by Gabe Beita Kiser
There was a time when the Prius name was the only name synonymous with hybrid cars; but things have changed, and nearly every car manufacturer has joined the hybrid bandwagon, forcing Toyota to up their game with their aging Prius line-up. Still, the Prius Prime remains a noteworthy contender in the mid-size plug-in hybrid sedan segment. Differing from the regular Prius, the Prius Prime offers contemporary styling, an additional seat for a fifth passenger, and the installation of Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa as standard, along with the ability to plug-in and run on electricity alone for 25 miles. Rivals such as the Hyundai Ioniq, Honda Clarity, and Kia Optima offer a considerable array of advantages over the Prius Prime, most notably in terms of updated infotainment systems and better quality interiors. However, the familiar 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine paired to an electric motor on the Prius Prime is nigh unbeatable in terms of fuel efficiency. Gas mileage rates when the engine kicks in are outstanding and remain the biggest drawcard to the Prime. Since its debut in 1997, the Prius Prime - although having to fight hard to stay abreast of technological and aesthetic advances - retains its worthy title as a superb hybrid mid-size sedan.
Originally introduced in 2016, the 2020 Prius Prime is given a fifth seat to accommodate more passengers, as well as black accents to replace the cheap-looking white accents from the previous model. Toyota has also added a new sun visor extender, two USB ports for rear passengers, and relocated the seat heating buttons which were hard to reach on previous derivatives. Trim names have also been changed from Plus, Premium, and Advanced, to LE, XLE, and Limited - keeping things in line with the rest of the Toyota range. Additionally, Apple CarPlay and Android Alexa compatibility have been included in the infotainment system for 2020, but there's still no sign of Android Auto.
While the world, and even Toyota with the Corolla Hybrid, moves the hybrid game along with stylish electric offerings, the Prius Prime sticks with the styling that not even a mother could love. The front has a unique and aggressive look straight out of a Japanese anime thanks to the upswept LED headlights and molded blacked-out front bumper. The roof slopes towards the back where it meets a carbon-fiber-reinforced rear hatch; the overall body is designed to aid aerodynamics and thus optimize fuel efficiency. All models boast LED daytime running lights, active grille shutters, and aerodynamically designed 15-inch alloy wheels, with nothing physically differentiating the three derivatives.
The Prius Prime is located in the midsize sedan category and has been given an added fifth seat for this year model. At a curb weight of 3,365-3,375 pounds, the Prius Prime is substantially lighter than the Honda Clarity, which weighs in at 4,052 lbs. The Prius Prime has an overall length of 182.9 inches and sits on a wheelbase of 106.3 inches, which is a good ten inches shorter than the Honda Clarity. Similarly, a width of 69.3 inches is just shy of the 73.9 inches offered on the Honda rival, while the Prius Prime stands 57.9 inches tall (only 0.3 inches less than the Honda). The Prius Prime's dimensions are much closer to that of the Kia Optima Plug-In Hybrid, although in both comparisons, offers a shorter wheelbase and overall length.
The Prius Prime is available in seven colors, which include Blue Magnetism, Hypersonic Red, Magnetic Gray Metallic, Classic Silver Metallic, Titanium Glow, Blizzard Pearl, and Midnight Black Metallic. Hypersonic Red and Blizzard Pearl are exclusive paint options and cost an extra $395; the remaining options are included in the overall cost of the vehicle and are available on all trims. The colors are all carried over from the 2019 model and nothing new, or particularly spectacular, has been added to this year's line-up.
All the models in the Prius Prime range are front-wheel drive and are equipped the same 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine connected to a CVT transmission as well as an electric motor, which makes a combined output of 121 horsepower. The engine alone produces 95 horsepower and 105 lb-ft of torque, supplemented by an on-board battery with an 8.8 kWh capacity.
Although nobody would buy a Prius for performance, one would expect a little enthusiasm from the engine. While most electric and hybrid vehicles have an initial surge of torque, the Prius Prime is more subdued, showing very little impetus to get anywhere in a rush. What it does do, however, is accelerate smoothly, and the switch between the engine and electric motor feels seamless and is barely noticeable. When in use, the CVT transmission does a great job of silently going about its business, without drawing too much attention to itself. The 0 to 60 time is poor, recorded at 11 seconds, and with an estimated top speed of 112 miles per hour, the purpose of the vehicle is underscored: efficiency over performance.
On the other hand, the benefits of the Prius Prime's miserly performance remain noteworthy, with fantastic fuel efficiency and a significant range of 25-miles on electric charge alone.
