A generation or two ago — when any self-respecting car owner could do a driveway oil change and swap out a broken headlamp with nothing more than a Phillips screwdriver — we talked about automotive design like it was modern art and performance stats were magical. Performance as in, “how fast?”

This is Toyota’s design interpretation of a futuristic car.

Today, a modern ride like Toyota’s Prius Prime plug-in hybrid sparks a discussion of an ocean-sized and quite brilliant touchscreen; useful infotainment details; Apple CarPlay connectivity; battery-only range; plugs and power outlets; rebates; and, cold-weather EV (electric vehicle) performance.

Performance mostly refers to range and fuel economy, as well as re-charging times. Only Tesla owners brag out 0-100 km/hour times.

But let’s begin at the most critical piece of the EV story: power outlets. In the urban neighborhood where I live, none of the multi-family dwellings has a single outdoor vehicle plug. Townhomes, too.

And for the rear.

And a good many of the folks around here don’t care. They don’t own cars. They use public transit, car share, ride bikes, walk or hail a ride via Uber or Lyft.

There is a community-shared fast-charging station nearby. One. It sits in a sea of high- and low-rise buildings, with townhomes sprinkled about. You would think this would be the ideal place to own a battery car. It’s not.

The one public charging station is always busy, busy, busy. One thing I have learned about EV owners is that they are impatient and grumpy.

Just recently, I plugged in a tester, then wandered down for a take out coffee. I had 40 minutes to kill.

This huge touchscreen is outstanding.

I returned in five, to be greeted by a red-faced Nissan LEAF owner who lectured me about charging etiquette. “Stay with your car,” she sneered, wagging a long, crooked finger. She then tossed me her business card: vice-president of the local EV club.

“If you need help with this, visit our web site,” she said.

My tester in his case came in at $40,956.80: $36,140 base with the Tech package, plus taxes, fees, levies, freight and delivery, and then minus $4,000 in taxpayer-funded rebates (B.C. and Federal Governments combined).

Now the Prius Prime charges up relatively quickly because its battery pack delivers at best 40 km of range. At least the battery has a 10-year warranty and Toyotas in general last pretty much forever. You can plug the Prime in a regular 110-vold outlet or a 240-volt station. The charge port is at the rear passenger side of the car. It’s all quite simple.

A closer look at the screen.

I didn’t ask her about the Prime’s styling. I feared I would ignite another angry outburst.

But I do admire the detailed lighting arrangement up front – a four-quad LED headlamps array with a lower fog light setup. Standout.

The Prime’s compact size belies the extensive hardware under the skin: two powertrains and a robust battery pack, controllers and such. As a result, cargo space is only okay, though the rear seatbacks fold almost flat. The passenger space fits four adults, five in a pinch and it’s generous.

The Prius has a useful hatchback design, which brings me to a problem: no rear windshield wiper. There’s a lot of glass back there and on bad-weather day, seeing through that radically slanting glass rear hatch – framed by a rear LELD taillight treatment — is a problem.

The cabin is terrific. As you look out from the driver’s seat, at top-centre is a wide strip of a binnacle that displays performance numbers, fuel efficiency, range and such.

What you notice most, though, is a huge vertical infotainment screen – an 11.6-inch HD touchscreen. This comes only with more expensive Primes. The base car gets a puny 7.0-inch trinket. The whole cabin is modern and refined.

So-so seating.

For my $40,000 here, Toyota offers heated front seats and steering wheel, automatic climate controls, twin USBs for rear seat passengers, and an auto-sensing driver’s door-locking system, a power driver’s seat, and wireless device charging, a head-up display, radar parking assistance, rain sensing wipers, a 10-speaker JBL audio system, and Toyota’s Intelligent Parking Assist system, blind spot monitoring…

This is a luxury car.

The drive is fine for a stunningly efficient runabout. The 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine is paired with an 8.8 kWh lithium-ion battery. In pure EV mode, the Prime is quiet and rewarding. Overall, you will get between 1.6 and 6.0 L/100 km, depending on how much of you engage pure EV mode.

Total output is 121 hp, combined electric and gas power. The published 0-100 km time is 10.5 seconds. When there are bends in the road, you will notice the heft of it all: 1,530 kg curb weight (3,373 lb).

If the Prime isn’t for you, you can consider Hyundai’s Ionis Plus or Honda’s Clarity PHEV. Or you could save a few thousand and simply buy the standard Prius Hybrid.

I am a fan of this Prime, however. That big touchscreen is brilliant and Toyota’s quality record is unmatched. I am hopeful my local city council will arrange for more charging outlets.


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