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After a lot dialogue, we’ve lastly found out the Toyota Prius Prime’s spirit animal: an anteater. That lengthy snoot, the humped look, and people squinting headlights look prepared for ant-scooping obligation. Or perhaps it’s extra of a platypus. Both means, the purpose is that Toyota’s latest—and for the primary time, stylistically unbiased—plug-in model of the Prius hybrid appears to be like bizarre sufficient to ask such comparisons. Even so, the Prime is prettier than the common Prius, a automobile we’ve described as having been designed “by folks clearly on psychotropic medicine.”

Maybe somebody slipped us the same stimulant earlier than we determined to check not one 2017 Prius Prime, however all three variations of it: the entry-level Plus, the mid-level Premium, and top-of-the-line Superior. All three are separated from the ever-present Prius hybrid by the use of a cost port, the distinctive styling, and a bigger Eight.Eight-kWh lithium-ion battery pack that allows an EPA-rated 25 miles of electric-only driving vary. When the battery’s cost is depleted sufficient—the automobile at all times holds some electrons in reserve—the Prime reverts to a standard hybrid mode (what the tremendous nerdy name “cost sustaining mode”), mixing electrical energy with the bridled fury of a 95-hp 1.Eight-liter Atkinson-cycle inline-four gasoline engine.

Have It Three Methods

The Prime Plus begins at $27,985 and contains niceties akin to LED headlights and taillights, heated door mirrors, automated grille shutters, a 7.Zero-inch touchscreen with navigation, a four.2-inch driver info show, automated local weather management, heated entrance seats, and proximity key with push-button begin. That gear largely makes up for the $3625 value premium over the sparsely geared up base, non-Plussed Prius. Apples-to-apples, the Prime Plus is simply $365 greater than a equally geared up Prius hybrid, which is named the Three in Toyota parlance. This check mannequin rang in at $28,380, because of its $395 Hypersonic Pink paint.

Subsequent up the ladder is the $29,685 Prime Premium, which swaps out the Plus’s 7.Zero-inch infotainment show for an enormous 11.6-inch, vertically oriented show that mimics the built-in pill in Tesla’s Mannequin S and Mannequin X. The one different upgrades are SofTex fake leather-based seat upholstery rather than fabric, proximity-key sensors for the entrance passenger door and the trunk to enhance the Plus’s one within the driver’s door, and an inductive wi-fi phone-charging pad within the middle console.

The highest-spec Superior asks $33,985 and provides a heated steering wheel, a colour head-up show, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, parking sensors, a self-parking system, and distant controls for the HVAC system. The Superior is also the one Prime that features blind-spot monitoring, though adaptive cruise management, forward-collision warning, automated emergency braking, automated high-beams, and lane-departure warning with lane-keeping help are commonplace on all fashions. Subsequent to particular, extra-cost paint colours, no choices are provided on any Prime.

Inside Trying Out

Even with all that, all Prius Prime interiors are roughly the identical. Though the seat coverings differ, every presents the identical rubberized plastic dashboard, soft-touch door panels, and four-seat structure. There’s no center seat within the rear, which means the Prime can carry solely 4 passengers, all of which a minimum of get pleasure from loads of area. The seats are fairly comfy, and sightlines to the entrance and sides are good. Issues get unconventional to the rear, because of the cut up rear window and curved hatchback glass, though the wavy panel has little impact on readability. Peering via the rearview mirror, you may additionally catch a glimpse of the uncovered carbon-fiber weave alongside the sides of the hatch—the entire aperture is fabricated from the high-tech stuff to save lots of weight.

The Plus’s 7.Zero-inch touchscreen is cribbed from mainstream Toyota fashions and works properly, with an easy menu construction and useful hard-button shortcuts to key capabilities, together with audio, navigation, and cellphone, in addition to honest-to-ergonomic quantity and tuning knobs. The 11.6-inch touchscreen on Premium and Superior fashions appears cool at first, with loads of show area and wow issue, however finally fails to make the most of its promise. To start with, Toyota inexplicably utilized the identical half-baked navigation map graphics to this large display screen, which means the aesthetic that feels dated on the 7.Zero-inch display screen is solely magnified. In contrast to the Plus, the Premium and the Superior stuff the local weather controls into the massive display screen, making changes extra of a chore. Moreover, non-navigation capabilities are relegated to small buttons on a smaller part of the display screen’s decrease half, which means many of the further show area is wasted. When the navigation map is about to full-screen mode, the local weather and audio settings are buried within the decrease corners of the display screen. Toyota did match the Prime’s touchscreen with shortcuts within the type of floating on-screen balls that spin round and supply fast entry to effectivity, apps, and navigation-destination menus, however they don’t redeem the setup sufficient to make us forgive the irritating operation of the capacitive-touch up/down temperature and quantity controls. The bottom Plus’s bodily knobs and local weather controls work significantly better.

