Electric vehicles are getting all of the attention of late, but for those who aren't convinced or aren't suited to making the transition to an EV, there is one shining light of maximum efficiency. Toyota's Prius Prime offers an all-electric range along with the ability to sip fuel at a rate that would put almost anything else on the market to shame.
I'm writing this while watching the start of a rain-soaked Formula 1 Grand Prix in Monaco. How is the pinnacle of auto racing linked to the Toyota Prius Prime? Hybrid drive.
The Prius, a car I've called one of the ultimate supercars in the past, walked so that today's hybrids, plug-ins, and even EVs could run. Without the success of the Prius - and the direct assistance that it allowed from Toyota - Tesla, and the rest of the modern EV lineup, would either not exist or would be very different from what we see today.
With that, is there still a place for the 2022 Toyota Prius Prime in a market that has used the car's success as a springboard?
Prius Prime (Prime is Toyota for PHEV) was launched back in 2016. That makes it a model nearing the end of its lifecycle, even if we haven't seen any signs of a replacement yet. For 2022 there are only two changes to the car. A logic-based rear seat reminder, and a tweak to the lights to make sure the rear lights are on when the car is moving. The latter is based on recent regulatory changes to stop phantom cars at night.
Powering the Prius Prime is a 1.8-litre four-cylinder. It moves the car and charges the 8.8 kWh lithium-ion battery. With the engine and motors both sending power to the wheels, the Prius Prime has 121 hp. On purely electric power, the car still makes 91 hp.
I won't pretend those power figures are impressive, but they are adequate. It's not the big power and torque that we love so much from modern EVs, but I never had trouble making a highway pass or an on-ramp merge. I would love if Toyota had given this car the small motor in the rear of the standard Prius AWD that gives that car more power and rear-wheel drive.
The electric driveline is silent, of course. The gas engine, when you actually use it, makes a little noise and then disappears as quickly as it appeared. Toyota has been doing hybrids longer than anyone and has perfected the transition between gas and electric power as well as the switch between regenerative and hydraulic braking.
Prius is massive in the front seat. Plenty of head and legroom spoiled by the foot-operated parking brake lever. Yes, a foot-operated parking brake. My left shin hasn't been this disappointed in years.
The back seat, though, is quite cramped. The teardrop shape that helps eke out better aerodynamic performance also destroys headroom. If it's the kids sitting back there, no worries. Adults? Might be more of an issue.
Cargo capacity is also sacrificed on the altars of economy and efficiency. Toyota says cargo capacity is 561 litres, down from 697 litres for the non-Prime. The hatch is low, so tall boxes won't fit, and the battery takes up much of the space raising it from below. Don't expect hatchback practicality is what we're trying to say.
Prius Prime Upgrade and Upgrade Technology get a tall 11.6-inch infotainment display, replacing the seven-inch screen in the base car. For the first time ever, I'm saying that the small screen is the one you want. The big one doesn't get Android Auto (the small one gets both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay), and the native operating system feels its age and then some. The built-in navigation's maps are displayed awkwardly and scroll in jagged jumps rather than moving smoothly.
The larger screen was also washed out by glare in nearly all daylight conditions, making it unusable much of the time.
A centre-mount gauge pod has been a Prius signature all along. The gauges let you find plenty of ways to monitor how much fuel you're using and how to use less of it. There's even an Easter Egg in there: a digital representation of the classic LCD clock Toyota has put in its vehicles for generations.
This car uses an older version of Toyota's Safety Sense system. It includes collision detection, lane tracing, and adaptive cruise, but it lacks some of Toyota's latest features. On the highway, Prius Prime is stable and composed. It cuts sleekly through the wind, and road noise is typical for the compact car segment. That's to say it's noisier than I'd like. Tall sidewalls on small alloys make for a comfortable ride, and the suspension is tuned to take advantage of it. Don't expect any hot-hatch pretenses here.
I'm rushing through the interior and the drive experience, because, well, they don't really matter. What matters in the Prius Prime is how well it does at saving fuel and your money.
Prius Prime has an estimated 40 km of electric range. Driving normally, without any hypermiling techniques, I ended up with 50-60 km on each charge and drove more than 300 km in my week without using any gasoline at all. With temperatures around 10 degrees and frost in the morning, that's massively impressive efficiency, and I would expect even more range with warmer weather and less use of the heat pump and defroster.
When you're running the gas engine, the Prime is estimated to deliver 4.3 L/100 km, making it one of the most fuel-efficient vehicles in the country - only the oddball Hyundai Ioniq and Elantra Hybrid Blue can top it. It delivers that economy as easily as it crushes the range figure.
The Prius Prime charges up in about five and a half hours on a standard wall plug, and around two hours on a Level 2 station. The Ford Escape PHEV, which offers a similar real-world range, takes more than 10 hours on the wall and three and a half on Level 2, putting the efficiency of the Prime on display.
This is a Toyota, so credit doesn't go to extreme measures. Instead, it is clever use of proven tech like the Toyota hybrid drive system, small wheels and tires, and excellent aero. The wildest bit of kit on here is the carbon fibre hatch. That part was a first for a production car when it launched and is still pretty neat
A basic Prius Prime starts from $33,500 and gets you heated seats and a heated steering wheel. It also comes with an incentive from the feds of $2,500. Most provinces will add to that, so you should be under $30k before taxes and probably under the price of a conventional hybrid Prius.
This isn't a glowing review of the Prius Prime. I don't like the small cargo area, the amount of performance, or the tech on offer.
Like I said before, none of that really matters.
The Prime can easily handle the average Canadian's day without using any fuel or needing a charge before nightfall. If your commute is extra-long, or it's time for a road trip, the Prime can beat nearly anything on the road for sipping fuel.
This is a car with a very specific set of skills., and a clear mission statement. It is a car that delivers on that mission statement as well as a Formula 1 car does on its own. I've called it a supercar before for exactly that reason. A few years down the road, the superlative still applies. While the Toyota Prius Prime may no longer be a spring chicken, it is still one of the best ways to reduce your pain at the pump.
2022 Toyota Prius Prime Upgrade with Technology Package
compact five-door PHEV hatchback
Front-engine, front wheel drive
1.8-litre four-cylinder (121 hp net)
40 km EV range. 1.8 Le/100 km. 4.3 / 4.4 / 4.3 L / 100 km city / highway / combined. 0.5 Observed (mix of EV and gas)
561L behind second row
$33,750 (base Prius Prime). $39,255 As Tested Prius Prime Upgrade With Technology Package (plus destination and taxes). Includes $255 Supersonic Red.
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.