2017 Prius Prime

The 2017 Prius Prime

Photo: Cliff Leppke

The sexiest thing about the Prius Prime isn’t its electric-company power plant. Instead, it’s the shapely red LED-emblazoned rump. 

Prime in Toyota’s parlance denotes its chief novelty: It’s a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle or PHEV. Charging is simple. Insert the supplied cable into a 120VAC household outlet. The result: A PHEV that travels 15–25 miles until the 1.8-liter gas mill and its hybrid-electric motor are summoned. Charge time: 5.5 hours via 120VAC, two hours with 240VAC. 

EV ranges before the internal combustion engine fires vary. Head directly onto an expressway with a 70 mph speed limit and electric propulsion poops out after 15 miles. A Milwaukee freeway loop, including the Marquette Interchange, Hoan Bridge and Miller Parkway (climbing the bridge was a strain), also cuts range to 15 miles.

In contrast, the colorful display shows an optimistic 30 miles during less strenuous workouts.

Any way you slice it, it’s economical. I motored 232 miles consuming 0.97 gallons of regular — 237 mpg. The trick: Slavishly charging at home and at work. The EPA says: EV range, 25 miles max; combined city/highway, 133 MPGe (the fed’s way of expressing operational costs); petro-engine highway, 54 mpg. 

WE Energies’ Cathy Schulze asked her experts to number crunch. Based on Toyota’s estimated 6.41 kWh full charge, you’ll pay 84 cents. Pick the utility’s time-of-use plan and it drops to 60 cents.

When the Prime motors as an EV, it’s as quiet as the Milwaukee Public Library during Summerfest. Prompt progress, however, is not its forte. It’s heavy (3,375 lbs.) and musters 121 hp max. When the 95-hp, 1.8-liter engine is aroused, it shiatsus your feet and sings like Florence Foster Jenkins. Toyota’s onboard warnings create a beeping madhouse. A chirping cacophony indicates nearby obstructions and seat belt and open door status when, say, you’re checking what’s beside or behind you when reversing. Whirring lets you and others know when it’s “on.” While annoying, this racket helps you avoid bashing the carbon-fiber rear lid or aluminum hood. 

Brake-pedal feel is mushy. Sudden stops are shockingly nonlinear due to battery-charging regenerative slowing. Under full duress, however, the Prime’s binders hold steady.

Ride quality is not the best, as bad bumps provoke tossing. Tires slip easily on wet surfaces.

Toe space under the space-age dashboard is tight. The throttle pedal is a crude poking device. The parking brake pedal hangs down just above your left foot. Plus, the dead-pedal angle and floppy carpeting aren’t kind. Your behind fits in a baseball mitt-like perch lacking thigh support.

The rearview mirror offers a retro vista — a wavy spoiler that splits the rear backlight’s upper double-bubble form from the clear plastic panel below. You’d think you’re driving a bat-wing 1959 Chevrolet or berserk Honda CRX. The unusual window treatment aids aerodynamics.

Due to a lithium-ion battery pack, the aft compartment is cramped. Nothing much taller than an Allen Edmonds shoebox fits below the retractable cargo cover. Those confined to the rear inhabit two bucket-type seats separated by hard plastic. Folding backrests create an uneven load floor.

Advance to Prime, you net a Shamu-like interior color scheme. While most bits are black, glossy white pieces decorate the steering wheel and lower dash parts. Prime real estate goes to a Tesla-like 11.6-in center tablet. It’s distracting. Radio tuning, for example, is complicated. Capacitive touch points flank the tablet. Most stab spots resemble Windows 10-style tiles.

Atop the dashboard resides a busy electronic instrument panel. Besides mph digits, pictographs chart power delivery, range and lane-deviation. A head-up display puts data in your line of sight. 

My Milwaukee expressway trip triggered the “take a rest” coffee-cup warning. The lane-deviation algorithm cannot distinguish between sleepy and entrepreneurial driving. This Toyota, therefore, doesn’t hustle and doesn’t condone full roadway usage. One must press “return” in order to eliminate the instrument-obscurant cup.

Toyota’s devilish designers hid the seat-heat buttons underneath the center screen. The steering wheel is electrically warmed as well. 

Saintly is the car’s intuitive self-parking feature. It’s a quick study because the auto’s sonar system is active when “running.” Just press a button (once for parallel, twice for perpendicular) midway, near the gap you’d like. In a flash, the info-screen provides instructions. Let the car steer itself, while you manipulate the pedals and shifter as directed.

Toyota’s asks $33,985 for the Prius Prime Advanced. It qualifies for federal tax credits, too. Compared to the previous plug-in Prius, which could barely travel a block in EV mode, this one makes more sense. Yet, it’s no Energizer bunny; Chevy’s Volt treks 53-EV miles. If you embrace frequent charging, fetish erotic styling and countenance modest power, Prime is your ticket to ride. 

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