by Jay Traugott
For fans of both hybrid vehicles as well as the Prius range as a whole, the Prius Prime offers an excellent hatchback vehicle with electric, as well as gas-hybrid, propulsion options. With superior reliability ratings and high-safety scores, the Prius Prime remains a popular vehicle in the competitive hatchback segment. Up against big names such as the Hyundai Ioniq, Chevrolet Bolt EV and Honda Clarity, the Prius ranks in the middle of the scoreboard for the most part. Although it offers gas mileage that is higher than most competitors, it suffers from the same lackluster acceleration and drab driving style as both its bigger and smaller siblings, the standard Prius and Prius c respectively, although having the benefit of 25 miles range on battery power alone, much fresher and more contemporary looks, and a lovely cabin with large-screen infotainment system. The rear seat can accommodate only two passengers, however, and with limited legroom (and an oddly spaced cargo area), the Prius Prime is a hybrid to consider only if you are a loyalist, or a city-dweller seeking a reliable runner for the daily commute.
First released in 2017, the Prius Prime remains unchanged for this year model, but thankfully maintains the fresh and attractive look it was introduced to the world with, as well as modern features that are still relevant today.
See trim levels and configurations:
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)
By far the best looking Prius in the range, the Prime offers an atypical look with LED daytime running lights, LED headlamps and a patterned acrylic grille overlay. The distinctive look is rounded off with 15-inch wheels with two-tone covers, and folding exterior mirrors. On the base and mid-range models, there are quad-LED projector headlamps, while the Advanced model at the top-end of the range adds integrated LED fog lamps and accent lights. A dual-wave rear glass design and carbon-fiber reinforced-polymer rear hatch contribute to the distinctive design.
As a compact car in the hatchback segment, the Prius Prime has dimensions comparable to most rivals. It stands at 57.9 inches in height, 69.3 inches in width and had a total length of 182.9 inches - although longer than the Chevrolet Bolt, all other dimensions are just below the class average. A106.3-inch wheelbase accounts for some generous interior room, and at a curb weight of 3,365 lbs for the entry-level model, is much lighter overall than main competitors. The top-end model weighs only 10 lbs more. Hugging the road, the Prius Prime's ground clearance, at 4.8 inches is a little less than the standard Prius.
All six colors are available at no extra cost, with a list comprising Blue Magnetism, Magnetic Gray Metallic, Classic Silver Metallic, Titanium Glow, Blizzard Pearl, and the flashy Hypersonic Red. The palette is not particularly extensive and is mostly comprised of varieties of gray and white, with only blue and red making a welcome appearance. It's one of those two you should opt for, as the others are just too drab.
The Prius Prime is powered by a combination of a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with hybrid systems in the form of two electric motors and a lithium-ion battery. In total, this creates 121 horsepower that is fed through to the front wheels with the aim of providing an efficient, capable, yet simplistic drive. The Prius Prime achieves this goal quite well, but the drawback is less than impressive acceleration and a powertrain that will make overtaking and merging into freeway traffic an ambitious task. With more than enough pizazz for city driving, the Prius Prime does well once up to speed but getting there is a bit of a challenge. 0-60 mph can be achieved in ten seconds, which is slow for the hatchback segment - even with smaller engines, most rivals provide much more horsepower and a lot more satisfaction in terms of flooring the gas pedal. In an attempt to mitigate the mundane acceleration, the Prius Prime offers three driving modes, namely Power, Normal, and Eco, with each focused on conserving fuel over providing performance. To the Prius Prime's credit, switching between gas and electric power is seamless. The battery can be charged in about five and a half hours through a normal household power outlet, or in a little over two hours at a 240V outlet.
The distinguishing factor in the Prius Prime's makeup is the combination of gas and electric power: as a plug-in hybrid, the Prius Prime offers a chargeable battery that can power the vehicle for up to 25 miles without needing gas; it is also equipped with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder gas engine paired to two electric motors that provide hybrid propulsion. The powertrain is mated to a continuously variable transmission that, although silky and intuitive, does little to assist with throttle responses, which are bland at the best of times.
