I doubt that too many people out there will respond "attractive" when asked to describe the 2018 Prius Prime. Because, well, it isn’t. But nor is it ugly. It’s just… different, maybe a bit strange-looking. In any case, for many people the appearance of a car is not the first thing they’ll put on their list of priorities when shopping for a car. And that’s a good thing for the Prime, because it has other arguments in its favour.
The Prius Prime is part of the Prius family, which has been among us for more than 15 years now. Like the manufacturer’s other vehicles, the Prius earned a solid reputation on the market by enabling consumers at the time to benefit from a very fuel-efficient car. Today, however, products put forth by other automakers match up very well against the Prius, once virtually alone in its segment.
When Toyota decided it wanted a presence in the plug-in hybrid category, the Prime was born. Today’s generation of the model offers drivers a 100% electric range of about 50 km, in perfect conditions of course. That’s not an overly impressive number given that there are others able to match that, but for the price of the model, it’s still pretty good.
Fuel consumption really is the principal selling point of the Prius Prime. It easily stays under 5.0L/100 km using a 4-cylinder synergetic hybrid system wedded to a CVT transmission. The base model (starting MSRP: $35,234) comes with the Toyota Safety Sense suite of safety/drive assist technologies, a 7-inch touchscreen for the audio system, heated steering wheel, LED front and rear lights and daytime running lights, and advanced instrument cluster with a 4-2-inch colour display and ECO drive monitor.
The Prius Prime Upgrade package (the version I tested) is available starting at $37,689 and brings with it an 11.6-inch HD screen, which I found a bit difficult to master. It was frankly a slog to navigate the screen’s menu, the buttons seemingly scattered about too much. Toyota will really need to improve the ergonomics and presentation of its menus. The Upgrade package also adds a 6-speaker audio system and the Smart Key system with push-button start (if you ask me this should be a standard feature across the range). The Softex seats were for their part very comfortable. And the Qi wireless smartphone charging system is pretty much a must-have.
The interior of the upgrade-bedecked Prime is pretty, even if the car can only accommodate 4 occupants. Space is sufficient for all four, however. And the trunk is fairly big, a far cry from what we get for example in the Ford Fusion Energi, another plug-in hybrid.
There is also an extension of the Upgrade Package. Adding the Technology Package to it will bring the price up to $40,814. My tester for the week had this package, and it added a 10-speaker JBL audio system, luggage cover, intelligent parking aid system, head-up display, anti-fog lights and blind spot monitor with rear transversal traffic alert.
The drive itself is very pleasant aboard the Prime. I really appreciated the power and responsiveness of the engine, the transmission is able and competent – no complaints there. Comfort level when on the road is impressive, and the hybrid engine is unsurprisingly super quiet.
This is no performance car, to be sure, but consumers looking at this model surely know that going in. Its acceleration is decent, but other models in its segment outperform it in this a a number of regards. But the Prime’s big pitch revolves not around performance but around fuel economy and the incredible reliability of Toyotas in general. Those are two pretty convincing arguments for those in the market for a hybrid-powered car.