Prime Mover

Each Prime makes use of a 95-hp 1.Eight-liter four-cylinder and two motor/generator items (MGUs) that mix to supply 121 horsepower. These three energy sources are harnessed to the entrance wheels through a planetary gearset that behaves like a repeatedly variable transmission. To additional save gasoline, the gasoline engine runs the Atkinson cycle, and reverse motion is dealt with purely on electrical energy. As on the Prius hybrid, the electrical motors double as turbines, changing kinetic vitality (movement) into electrical energy that may in any other case be changed into warmth by the friction brakes, as a substitute of being saved within the traction battery. The pack lives underneath the rear seats and weighs 265 kilos. It’s additionally of the lithium-ion selection in each Prime; just some non-plug-in Prius hybrids use lithium-ion packs, whereas the remainder have cheaper nickel-metal hydride items.

Toyota offers Prime house owners a say in how their machines dole out their electrical and gasoline energy. Absolutely cost the battery through the included 120-volt wall outlet charger cable (which is able to take some time) or a sooner, 240-volt hookup (a bit of over two hours), and the Prime defaults to EV mode on the subsequent start-up. One can select to go away it on this setting, working via the electric-only vary, or push a console button to modify into hybrid mode and (largely) protect the battery’s cost for electric-only operation later. A separate button calls up an EV Auto mode that lets the Prime resolve the right way to use the juice. On this case, the automobile operates primarily as a hybrid, however judiciously doles out stints of electric-only operation the place it sees match. Capping issues off are Regular, Eco, and Energy drive modes. Probably the most notable is Eco, which dulls acceleration to such a level that it turns into annoying; the variations between the Regular and Energy modes had been negligible, nonetheless.

Efficiency Is a Relative Time period

We examined all three Prius Primes to gauge the impact of the totally different trim ranges’ gear on the automobiles’ weights and effectivity. Any variation would possibly affect gasoline economic system and efficiency, because the trio in any other case makes use of the identical powertrain and battery. Contemplate that notion busted, as simply 28 kilos separate the bottom automobile from the top-spec model. Driving on an identical tires, the three Primes logged practically an identical performances on the observe. The one deviation got here from the Superior, which posted a markedly decrease skidpad grip determine than the others, an anomaly we’re chalking as much as a doubtlessly soiled observe floor. Due to the most recent Prius’s unbiased rear suspension, the Prime does an affordable job of absorbing highway imperfections and delivering a planted, safe feeling in corners regardless of its low-rolling-resistance tires. Deep potholes reveal some structural shimmies—little question a results of the weight-conscious building—however for probably the most half, the automobile is surprisingly quiet and solid-feeling, a significant departure from earlier Priuses.

All three Primes did not breach the 10.Zero-second mark sauntering to 60 mph. We examined them in hybrid mode, during which they’re making full energy; count on every to be about two seconds slower to 60 mph in EV-only mode. Subjectively, nonetheless, the Prime feels peppier working solely on electrons, with an instantaneous, easy hit of torque off the road that’s good for zipping round city. When the gasoline engine kicks on, it’s growly and grainy and makes the powertrain recalcitrant to answer accelerator inputs, as if it’s making an attempt to gradual the proceedings down. Blame the CVT-like nature of the transmission, which permits the engine to rev away whereas it alters the drive ratio to construct velocity. This creates a disconnect between the languid acceleration and the engine’s decided wailing that makes merging with faster-moving site visitors really feel extra pained than when solely the electrical motors are quietly doing the identical work.

That final level is vital, as a result of it betrays the Prime’s most irritating side: that it’s arguably a greater electrical automobile than a hybrid, however it may well fake to be an EV just for about 20 miles at a time in the true world. Hit the freeway in EV mode (the Prime can obtain 84 mph on this setting), and your vary plummets to round 12 miles. The Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid is healthier to drive total, appears to be like much less funky, has provisions for a fifth passenger, and is equally compelling when appearing as an electrical automobile, when it provides a 53-mile vary per cost in accordance with the EPA. We additionally achieved a 60-MPGe effectivity determine throughout our check of the Volt, besting all three Primes’ low-50-MPGe figures. As well as, a Volt beat a Prime in a latest comparability check.

Given all this, the Prime’s discount standing relative to the Volt appears extra like cautious positioning on Toyota’s half than an incentive in its personal proper. Certain, the Prime is barely costlier than its plug-less Prius counterpart, and a loaded Prime Superior is lower than $34,000 even earlier than any tax incentives are factored in. The least-expensive Volt prices $110 greater than a Prime Superior—$6110 greater than a base Plus—but equipping it equally to the Toyota (placing the value round $40,000 earlier than incentives) appears value it. In the end, your way of life, commuting distance, and entry to cost ports will decide if you happen to’ll select a Prime over the Volt’s vastly better electric-only vary, faster acceleration, and higher dynamics.

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