With a total combined output of 121 hp and 105 lb-ft of torque, the Prius Prime is not particularly quick off the mark but it cruises competently once up to speed. Highway driving is smooth and relaxed but pulling out to pass will take quite a bit of planning as there is just not enough power to really overtake at speed. In truth, the Prius Prime is ideally suited to city driving or back-and-forth trips to work or school. Popping out to the store or to drop the kids at a football match is what this vehicle is designed for, and if the trip is under 25 miles, you may not even need to pass by the gas station for some time.
With the inclusion of the plug-in battery's weight, the balance of the Prius Prime feels quite different to other hatchbacks on the road; there is a sense of heaviness to the vehicle, which isn't improved by lack of power going uphill. The engine also protests vehemently when pressed too hard, although the EV drive is superbly quiet by contrast. Wind and road noise makes its way into the cabin as well, especially when the whispering EV mode is engaged.
A gentle, relaxed, and arguably lethargic ride, the Prius Prime has a rather average steering feel; the car follows directions but doesn't connect the driver to the road or provide good feedback. It has good composure, though, taking turns and bends with a small amount of body roll. The suspension is adequate, absorbing small bumps without a hitch, whereas larger or more erratic jolts are fed through to the cabin. Winding roads, in particular, are not the best arena for the Prius Prime and with less competent handling abilities than many of its main rivals, the Prime is rather bland, to say the least. Braking composure is sufficient, although emergency brake test results showed a lot of careening side-to-side when hard-pressed. The Prius Prime manages open roads just fine, but stop-and-go traffic is where it is more at home.
With stellar fuel economy rates, the Prius Prime offers two options in terms of fuel: both a plug-in option and a gas/electric engine are present. As a plug-in hybrid, the Prime builds up battery power and can subsequently drive 25 miles without needing to recharge. Charging the Prius Prime on a standard 120V outlet requires five and a half hours to get the battery to capacity. On a 240V outlet, this time is reduced to only two hours and ten minutes.
Without a full battery, the Prime switches to gas power, which provides phenomenal ratings as a hybrid powertrain: 55/53/54 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles. This translates to a real-world range of 640 miles to each tank of gas. These are class-leading figures that better both the Honda Clarity and the Hyundai Ioniq Plug-In, and is generally the reason why this vehicle remains so popular.
With the unique center-mounted instrument cluster, the interior of the Prius Prime looks futuristic and quite modern; featuring good quality materials throughout, the base model is equipped with fabric seats which are upgraded to synthetic leather on the middle and top-end trims. The front of the cabin is both spacious and comfortable, while the rear offers only space for two shorter occupants. There is not much head or legroom in the back seat, and although able to connect two car seats via LATCH tethers, it is quite cramped. Infotainment offerings are adequate on the base model, with the two top trims boasting 11.6 inches of high-resolution display graphics. With excellent visibility and supportive seating, the Prius Prime offers an above-average interior overall.
Most rivals in this segment have seating space for at least five passengers - the Prius Prime can only fit four, thanks to a larger battery pack required for the excellent fuel economy ratings. Both front seats are comfortable and more spacious than most rivals. Although the base model is outfitted in fabric upholstery, the front seats are heated even on the entry-level model. Leatherette seating is included in the midrange Premium trim and the top-end Advanced, both with heated front seats and eight-way adjustment for the driver; the front passenger can adjust their seat four ways in all models. The back seat is not unpleasant to sit in, although all other rivals provide more legroom and shoulder room than the Prius Prime (while most competitors have a third, middle seat available too). Six-foot passengers will probably not be too comfy in the back seat, although taller occupants in the front will have no problems with space.
Fabric seats on the entry-level Prius Plus are available in either Black or Moonstone cloth upholstery. On the Premium and Advanced trim, the same color schemes are equipped in SofTex imitation leather. The steering wheel is leatherette-trimmed across the range, and armrests are soft-touch with high-end materials used throughout the cabin.
With 19.8 cubic feet of cargo space, the Prius Prime offers a little more than main rivals do: both the Chevrolet Bolt and the Honda Clarity provide much less room in the trunk, but the Hyundai Ioniq does better at 26.5 cubic feet. Still, the floor is raised due to the additional battery pack needed to power the EV, and thus the available space is not the most efficiently allocated. The rear seats do fold down in a 60/40 split, making it easier to negotiate cargo items into the trunk, but a higher liftover can be a bit of a frustration for shorter people.
