The Prius has been a popular choice for those on a budget for quite some time, so many will likely be asking themselves if the Toyota Prius Prime is really worth the extra $4k. It shares almost all the same infrastructure with its cheaper sibling, including a 121-horsepower powertrain, as well as similar infotainment and safety features. But what sets it apart is its plug-in nature. Without relying on regenerative brakes, the Prime can run purely on electric power between recharges, for up to 25 miles. It also boasts class-leading mileage figures of 133 MPGe, handily besting its direct competitors, the Honda Clarity PHEV and Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. And while it may not have the premium interior or stylish body that many more modern rivals are flaunting, it has managed to remain popular over the years. With a few welcome updates for 2021, this is still one of the most economical vehicles on the market, despite the rise of pure EV options.
Despite having spent the last few years behind the competition, the Prime has not made a significant effort to improve for the new year. However, Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 now replaces the previous system, adding road sign assist, lane tracing assist, and full-speed dynamic radar cruise control. The infotainment suite has also received minor updates in the form of Android Auto, which has been lacking for far too long. Strangely enough, access to this function is restricted to the base LE trim, as the premium audio systems still don't support it.
1.8L Inline-4 Plug-in Hybrid
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
1.8L Inline-4 Plug-in Hybrid
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
1.8L Inline-4 Plug-in Hybrid
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
For yet another year, the Prime sticks with a style that can only be described as unique, if you do not want to be downright mean. Due to its semi-electric nature, there is no need for a large grille, so it gets an aggressive, solid front fascia instead. The slim automatic headlights juxtapose this as they sweep up the hood in a series of LED clusters. However, the lines of the body are steep and curved, to improve fuel efficiency by optimizing aerodynamics. The rear is more angular, though, with an oddly grinning black hatch lid literally framed by brake light strips. It rides on 15-inch alloy wheels, which look a little out of place within the surrounds of the chunky rear end. LED fog lights and rain-sensing wipers are the only top-tier-restricted improvements.
Considering it falls into the midsize sedan category, the Prius is surprisingly light on its feet, with a maximum curb weight of just 3,375 pounds. Only hatch-style competitors manage to easily beat this, as proven by the much heavier Honda Clarity, at over 4,000 lbs. Overall dimensions comprise a length of 182.9 inches, a width of 69.3 inches, and a height of 57.9 inches. The wheelbase is a bit short for the segment, at only 106.3 inches.
Only seven colors are presented to dress up the exterior, which includes five standard options and two premium paint colors. Of the former, Midnight Black Metallic, Magnetic Gray Metallic, Blue Magnetism, Classic Silver Metallic, and Titanium Glow comprise the selection. For an additional $425, you can unlock the options of Wind Chill Pearl or Supersonic Red, which is often featured in online promotional images or brochure photos to attract buyers. Sadly, there are no all-new paints for yet another year, although the cost of the premium selection has gone up a bit.
Performance is not a word readily associated with the Prius, unless it is directly preceded by middling or underwhelming. No, this is not a car meant to get you excited about driving. Instead, the excitement comes at the end of the month, when you realize just how much you saved on your monthly traveling expenses.
But, getting down to brass tacks, the hybrid comes outfitted with a combination powertrain, pairing a small-displacement four-pot with an electric motor to develop 121 combined horsepower. And, while the Toyota may be light in comparison to other hybrids, it is still a relatively heavy vehicle. All of this means that coaxing this engine to launch the car from 0-60 mph requires a lot of time - around ten seconds, to be more specific - according to independent testing. But the top speed is not too disappointing at an estimated 112 mph, if you have enough road to reach it. If this feels like something you can't live with, first check the fuel economy section; it may just convince you to take one for a test drive.
The Toyota Prius Prime plug-in is powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine working in conjunction with an electric motor. This is not as impressive as it sounds, though, with the gas engine producing 95 hp and 105 lb-ft of torque on its own, and the total system output working out to just 121 hp. This is directed, via a CVT transmission, to the front wheels only. On the plus side, this CVT is innocuous when compared to many on rival machines, and it helps to keep acceleration smooth, if not quick.
Still, 121 hp can only do so much. Where rivals are putting out around 200 hp - think the Sonata or Clarity - the Prime toddles along with half as much. This means that, despite a cross-country maximum range, it feels more at home in the city, where not too much will be asked of it. Merging or passing on the highway requires a great deal of effort, so you will have to engage the main generator. But, if your commute to and from the office is less than 25 miles, you won't even need to put the combustion engine to work at all.
