Road Test: 2018 Toyota Prius Prime Premium

Toyota has been the leader of the hybrid powertrains world for nearly two decades now, offering the most efficient hybrid vehicles on the market.  The first generation Prius Prime provided a little boost in efficiency with the larger battery pack and about 13 miles of entirely electric driving before the gas engine kicked in.

For 2018, the Prius Prime remains largely unchanged from 2017. Prime’s 2017 redesign gave it a more aerodynamic shape, futuristic interior, and overall cooler look.

If the 2018 Prius Prime looks like the future, it was purely intentional on the designers’ part.

The wind-cheating body and its high-strength/low weight structure are critical factors in the Prius Prime’s astoundingly low energy consumption. Its coefficient of drag is expected to be among the lowest for production sedans. Automatic grille shutters help reduce drag by closing when airflow to the radiator is not needed.

Yet the Prius Prime is no aero jellybean. It’s chiseled profile and edgy character lines seem to dare the wind to stand in its way. Energy-conserving quad LED headlights glow like diamonds cutting the night, and LED rear combination lamps leave an unforgettable nighttime signature. Driver visibility remains excellent, aided by a full-width aero glass panel over the rear spoiler and a standard backup camera.  The distinctive aero rear window is eye-catching and adds to its slipstream character.

While giving the new-generation Prius models more features, Toyota kept vehicle weight in check by using aluminum for the hood, carbon fiber on the rear hatch, and by using high-tensile strength steel in other parts of the structure.  In fact, the lightweight carbon fiber rear hatch makes opening and closing almost effortless.

The Prius Prime looks and feels far from frugal on the inside, where a four-seat cabin layout, with center console running front to back, makes it feel like something special. Practicality remains ever present, however, with standard 60/40 folding rear seatbacks. It’s a quiet cabin, too, thanks to the sound-insulating laminated windshield and front door glass and the optimized aero shape that helps keep wind noise where it belongs – outside.

Prius Prime coddles the driver and passengers with comfortable standard heated front seats, an automatic climate control system, and available SofTex synthetic leather trimmed seats. Our model featured a power driver’s seat with power lumbar.

The climate control system is quieter, thanks to an electric compressor, and it’s smarter, focusing airflow only to areas where occupants are seated in order to help maximize fuel economy and comfort.  The climate control system can also operate without the engine on, with a heat pump that allows the system to cool or heat the cabin while driving in EV mode.   The driver can activate the remote air conditioning system with an available key fob or smartphone app to cool the interior before entering the cabin.

Space in the rear is good for a 6-foot tall adult, and the cargo area is quite large with the lift back opening.

The centrally mounted gauge panel, a Prius hallmark since the model’s inception, appears to float above the dashboard. The panel features dual 4.2-inch full-color multi-information displays, and the driver can change their content by using steering wheel controls.

The display provides a multitude of readouts for hybrid energy information and more, and the driver can choose how much information to view.  Want to cut the cord? With available wireless cell phone charging for Qi-compatible devices, just place your Qi-compatible devices on the console pad to charge it wirelessly.

We’re overjoyed that Toyota equipped the Prius Prime with its top Entune multimedia system and made it all accessible through a 11.6-inch HD tablet display. The navigation graphics look simply stunning, but we found it sometimes challenging to operate while moving, a common thread of many infotainment systems. The same goes for the perimeter capacitive touch buttons and hidden seat heater controls.

Apple CarPlay is still not available, but we expect it soon.

Prius Prime also offers Prius Prime Apps, allowing you to remotely manage your vehicle’s charging schedule and status, locate charging stations, track and compare your eco driving score with others on social media, remotely control the vehicle’s climate system, and more – all from your smartphone.  It’s advanced eco at your fingertips.

Prius Prime is rated 133 MPGe, or miles per gallon equivalent. Think about it, 133 MPG–that’s incredible!

Between home charging and mixed driving in winter weather, we managed to commute daily using electrons, and using very little fuel otherwise. We averaged 69 MPG at the end of that week.

With temperatures dipping into the 20s and low 30s, the use of the electric heater and heated seats often took a chunk of that energy. But a benefit of an electric heater is nearly instantaneous heat! A boon for winter driving.

Not to be overshadowed by all the electrical magic, the Prius Prime’s gasoline engine also plays a starring role in that efficiency. The 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle, 4-cylinder engine achieves over 40 percent thermal efficiency. Most modern automobile engines reach about 25-30 percent. Myriad details throughout the hybrid powertrain contribute to the efficiency, including an exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) system with a cooler, smaller, lighter, quieter hybrid system water pump and an exhaust heat recirculation system that speeds engine warm-up.

Both the standard Prius hybrid and the Prius Prime are powered by Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain, which seamlessly combines the output of the gasoline engine and electric motor through a planetary-type continuously variable transmission.  The biggest difference is that the Prius Prime can be plugged in at home to recharge its larger 8.8kWh battery pack.

In Hybrid mode, the Prius Prime can run on the gasoline engine or electric motor alone or a combination of both. Even when not running in EV mode, the Prius Prime will automatically rely more on its electric capability in situations where it is more efficient than running the gasoline engine, especially in urban and suburban driving and during shorter trips.

Prius Prime features a Toyota-first dual motor generator drive system, using both the electric motor and the generator for drive force, helping to boost acceleration performance.  Regenerative braking recaptures electrical energy under deceleration and braking and stores it in the battery, which helps to reduce fuel consumption.

Even better, there’s no special equipment for home charging.  Just use the supplied cord and the Prius Prime takes approximately 5.5 hours using a standard household outlet.  Charging takes less than half the time with a 240V source.

Prius Prime will allow drivers to stay in EV mode in more situations, helping to enhance vehicle range on one tank of fuel.  You can plug it in, gas it up, or both.  On one 11.3-gallon tank of regular-grade gasoline and a full electric charge, the Prius Prime anticipates a class-leading estimated total driving range of over 600 miles.

Prius Prime has a loyal following that will be happy with the added EV range, technology, and design updates. The additional range also makes it a great alternative to anyone considering a plug-in commuter car with a range-extending gas engine, a safe alternative for those who don’t want to go entirely EV or don’t want to rely on another vehicle for longer distance trips.

Summary Scorecard (1-10)
Ride and Handling 8
Braking 9
Powertrain and Fuel Economy 10
Noise 9
Headlights 10
Interior Fit and Finish 9
Seating 7
Visibility 9
Gauges and Controls 8
Infotainment 6
Crash-Avoidance 10
Total Score 86

Make: Toyota
Model: Prius Prime
Trim Level: Premium
Engine: 1.8L Hybrid
Transmission: CVT
Options: Special paint

Base Price: $28,800
As-Tested Price: $29,695

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