Faring much better in terms of small-item storage, the Prius Prime boasts ample nooks and crannies for bits and pieces around the interior. The center console is large and deep, able to hold a purse, notebook or tablet with ease. There are door pockets with water bottle holders and seatback pockets from the base model upwards. AQi-compatiblee wireless charging tray is also available, and even when not equipped with charging functionality, it makes a great small-item tray.
The Prius Prime range is exceptionally well-specced from even the base trim, with such features as a foot pedal parking brake, remote air conditioning, integrated backup camera, hill start assist, and vehicle proximity notification systems. All windows are power-operated, and two 12V power outlets are installed in the front and rear respectively. The back seat folds down in a 60/40 split, and center armrests are placed between the two front seats, and where the rear middle seat should be - both include cup holders. Standard safety features for all three trim levels include the Toyota Safety Sense package as well as the Star Safety suite. The entry-level model has keyless entry on the driver's side door with push-button start, which upgrades to three-doors on the upper two trim levels. Heated, leatherette seats are added to the upper trim levels, as well as remote entry, auto-dimming rearview mirror and a heavy sliding cargo cover on the Advanced variant. A head-up display is available only on the Advanced trim.
Infotainment offerings on the Prius Prime are relatively good in comparison to what is available on other vehicles in this segment (although the premium 11.6-inch tablet-like screen on the top trims can be a little clumsy to reach over to). All models have a digital instrument cluster situated uncharacteristically in the center of the dashboard where fuel information, hybrid systems, and driving mode are displayed. One USB port is available, and on the Prius Prime Plus, the infotainment system is characterized by a seven-inch high-resolution touchscreen display that offers split-screen functionality, HD radio, CD and Bluetooth streaming, as well as six speakers. Advanced voice recognition, Siri Eyes Free and predictive traffic with weather overlay are included throughout the range. On the mid-level Premium trim, the standard system is upgraded to a bigger 11.6-inch touchscreen. The fully-loaded Advanced trim adds a premium ten-speaker JBL system featuring subwoofer and amplifier, and provides the Prius Prime App as well - this allows the driver to track charging stations on a map, provides charge management scales and a vehicle finder facility.
There are no recalls logged for the Prius Prime, and it earns a near-perfect rating on the J.D. Power Predicted Reliability scale: four-and-a-half out of a possible ranking of five translates to better than most and among the best. Backed up by a three-year/36,000 mile full warranty, five-year/60,000 mile powertrain warranty and a five-year/60,000 mile corrosion warranty, the manufacturer underscores their confidence in this vehicle. Additionally, a three-year/unlimited mile roadside assistance plan is included.
While the NHTSA has not yet released safety ratings for the Prius Prime, the IIHS named it the Top Safety Pick for 2019 in the small car/four-door hatchback segment. Achieving safety scores of good for overall crashworthiness as well as ease of use for LATCH child car seat restraints, the IIHS also rated the Prime's crash avoidance systems as superior.
In addition to a complete set of eight airbags including a driver knee airbag, and LATCH child car seat tethers, the Prius Prime is equipped from the base model with an integrated backup camera, vehicle proximity notification systems, and hill start assist. The Toyota Safety Sense Package (inclusive of features such as pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, and full-speed range dynamic radar cruise control) is equipped across the range, as is enhanced vehicle stability, traction control, ABS and EBD as well as brake assist. At the top-end of the range, the Advanced trim level also adds a color head-up display, intelligent clearance sonar with parking assist, blind-spot monitor, and rear cross-traffic alert.
With near-perfect reliability ratings, superior fuel economy statistics and a generally alright engine, the Prius Prime is a good vehicle to purchase if you are looking for a hatchback with a preference for town driving. The added bonus of tax incentives for choosing an electric vehicle makes this an even more attractive option. However, the hatchback segment is very competitive, and with numerous rivals offering better performance, the Prius Prime will only keep you happy if the intended buyer is not after a powerful engine and dynamic driving. While the Prius Prime offers a stodgy, yet committed, powertrain, the benefits of this plug-in hybrid outnumber the negatives. A far greater number of safety features are available as standard on the Prius than what competitors have to offer, and cargo space (although not class-leading) is suitable for the humdrum of daily tasks.