With only 121 horsepower from both the engine and electric motors combined, the Prius Prime isn't going to win any races. However, that doesn't mean that it's not a capable vehicle. Acceleration is smooth, albeit stately, and produces a steady increase in power over time. Unlike many other CVTs, the transmission in the Prius Prime isn't intrusive and is barely felt at all - much to its credit.
While the Prius Prime has a lot going for it, performance is distinctly average and puts it at a disadvantage to rivals like the Honda Clarity, which offers a combined 212 horsepower. Similarly, the Kia Optima PHEV makes 202 horsepower, both of which notably outshine the engine capabilities of the Prius Prime. The Prius Prime functions at its best in city driving conditions and for the daily grind when needing to maximize fuel-efficiency for numerous short trips. Compared to alternatives in this segment, it's worth getting the Prius Prime for quick, short-distance drives to and from the office, school or the store; if you can keep your travel-plans under 25 miles, you won't even need a drop of gas and can simply recharge the battery between trips. For longer journeys or more enthusiastic driving, one of the main rivals would offer a faster, more satisfying experience overall.
The Prius Prime feels very much like the regular Prius when on the road, but it also has some unique characteristics. The impressive EV mode uses only the electric motor, which reduces performance substantially but allows you to drive without needing to fuel up. Obviously, this is very budget-friendly but really dulls the drive down to feeling much like a glorified golf cart. The available EV Auto mode selects the most efficient manner of driving, and can turn on the engine to give more power when needed - this is a slight improvement in the general driving feel.
The steering is quite light, which is excellent for tight spaces and urban roads. Sadly, it's also a bit numb and leaves a lot to be desired in terms of road feedback. Lots of tire and wind noise are relayed into the cabin, especially at higher speeds. While the ride quality in this model is far better than many of the previous Prius models, it is still quite bland in terms of driver engagement. Still, it is stable and composed and will do just fine for the everyday commuter. It's a pity Toyota didn't add just a little more oomph to a pretty standard package to effectively bring it up to par with main rivals.
The main reason for getting a Prius Prime is for its class-leading fuel economy statistics - this is where the Prius Prime excels. All trims achieve EPA estimates of 55/53/54 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles, and an average range of 615 miles on its 11.4-gallon tank can be attained. In EV-only mode, the range is 25 miles per charge, which is still quite good considering the small battery installed. When both gas and electric motors are combined, the Prius Prime gets an MPGe estimate of 133, which notably beats out the 103 on the Optima and 114 on the Honda Clarity. You would be hard-pressed to find a vehicle that beats these figures, and explains why the Prius Prime remains a popular choice in this segment.
At first glance, the interior looks a bit like a Tesla, especially with the white trim and the impressive 11.6-inch infotainment unit, which is the largest ever used in a Toyota. The similarities end there because, on closer inspection, the Prius Prime interior isn't even in the same league. Foregoing the commonplace chrome or aluminum trim of rivals, lots of gloss black plastic or white plastic alternatives is used throughout the cabin. The entry-level LE model has a seven-inch touchscreen while the XLE and Limited variants both get the huge 11.6-inch screen. Seating now caters to five occupants compared to last year's four, and interior space is decent, with ample room for adults front and rear.
Thankfully, for the 2020 version, Toyota has removed the center armrest and storage compartment from the rear seat and opened up space for a fifth passenger, adding to its practical appeal. Otherwise, the Prius Prime features in the midsize hybrid sedan territory with front headroom of 39.4 inches and legroom of 43.2 inches, which is quite standard for this category. While the Kia Optima offers a little more legroom upfront, the Prius Prime does seat six-footers a little more easily than the Honda Clarity. Broad-shouldered drivers may find it a bit tight though, with only 54.2-inches of shoulder room available. In the rear, there are 37.2 inches of headroom and 33.4 inches of legroom available, which is less than what both main rivals have to offer but still caters to adults quite comfortably. Only six-footers may complain, with the sloping roofline hampering ingress and egress.
Plug-in hybrids are known for their eco-friendly materials and futuristic designs, but the Prius Prime doesn't stray too far from contemporary norms in terms of materials finishes. Upholstery on the base LE is in fabric, with the color choice between Black and Moonstone. Stepping up to the XLE or Limited trims sees the seating surfaces upholstered in SofTex simulated leather, again in either Black or Moonstone. The rest of the interior gets the typical combination of hard and soft-touch materials in black and gray, with faux aluminum highlights surrounding the air vents and infotainment.
