example).

The Prime comes in three trim grades: the base Plus, the Premium and the loaded Advanced model.

The Prime’s main competitors in the plug-in arena are the Chevy Volt, the Kia Niro, the Honda Clarityand the Hyundai Ioniq plug-in models.

What’s good

TLDR: Massive infotainment screen and better-than-Prius looks.

The style. The normal Prius is a confused mix of intersecting lines and angles that make it look odd from every vantage point. This Prime model, however, is nicely done. It has a futuristic design that’s sleek and sophisticated without being ungainly.

The dashboard infotainment screen. Standard on the mid-level Premium and the top-end Advanced trims, this massive 11.6-inch, high-resolution screen is a delight to look at and use. The screen itself is responsive and the interface is logical and easy to customize.

The electric cruising. The Prime will operate on electric-only power longer than you’d expect when pushing on the gas pedal. Many hybrid and plug-in hybrid models feel too quick to switch to the gas engine for power when you accelerate hard enough. But the Prime is patient and gives you plenty of smooth, all-electric power for a surprisingly long time when you floor it.

What’s bad

TLDR: Short range, tough competition, four seats.

Weak electric range. The Prime lags behind nearly every competitor when it comes to electric-only range. What’s the point in spending the extra money on a plug-in hybrid if it only gets you 25 miles of electric range? After the batteries run out, the car is actually less efficient because it’s now lugging around hundreds of pounds of dead batteries.

The price. The Prime’s short EV range could be forgiven if it were the cheapest in its class. But it’s not, by thousands of dollars. Hyundai’s base Ioniq plug-in model is $2,160 less than the base Prime. And the price point of the loaded Prime Advanced that we tested is within a few hundred dollars of the Chevy Volt and the Honda Clarity, two models that not only promise significantly longer EV range but better overall execution as well.

No middle seat. This might not be a big deal to some consumers (how often do you really need the middle seat for a person), but we found it limiting and annoying not to have a middle seat to count on.

5 stars of execution

Safety? Yes

  • The Prime is rated a Top Safety Pick of the independant Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, though it hasn’t been crash tested by the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
  • All Prime models – regardless of trim level – come standard with lane-departure warning and assist, pre-collision braking and adaptive cruise control.

Value? No

  • As we mentioned, there are better options for your money in the plug-in hybrid segment.
  • On the cheaper side, the Hyundai Ioniq is a better choice. On the more expensive side, Honda’s Clarity and Chevy’s Volt are better picks.
  • The Prime is eligible for up to $4,502 in federal tax credits, which helps offset the cost of the car, though the Honda and Chevy can get you up to $7,500 back.

Efficiency? Yes

  • Overall, yes, the Prime is an efficient car. The EPA rates it at an impressive 133 MPGe and 54 combined MPG with just the gas engine.
  • That’s higher than any of its competitors.
  • The only downside is the 25-mile, electric-only range – one of the smallest EV ranges available today.

Driving experience? Yes

  • Toyota overhauled the Prius’ driving habits for this generation, which includes the Prime model.
  • That means it’s a quieter, better-handling and more comfortable car.
  • It doesn’t have overwhelming power, but it’s enough to get around, and the electric-only portion is particularly smooth.

Execution? No

  • Overall the Prime is a perfectly fine car. Until you look at its competitors.
  • There are cheaper options – options with better EV range and options with more comfort and amenities.
  • Or choose the mainstream Prius, deal with the off styling and save yourself thousands of dollars.

Total Rating: 3 stars

What’s it gonna cost me?

The Prius Prime starts at $27,995, including destination. That’s for the base Prime Plus. It comes with a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system with navigation, a backup camera, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and Bluetooth connectivity.

The Prime Premium is $29,695 and adds to that the huge 11.6-inch touchscreen we loved, faux-leather seats that are heated in the front and wireless phone charging. If you’re set on getting a Prius Prime, this is the trim we would opt for.

The top-end Prime Advanced is $33,995 and comes with a color heads-up display for the driver, blind spot monitoring and smartphone-enabled AC control.

Also consider

Hyundai’s Ioniq plug-in hybrid starts at $25,835 and has 29 miles of all-electric range. Not only is that cheaper than the Prius Prime, but it offers more conventional styling if you’re not feeling the Toyota. This is a nice alternative.

Kia’s Niro plug-in hybrid has a handsome, practical design (it’s more of a small crossover than a hatchback car), but it only has 26 miles of EV-only range. It’s also a bit pricey, starting at $28,840.

Honda’s Clarity plug-in hybrid starts at $34,290. It’s larger than the Prius Prime, though it too has unconventional styling. But its strong points include a 48-mile, all-electric range and a refined, upscale cabin and driving experience. It’s definitely worth a look.

So too is Chevy’s Volt. With a 53-mile, EV-only range and a starting price of $34,095, this is the plug-in hybrid that started it all and it’s hard to beat.