Efficiency-minded hybrids in this segment are not like their regular or performance-oriented sedan brethren, as all their electric components serve to better fuel economy rather than the driving experience. As such, the Prius Prime is not a thrilling driver. It is mild-mannered on the road, which is complemented perfectly by its silence when running on electric power alone. But with a maximum range of just 25 miles, you won't be spending that much time in EV mode.
The rest of the time, the overall feel is adequate. Steering is light, as you would expect from a town car, making for easy maneuvering on the street or in the parking lots, but it is very uncommunicative. So, while the suspension does a relatively good job of dulling most minor bumps and abrasions, larger interruptions will make themselves known to the whole cabin without warning. Wind and road noise are also unpleasant and ever-present companions, though they only really become intrusive when trying to get anywhere fast.
So, when all is said and done, the Prime is an adequate commuter, with enough comfort and control when traveling at sedate speeds around town. But, it will never excite, and it will make you regret it if you try to force it to.
This is really the bread and butter of any Toyota Prius Prime review. Where the hybrid may fail to dazzle on a number of fronts, gas mileage is certainly not one of them. Since there are quite literally no mechanical changes between trim levels, and weight varies by a mere 10 lbs, each variant boasts the same impressive figures. Across the city/highway/combined cycles, the Japanese money-saver returns an EPA-estimated 55/53/54 mpg. And, since it is a plug-in, we also need to examine the performance of the electrical components. The battery only stores 8.8 kWh, so the EV-only range is not that impressive at 25 miles, but the combined electro-gas mileage of 133 MPGe is significantly higher than other PHEV rivals, like the aforementioned Clarity or Sonata hybrids, which return 110 MPGe and 47 mpg combined in comparison, respectively. When you add all these numbers together, and take into account the 11.4-gallon tank, the Toyota can travel for up to 640 miles before making a pit stop, which is truly remarkable. Charging the battery takes around five and a half hours on a regular household outlet, or two hours on a 240V outlet.
Since the automobile is designed to appeal to those on a somewhat tighter budget, the interior takes a hit in terms of quality. It certainly looks good, especially when you see all the controls laid out so nicely and the large infotainment interface, but the fabrics are middling in quality, and there is more hard plastic on display than you would find in more premium competitors like a Tesla. But considering how much you are spending, you still get quite a decent deal. There is quite a bit of room, a comprehensive entertainment suite, and loads of driver-assist tech. Of course, you may need to move beyond the base LE to really appreciate what the Prime has to offer, like power-adjustable seats or wireless charging.
The cabin is a tad on the cramped side, at least if you are seated in the back. This is probably due to the slightly shorter-than-average wheelbase. Still, those up front have no reason to complain, with head- and legroom to spare, unless they are well over six-feet tall. The back row is technically designed to seat three, but that is only applicable in the case of small children. The sloping roof of the hatch cuts into headroom, and legroom is at a premium if those in the front do not pull forward a bit. When all is said and done, though, a family of four should fit comfortably in the midsize without too much fuss - just be sure to make pit stops to stretch now and then if you plan to make use of the full 640 miles of cruising range.
True to its budget nature, the Prius does not offer a lot of choice in terms of materials or colors when dressing the interior. The fabrics are much the same as you would find in any cheaper car out there. On the base model LE, simple cloth upholsters the seats. The upper trims get slightly plusher SofTex leatherette, which is both better to look at and to sit on. Regardless of the textiles chosen, the same color options are offered - Black or Moonstone. Beyond that, you do not get to customize the dash or other surfaces, with hard plastics covering most areas, while softer-touch materials cover the high-traffic areas. Trimming the dash and instruments is faux aluminum, which does not look nearly as classy as the designers probably thought it would.
Although it may look like a sedan, the Prius Prime is technically a hatchback. This means that it is able to offer a fair amount of trunk space despite the fact that it has similar storage shortcomings as do some other hybrids on the market. Naturally, this is because the battery and electrical components take up a lot of extra space. But because its body differs from the configurations of its direct competitors from Hyundai and Honda, it is able to boast a trunk capacity of 19.8 cubic feet. This is still quite a bit less than the regular Prius, though. Furthermore, the rear seats can be folded down in a 60/40 split to make even more room for bulkier cargo.
Around the cabin, there are a number of small-item storage solutions. These include a standard glove compartment, cupholders for both rows, door pockets, and a rear-seat storage compartment. The practicality of the seatback pockets is a little restrictive, but the kids could stow their phones or tablets there, assuming you can pry them out of their hands.