Most electric cars and hybrids suffer in the cargo space category because of the location of their batteries and electrical equipment, and the Prius Prime is no different. Although fitted with a larger battery pack than the Prius, the Prius Prime has rear trunk space of 19.8 cubic feet with the rear seats up, which is substantially less than that of the regular Prius, which has 24.6 cubic feet. Despite this, the Prius Prime still has more trunk space than both the Kia and Honda rivals by virtue of the liftback styling. Thankfully, the rear seats do fold down in 60/40-split to increase cargo space even more, making this a relatively versatile vehicle.
The Prius Prime also has a glove box, front and rear door pockets, front and rear cupholders, and rear console storage in the armrest. Seatback pockets are also present additional functionality.
The Prius Prime has quite an extensive list of standard features, increasing with each trim level as well. All models are equipped with a rearview camera, keyless entry, push-button start, LED headlights, and heated front seats. Included driver aids are also numerous, with adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, automatic high beams, lane-keeping assist, lane departure warning, and lane-keeping assist forming the list of safety features. The XLE model additionally gets an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat, wireless phone charging capabilities, and the upgraded synthetic leather upholstery. The Limited model features blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, a semi-automated parking function, a heated steering wheel, heads-up display, smartphone app with charging management, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
The entry-level LE model is equipped with a seven-inch touchscreen with integrated navigation and Toyota's Entune app. It also has AM/FM Radio, Bluetooth connectivity, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, six speakers, USB, and AUX input ports, and SiriusXM satellite radio with a complimentary three-month subscription. New for this year, the Prius Prime also includes two additional USB ports in the rear seat. The XLE gets upgraded to an 11.6-inch touchscreen, the biggest screen in a Toyota to date. The fully loaded Limited trim additionally has a JBL premium audio system with ten speakers, including a subwoofer. For the 2020 model, Apple CarPlay, and Amazon Alexa compatibility have also been added, however, Toyota still doesn't offer compatibility for Android users.
Both the 2018 and 2019 versions of the Prius Prime have had complaints about repetitive windscreen cracks, but no mechanical issues have been reported. There have been no recalls for this year model, but the 2019 model did suffer one recall for the loss of stability control functionality.
The Prius Prime has a basic three-year/36,000-mile warranty and a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty. Additionally, the hybrid electrical components are also covered by an eight-year/100,00-mile warranty and a corrosion and perforation warranty of five-years or unlimited miles. A three-year/unlimited mile roadside assistance plan is also included at purchase. Although these are substantial warranties, both Hyundai and Kia rivals offer slightly better coverage.
Although not all of the Prius Prime models from 2017 upwards have been tested by the NHTSA, the IIHS scores the Prius Prime at the best possible rating of Good in most areas for earlier year models; only passenger-side overlap and headlights were rated average. The Prius Prime was also recognized as a Top Safety Pick for 2019 in the small car/four-door hatchback segment, by the IIHS.
There are sufficient safety features onboard the Prius Prime to compete with most midsize sedans on the market. The entry-level LE model comes standard with four-wheel ABS brakes, LATCH child seat anchors, emergency braking assist, stability control, dual front side-mounted airbags, front and rear head airbags, driver's knee airbag, tire pressure monitoring, lane departure warning, and traction control. Across the range, the Star Safety System and Toyota Safety Sense suite of pre-collision features are included. Towards the top-end of the range, rear-cross traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, and post-collision safety systems are added to the long list of existing features.
Whether the Prius Prime is the right car for you is mainly dependent on the reason for its purchase. In terms of performance and on-road dynamics, the Prius Prime fares rather poorly with its lackluster acceleration and poor handling abilities. On the other hand, the phenomenal gas mileage ratios make the Prime stand out for the eco-conscious and budget-focused buyer, as well as offering a decent-sized trunk in relation to the leading competitors. The addition of Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa integration brings a great deal of value to the package, although the infotainment system's functionality is not as intuitive as what is available on other vehicles. Additionally, the Prius Prime offers a smooth and comfortable ride, mediocre handling, and although it seems to have a rather low-rent interior, is jam-packed with safety features and standard driver aids across the range. With class-leading fuel economy as the main drawcard for the Prius Prime, buyers with this as their priority will be satisfied overall.