The price of the Prius Prime is lower than almost all competitors, with the exception of the Hyundai Ioniq. With the base model priced at $27,350, the Ioniq comes in at $2,000 cheaper. Still, both the Honda Clarity and Chevrolet Bolt cost between $6,000 and $9,000 more than the Prius Prime does. In the middle of the range, the Prius Prime Premium has an MSRP of $29,050 while the fully-loaded and most expensive version is the Advanced trim, costing $33,350. A destination cost of $930 applies across the range; a variety of rebates are offered for this year model as well, and a range of tax incentives are also available, albeit not at the time of purchase.
The Prius Prime range is comprised of three models: the Prime Plus, Prime Premium, and Prime Advanced, each equipped with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with a hybrid synergy drive and available only in a front-wheel-drive configuration.
The base model Prime Plus is characterized by quad-LED headlamps with auto-off function, 15-inch wheels with two-tone covers, fabric seats with heating in the front, leatherette steering, and a full suite of Toyota Safety Sense features. Smart-flow climate control and integrated backup camera are standard on this variant.
In the middle of the range, the Prime Premium adds leatherette seating (heated in the front) and adjustable eight ways for the driver. The infotainment system is upgraded on this model and replaces the touchscreen with an 11.6-inch split-screen display with high-resolution graphics.
A fully-loaded variant in the form of the Prime Advanced model adds further enhancements by means of integrated LED fog lamps and accent lights, rain-sensing wipers and a premium ten-speaker JBL sound system with subwoofer and amplifier. The Prius Prime App suite is also included in this top-end model, which allows the driver easy access to battery management, a vehicle finder facility and a map indicating charging stations. This model also comes equipped with the Safety Connect package, a color head-up display, clearance sonar, and parking assist, as well as a blind-spot monitor.
No additional packages are available, or necessary, on the Prius Prime range; to the credit of the manufacturer, the Prius Prime range is exceptionally well equipped with safety and convenience features.
Priced at $29,050, the mid-range Prius Prime Premium is well-specced with all the superb safety features from the base model, as well as having the more luxurious leatherette seating which is heated for the driver and front passenger. This trim level also offers a bigger 11.6-inch touchscreen as part of the infotainment system and three-door smart keyless entry. The Qi-compatible wireless charging pad is a nice touch on this model too, and with a $4,300 difference between this model and the fully-loaded variant, this makes the best value-for-money buy from the Prius Prime range.
One of the most respected plug-in hybrid hatchbacks in the segment is the Chevrolet Volt, which - with remarkable fuel ratings such as a combined 106 MPGe/42 mpg gas-only - is one of the vehicles offering the best value for money. Able to travel nearly double the distance on electric power alone, the Chevrolet Volt also offers a more powerful gas engine, better acceleration and handling, and the ability to seat five. The back seat is equally restrictive as in the Prime, however, and has even more dismal cargo space. It offers a much more engaged drive, but is sadly being discontinued after the 2019 year model. For those committed to electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, the Chevrolet Volt is a worthy investment over the Prius Prime, although the price difference is over $8,000.
Honda's contribution to the plug-in segment is the Honda Clarity, a hybrid with a comfortable, well laid out and high-quality cabin. With a much higher rated driving experience than the Prius Prime, the Clarity also offers a stronger engine and more miles of range on the electric engine (47 miles compared to the Prime's 25). When switching to the hybrid gas propulsion however, the 54 combined mpg of the Prius Prime is substantially more than the 42 mpg resulting from the Honda. While both offer rather dull infotainment systems, at least the Honda offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which the Prius doesn't provide for at all. In terms of space in the back seat, the Honda has more legroom, whereas the Toyota boasts better cargo space. At a cheaper price, the Prius Prime is still the better option.
The most popular competitors of 2019 Toyota Prius Prime:
Check out some informative Toyota Prius Prime video reviews below.