Car review: Plug in a Prius Prime and save money!

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Car review: Plug in a Prius Prime and save money!
Image Credit: Troy Stains
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When I reviewed the new for 2016 Toyota Prius, I was impressed enough with the redesigned model enough to call it “the best all-around conventionally fueled vehicle ever offered for sale in the U.S.”

Well, Toyota’s raised the bar with the 2017 Prius Prime by adding a substantial battery and a plug. And, this plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) continues to impress me in all the ways that the 2016 model did.

This new model is very different from the previous generation’s plug-in that was only sold in certain markets. That model’s paltry 9-13 mile EV range, high price and gutless performance were enough of a detriment that sales never amounted to much.

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Disclaimer

The good folks at Toyota knew that I was eager to drive the Prius Prime and were kind enough to provide me the only example currently east of the Mississippi. What was even better, it wasn’t the top of the line, loaded car generally put into press fleets, but rather a base model that I tend to favor. Other than this courtesy, I received no compensation.

The specifications

The Prius soldiers on as the world’s most successful hybrid with its class-leading fuel economy. Where the Prius Prime differs is the addition of an 8.8 kWh lithium ion battery pack that gives this Prius with a plug an estimated 25 miles of all-electric range.

What does that mean? It means that the Prius Prime is rated at 133 MPGe in EV mode. When the EV battery is expended, the car becomes a Prius hybrid and offers EPA estimated fuel economy of 55 City/ 53 Highway and 54 Combined. That translates to an EPA estimated range of 640 miles when the 25-mile EV range is combined with a full 11.3-gallon gas tank.

What’s better in the Prime?

There are a number of ways that this plug-in feature makes an already great car better.

The fact that 25 miles of the average American’s 35-mile commute can be done without burning a single drop of gasoline is really a significant money-saver even with low gasoline prices.

Next, the battery is small enough that it can be easily charged overnight using a standard 110-volt outlet meaning there really isn’t a need for installing a 240-volt charging station at home. A built in timer allows the car to take advantage of postponing charging until rates are lower (i.e. after midnight). If a 240-volt charging station is available, a sub two hour recharge time makes keeping the battery topped off a fairly simple affair. For people with longer commutes and charging available at work, it’s easy to have up to 50 miles of EV mileage a day.

Probably the single most important feature is that the Prius Prime is eligible for a $4,500 federal tax credit. With the Prius Prime Plus starting price of $27,100, subtracting that tax credit brings the base price to $22,600. Some states offer tax credits as well making the car even more of a bargain. The standard Prius Two that doesn’t have a plug or any real EV range to speak of starts at $24,685. So, for over $2,000 fewer dollars (before any state credits, if available), you can buy a Prius that has cutting edge plug-in hybrid technology, saves gasoline, saves money and pollutes less.

What’s not as good as the garden variety Prius?

That depends on how you use your car. The Prius Prime has four bucket seats because of the need for battery space. So, if you need seating for five, the Prime probably won’t do. Also, due to the weight of the EV battery, mileage when in hybrid mode is down a few miles per gallon over the standard Prius.

Another area where the Prime suffers in regards to the standard Prius is in carrying capacity. Again, because of the bigger battery, the floor of the cargo area is several inches higher than the standard Prius. If you find space to be at a premium with the standard Prius, you’ll feel even more of a pinch with the Prime. But that doesn’t mean that there’s not a lot of space in the Prime. The seats fold down to create a fairly large cargo area so carrying a bicycle or going on a shopping binge at Costco is still a possibility.

Middle ground – What doesn’t really matter

Another area where the Prime differs from the regular Prius is styling. When the Prius was redesigned, it debuted very controversial styling. People tend to love it or hate it. The same holds true for the Prime. Though both the front and rear styling are clearly different than the regular Prius, it’s still likely a love-it-or-hate-it proposition. That being said, Prius buyers tend to care more about efficiency than styling so looks fall somewhere below secondary to price and efficiency.

Pricing

The Prius Prime is offered in three model grades. The $27,100 Prius Prime Plus that I tested, the Prius Prime Premium at $28,800 and the Prius Prime Advanced at $33,100. All models of the Prime are eligible for the $4,500 federal tax credit.

The competition

There are several other cars available today that could be considered competition. The Chevrolet Volt comes to mind. While the Volt handily beats the Prius Prime’s 25 miles of EV range with an EPA estimated 53 miles, the 42 MPG estimate after the EV battery is expended is significantly lower than that of the Prius. The Volt has a starting price of $33,220 and, due to the size of its battery, is eligible for a $7,500 tax credit. Driving habits and distances are key to deciding which car works better for individual drivers.

Other plug-in hybrids to consider are the Fusion Energi and C-Max Energi from Ford. Though these models offer around 20 miles of EV range, their fuel mileage after EV mode is fairly respectable. In certain markets, Hyundai offers the Sonata as a PHEV and Kia offers a PHEV version of the Optima. This is a market that’s expanding rapidly and new models are coming to the market frequently.

Conclusion

The Prius is great choice and a plug-in option makes it an even better car. Combine that with an available tax credit that drops the base price of the Prius Prime below that of the regular Prius hybrid and you end up with a super high mileage PHEV that promises to offer the lowest entry price in the PHEV market. Those qualities, by anyone’s standards, makes the Prius Prime worthy of consideration.

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David Lardner About the author:
David Lardner is a volunteer at Team Clark Howard's Consumer Action Center. He is also an active board member of the Greater Atlanta Automotive Media Association.
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