The entry-level LE model has a starting MSRP of $27,600, while the mid-range XLE is priced at $29,500. The Limited variant at the top end of the range costs $33,500, with all options coming in below the starting points of the Honda Clarity and the Kia Optima Hybrid. These prices exclude any taxes, licensing, and registration fees, as well as the destination fee of $930. Due to being a plug-in hybrid, the Prius Prime is also eligible for various rebates depending on the location of purchase and operation.
There are three models in the Prius Prime spectrum: LE, XLE, and Limited. They all share the same 1.8-liter engine which is paired to a CVT transmission and electric motor, which make a combined 121 horsepower.
The LE is fitted with 15-inch rims, keyless entry on the driver's door, heated front seats, LED headlights, push-button start, a seven-inch touchscreen with rearview camera, six speakers, Bluetooth connectivity, the Entune app, Apple CarPlay, AUX and USB ports, and SiriusXM satellite radio. It also has automatic high beams, lane-keeping assist, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, and adaptive cruise control.
In the middle of the range, the XLE has all of the features of the LE as well as an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat, a four-way power-adjustable passenger seat, synthetic leather upholstery, wireless phone charging, keyless entry on all doors, and the upgraded 11.6-inch touchscreen.
The fully-loaded Limited trim adds a JBL premium audio system with ten speakers and a subwoofer to the infotainment system. Additionally, a color head-up display, a heated steering wheel, automatic wipers, a smartphone app with remote control climate operation and charge management system, as well as blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are installed.
1.8-liter Inline-4 Plug-in Hybrid
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
1.8-liter Inline-4 Plug-in Hybrid
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
1.8-liter Inline-4 Plug-in Hybrid
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
There are currently no additional packages available for the Prius Prime as the features are built into the available trims.
However, numerous accessories can be added to further customize the Prius Prime, such as 15-inch ten-spoke alloy wheels for $899, an aero side-splitter for $299, alloy wheel locks for $65, and the all-weather floor liners for $169. An additional security system can be purchased for $359, and removable crossbars, priced at $299.
Since all the models in the range use the same powertrain, there isn't any difference in the performance of the Prime. While the entry-level LE model has some excellent features, it lacks significant upgrades that many competitors offer, such as the 11.6-inch touchscreen, synthetic leather interior, and wireless phone charging. The fully-loaded variant, the Prius Prime Limited, is well-equipped and boasts all convenience and comfort features available for the range, as well as additional safety systems such as head-up display, intelligent parking assist, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert. The premium JBL sound system and the heated steering wheel are worth the additional $3,000 from the mid-point of the range. If you are investing in a vehicle to face the daily-grind with, the bare minimum is the XLE, which is equipped with most of the necessary features, while being affordable. For the most part, we recommend dishing out the extra for the top-end Limited model with its upgraded safety features.
The Toyota Prius Prime and the Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid are direct competitors and share the same semi-futuristic look that is often either loved or hated. The Toyota has a 1.8-liter engine with a CVT transmission and an electric motor which makes a combined 121 horsepower. The Honda, on the other hand, has a 1.5-liter engine with a CVT transmission and electric motor but produces a more impressive 212 horsepower. However, when it comes to fuel economy, the Honda only has an MPGe of 114, while the Toyota gets 133. On a single-charge, battery-only ride, the Honda can manage 47 miles compared to the Toyota's 25 miles. When utilizing both gas and electric power, the Prius Prime comes in at the top of the class: 55/53/54 mpg in city/highway/combined cycles, which is substantially more impressive than the base Honda Clarity and Kia Optima. One drawback on the Prius is the glaring omission of Android Auto capabilities, which the Honda is equipped with. Although very similar, the Prius Prime comes out on top in terms of value for money, while the Honda is the better choice for a well-appointed cabin with better smartphone integration options.
The Kia Optima Plug-In Hybrid is another worthy competitor to the Prius Prime, and just like the Clarity delivers more power than the Prius, by producing 212 horsepower from its 2.0 liter, four-cylinder engine; it operates with a six-speed automatic transmission and offers a significantly more luxurious ride than the Prius Prime. On one plug-in charge, the Kia also manages a slightly longer range at 33 miles, compared to the Toyota's 25-mile capability before needing to refuel or switch to gas power. The Optima, like the Clarity, has a long way to go to beat the excellent fuel efficiency of the Prius Prime when using the engine at full capacity. Also, Android Auto compatible, the Kia offers a better smartphone integrated-infotainment system, as well as better warranties. In terms of trunk and cargo space, the Prius overshadows the measly 9.9 cubic feet of the Optima by almost ten cu-ft. In this comparison, Toyota comes out as the winner - but only by a hair.