The 2018 Prius Prime ($32,900 base) is a brilliant example of what Toyota does best: mix known and proven technology with decades of diligent and careful car-building expertise, stir in a little cleverness, and through a little alchemy and much hard work create an incredibly refined vehicle that is likely to shoulder on, trouble-free, for at least a decade, probably much more.
You see, the Prius Prime does not break new ground; it’s a plug-in hybrid that will give you about 40 kilometres of battery-only driving, with a re-charge at a 240V outlet requiring a little over two hours (about five hours at a 120v outlet). Folks, plug-in hybrids aren’t new and novel and a 40-km range isn’t even half that of Chevrolet Volt’s 85-km battery range.
Yet once you start digging through the Prime’s details, things get evermore impressive – even if Toyota Canada’s three-year/60,000 km full warranty is nothing to rave about.
For instance, the drag coefficient is a terrific 0.25cd. The aluminum hood is light and the carbon fibre rear hatch is lighter still. The grille has active shutters for aerodynamic reasons. Notice the huge piece of glass in the rear hatch; that’s an expensive feature.
Lift it, look down and you’ll find a cubby where the small, lightweight and thoroughly portable 120v charger is neatly stowed. Clever. It plugs into the port on the right rear fender, while gas goes in on the opposite side. No confusion. Smart.
Throughout, you’ll find so many elements that are well executed, though the one you will ant most requires an upgrade to $35,445 model or the even pricier Prime Technology version ($38,570). I am referring to the 11.6-in display screen that runs vertically, centre dash. It’s big and the images are crystal clear, giving you perfect access to the car’s functions (touch-sensitive) and readouts (including an energy usage display).
Note, also, the thin pillars and wide expanse of front and side glass; great visibility and a work of fine structural engineering. The steering wheel controls are a model of simplicity. The digital instrument cluster runs high and in a strip, where things are easy to see.
Toyota lets you choose Eco or Normal drive modes; Eco makes the car sluggish, so go Normal. When the gas engine does kick in, you barely notice. What stands out is the seamless manner in which things unfold, however you choose to drive.
As for fuel economy, Toyota says the combined range here tops 1,000 km and its EV fuel economy rating is a stellar 1.8 Le/100 km. Overall hybrid efficiency is 4.3 L/100 km combined. That from a plug-in Prius with a base price that is $6,000 less than a Volt and $1,000 below the Ionig plug-in.
The seats are excellent, the cabin is roomy, the rear seatbacks split and fold for cargo efficiency and there is space for four adults. The seams are tight and straight, the materials first-rate and overall build quality is outstanding. Quite the total package.
That said, no one will be dazzled by breakthrough battery technology here. The 8.8 kWh lithium ion battery pack (about twice that of the regular Prius) isn’t arranged in a low-centre-of-gravity slab under the floor (like Tesla’s Model 3), but instead it’s stashed below the cargo bay where it eats up space.
I managed to stash by mountain bike in the cargo hold, with its hatchback lid, but I had to take off the front wheel to do it, and lay flat the rear seatbacks. For comparison: The Prime’s cargo hold behind the back seats is 560 litres, versus 697 for the regular Prius.
Point is, Toyota did not reinvent battery design, construction and packaging here. The car doesn’t go particularly far between charges and charging times are completely average. That said, we can assume, that this battery will be reliable and anything but troublesome. A Prius, through and through. How Toyota.
To be fair, Toyota will argue that its 1.8-litre gas engine is ideally suited for hybrid use because it employs the Atkinson cycle for engine combustion, not the Otto cycle. And it’s a fair point. But this is not breakthrough technology. Regardless, Prime uses regular gas, like the Volt and Hyundai Ioniq plug-in.
I would argue that the Prime’s double wishbone rear suspension is not as fancy as the Ioniq’s multi-link rear suspension, though both are quite modern compared to the Volt’s pedestrian rear torsion beam. That said, the Prime’s soft suspension does not invite enthusiastic driving, despite the sharp steering and instant power from the traction motor. You will not mistake the Prime for a sports car and the Ioniq is more entertaining by half a measure. Again, nothing ground-breaking from Toyota here.
But taken as a whole, the Prius Prime is truly more than the sum of its parts. Toyota didn’t rush its plug-in Prius to market, but the final product suggests the development time was well spent.
2018 Toyota Prius Prime Technology
Base price: $38,570.
Powertrain: Combined output 121 hp/137 lb-ft torque. Gas engine (1.8 litres at 95 hp/105 lb-ft torque). Electric drive dual motor generator (two electric motors): 71/31/91 hp main/secondary/combined; 120/30 lb-ft main/secondary.
Warranty: 3 years/60,000 km.
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 4.3/4.4/4.3 city/hwy/combined and 1.8Le/100 km.
Comparables: Chevrolet Volt, Hyundai Ioniq plug-in.