Like most semi-electric autos, the Prime comes outfitted with an impressive array of technology, right from the get-go. Even if you do not spend a cent over the cost of the base-spec LE, you still get a multi-information display - which is practically essential in a hybrid - dynamic radar cruise control, manually-adjustable front seats with heating (six-way for the driver and four-way for the passenger), climate control, and keyless ignition. But it is the driver-assistance features that stand out the most, as the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 suite includes lane departure alert, lane tracing assist, and pre-collision avoidance. Still, there is always room for improvement, which is why the XLE upgrades to power-adjustable front seats and the Limited adds an auto-dimming rearview mirror, blind-spot monitoring, a head-up display, and intelligent parking assist.
As standard, the Prime is equipped with a full infotainment suite, including a seven-inch touchscreen interface, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, SiriusXM, three USB ports, an auxiliary audio input, and a six-speaker sound system. The most noticeable improvement when you step up to the mid-range trim level is the much larger 11.6-inch touchscreen, which offers split-screen functionality. But while HD Radio is added to the listening options, Android Auto is removed. On the plus side, navigation is built-in from the XLE upwards, along with a wireless smartphone charger. Not much really changes on the top-of-the-range Limited, but the audio quality is significantly improved by replacing the standard six-speaker set-up with a ten-speaker JBL system.
Since the 2020 model was not rated for reliability, we are not expecting to see new scores from J.D. Power. Thus, we have to look at the complaints and recalls to determine how reliable the new Toyota is likely to be. While the 2018 and 2019 iterations were the victims of a couple of complaints, the 2020 variant received almost none, and there have been zero recalls issued for 2021 at the time of writing. The recall issued in 2019 was for a problem that carried over into the following production year, namely the loss of stability control. Hopefully, this has been rectified by now.
A quick perusal of the warranty plan shows that the hybrid does not stand out from the crowd in this regard. The bumper-to-bumper plan is valid for three years/36,000 miles, while the powertrain is covered for five years/60,000 miles. Naturally, the electric components get slightly longer coverage, with the battery warranty valid for ten years/150,000 miles. The hybrid systems are covered for 100,000 miles or eight years, whichever comes first. Finally, a corrosion perforation warranty runs for five years.
There have been no safety reviews of the latest Prime so far. While this is not surprising in the case of the NHTSA, which has not done extensive testing for several years now, the IIHS is bound to get around to the 2021 model eventually. Since there have been no changes that would likely affect how the vehicle scores in these tests, the result from 2020 should still be applicable. To that end, the IIHS gave it a top rating of Good in five out of the six tests, with a score of Acceptable for the small overlap front passenger-side slightly bringing down the overall average. Perhaps the new updates to the advanced safety suite will see the awarding of another Top Safety Pick title, which was last attributed to the car in 2019.
A few updates were made in this area for the new year, resulting in the Toyota Safety Sense suite being renamed Toyota Safety Sense 2.0. All the original features are still here, including pre-collision mitigation with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with sway warning, and automatic high beams. But now it also includes full-speed range dynamic radar cruise control, road sign detection, and lane tracing assist. Beyond this, standard features also comprise all the usual acronyms like ABS, EBD, and VSC (Vehicle Stability Control), along with hill start assist, a color head-up display on the top trim, and a whopping ten airbags: dual front, front side, driver knee, rear side, side curtain, and a passenger seat cushion airbag. The Limited is the only model that differs from the rest of the range, adding blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, clearance sonar, and intelligent parking assist.
A tricky question, no doubt about it. The only way to really answer this properly is to ask yourself, what is your priority when it comes to buying a new car? Do you want a luxury vehicle? Then the answer is no. Do you want an exciting driver? Still no. Perhaps you want plenty of cargo room and the ability to do some heavy work? No again. But if the question is, do you want a reasonably affordable commuter or town runabout with excellent gas mileage figures? Then the answer is a definite yes.
The Toyota Prius Prime hybrid hatchback knows where its strengths lie, and it leans into them heavily. Not everyone in the US is obsessed with overpowered pickups or SUVs that can carry the whole family and the dogs. Some people just want to get to and from work without a fuss and keep costs down while they do so that they can spend money on things that really matter. But sticking to a budget does not mean settling for low quality. The midsize car is outfitted with plenty of features, like heated seats, a great infotainment suite, and a surprisingly comprehensive list of driver-assistance features.
With nigh on unbeatable fuel economy, pretty good safety ratings, and a perfectly adequate array of features, both comfort- and safety-wise, the Prius Prime won't disappoint buyers who know their priorities.
The price of the Toyota Prius Prime has only risen slightly to account for the minor updates in 2021. Now, the base-model LE starts things off at $28,220 MSRP and mid-tier XLE is set to go on sale for $30,000. At the top of the range is the Limited, with a slightly more intimidating base price of $34,000. With no comprehensive packages and only a small collection of accessories to choose from, this figure is not likely to climb that much, even if you want every bell and whistle. Keep in mind, though, that the prices do not include tax, registration, licensing, or destination charges. These may be offset somewhat by the possible hybrid rebates that some States offer. The 2021 Prius Prime also qualifies for a federal income tax credit of $4,502.
For 2021, the Prius Prime range consists of three distinct models: the LE, XLE, and Limited. In terms of mechanical components, they are identical, though. A 1.8-liter four-cylinder paired with an electric motor provides a combined output of 121 hp, while a CVT transmission regulates and directs it to the front wheels.
Starting things off, the LE rides on 15-inch alloys wheels and is equipped with auto-off quad-LED headlights, along with LED daytime running lights. Inside, it is dressed in cloth upholstery and presents those in the front seats with manually-adjustable heated seats. Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 comes standard, along with a multi-information display. The infotainment comprises a seven-inch screen, six speakers, full smartphone integration, and SiriusXM.
The XLE makes modest upgrades by adding eight-way power functionality to the driver's seat, and replacing the standard cloth with SofTex leatherette. The driver-side keyless entry is extended to all doors, and a wireless phone charger supplements the larger 11.6-inch touchscreen. Android Auto is removed from the features list, sadly.
The most bang for your buck comes in the form of the Limited, which receives LED fog lights and rain-sensing wipers. But the big changes are inside, where the infotainment is upgraded with a premium ten-speaker JBL sound system. Other minor but appreciated upgrades include a heated steering wheel and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. New driver-assistance features are added, too - blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and parking assist.
Customizing your Prius is largely limited to the paint you coat it in, since no comprehensive package upgrades are offered. If you want to make extensive changes, you are forced to choose a different trim altogether. Still, we cannot say that there are literally no add-ons, as a number of standalone accessories can be optioned. These include the ten-spoke alloy wheels ($899), although they are no larger than the basic 15-inch rims. The floor liners can be upgraded to all-weather variants for $169, or $259 if you want to include the floor of the trunk. A frameless HomeLink mirror can be installed for $175 on trims that do not already have it, and universal tablet holders can be added to the back of the front seats for $99 in lieu of an actual rear-seat entertainment system.
There are not a lot of differences between the three models on offer, since they all receive the same powertrain and boast the same performance and mileage figures. So it really comes down to which features you can and cannot live without. If you want to keep the cost of your Toyota Prius Prime down, then sticking with the LE is definitely best. You still get the complete Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 safety system, as well as several desirable comfort features like heated front seats and a great infotainment system. But if your purse strings are not too tight, we recommend you take a good hard look at the Limited, which sits at the other end of the range. With a price of $34,000, it might intimidate some, but it certainly warrants the increase since it gets the fully upgraded infotainment suite, with a larger touchscreen and ten-speaker sound system, but it also gets some safety features that cannot be had on any other trim, including blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
Naturally, there are differences between the Prius and the Prime, but they are not as many as one might expect. What really sets them apart is their powertrains. Both are hybrids, but where the Prius relies purely on regenerative braking, the Prime can supplement this with plug-in recharging so that it can spend even more time in EV mode, without drawing power from the gasoline engine at all. So while the two cars share almost identical fuel economy figures, the Prime will save you more in the long run, since it can return 133 MPGe and can travel up to 25 miles on electrons alone. Of course, this comes at a cost. The standard Prius is quite a bit cheaper, starting at just $24,525, and it offers more cargo capacity since it does not have to accommodate all the extra electrical components - 27.4 cubic feet versus the 19.8 on the Prime. But, since both vehicles are aimed at buyers looking for the best deal, we still recommend spending a little more initially on the Prime, as it will save you more over years of ownership.
One of the Toyota's chief competitors, the Clarity Plug-in Hybrid bears many similarities to the Prius Prime, including a polarizing exterior aesthetic. However, under the hood, the two are quite dissimilar. The Clarity has access to a lot more power from its 1.5L engine and electric motor, which together develop 212 horsepower as opposed to the 121 hp from the Prius' powertrain. But while it may be a little more fun to drive, the Honda does not cut the mustard in terms of fuel economy, maxing out at 42 mpg combined or 110 MPGe against the Toyota's 54 mpg combined and 133 MPGe. So, despite having a better electric-only range of 47 miles, the Clarity PHEV will still cost you more if you ever engage the combustion engine. And, since Toyota has given the Prime some much-needed updates like Android Auto and more standard safety tech, it is still the winner in terms of sheer value for money.