When the Toyota Prius Prime first appeared on the scene, it was supposed to be a viable range topper for the Prius model family thanks to the addition of more equipment, as well as its ability to be a plug-in hybrid vehicle. But while this allowed it to swing punches with rivals such as the Honda Clarity, and the Hyundai Ioniq plug-in, the Prime also suffered from several notable shortcomings that helped keep it from reaching its full potential. Toyota is out to remedy this for 2020, and has unleashed a significant update that aims to refine its character while also addressing some of its flaws. But are these updates indeed enough to help the Prime transform into a more cohesive offering?
Exterior Styling Hides The Changes Underneath:
As mentioned, the bulk of the styling changes for 2020 lurk underneath the skin, and as a result, the exterior styling rolls through 2020 virtually unchanged. This is not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination, since the Prime still looks very distinctive when compared to its lesser Prius counterpart. The front fascia is still the most expressive part of the car, with the headlights and the front grille working in harmony to create a seamless look. The Prime is designed to be aerodynamically efficient, and as a result, it has a number of touches that helps it cut through the air. Make your way to the rear fascia, and you are still greeted with big tailights, and the big hatch style door that opens up to a tight cargo area which holds less than the standard Prius due to the battery.
While the look is still very futuristic in appearance, the Prime does not quite have the visual wow factor that it once had when it first debuted. This is mainly due to the looks offered by some pricier but newer hybrid offerings including the fore-mentioned Ioniq, as well as the Honda Clarity PHEV. The port for the charging cable is still rear mounted, and that means drivers are forced to formally back the Prius into a charging port versus pulling nose in. With a front mounted port slowly becoming the new normal in the PHEV as well as the EV segments, we hope that Toyota will eventually hop on the bandwagon, and give the Prime a front mounted port too. We also hope that next year will also bring the Prime more in line with its updated stablemate so that the Prius Prime can fall better into line with the rest of the Prius’s design language.
Welcome Interior Updates Improve Livability:
When the Prius Prime first appeared on the scene back in 2019, it arrived with an interior that was slick looking, but also flawed. Toyota designers spent the bulk of the update budget on improving some of these initial flaws, and we will give them points for putting forward a good effort on that front. The old white plastic trim (which was a massive dirt and stain magnet) has been replaced with sportier black trim pieces for 2020. It now attracts fingerprints like moths to a flame, but we do like the way that the black accents create better amounts of contrast with the rest of the interior plastic hues, and they even help the Prius Prime look a bit more upscale too. A sun visor extender is another welcome addition, and the infotainment system now comes bundled with standard Apple CarPlay and Sirius XM radio. No Android Auto capability as of yet, but look for that particular item to arrive sooner than later since the company is addressing the lack of Android capability with some of its other models.
Rear passengers are not left out in the cold either, with the space now featuring two rear mounted USB ports, as well as a middle seat which helps bring total passenger capacity up to five (versus four for the 2019 model.) The 2020 models also debut a new trim ladder, with the Plus, Premium, and Advanced models all being shelved in lieu of a new system that uses the LE, XLE, and Limited designations. Our newly renamed Limited tester arrived with the optional 11.6 inch tablet style infotainment system (also available on XLE grade Primes) that comes with integrated navigation. A 7.0 inch screen is the default unit, but while the bigger screen The rest of the interior layout is very roomy and while interior storage is very ample for the most part, family trips will create a bit of a tight fit, especially if you make use of the newly added middle seat. This is better than the Ioniq, but it does have less space than the Clarity, which also has better cargo space to boot.
Low Electric Only Driving Range Keeps Prius Prime From Surpassing Rivals:
Performance for the 2020 Prius Prime still comes from a naturally aspirated 1.8 liter four cylinder engine that is mated to a state of the art hybrid system with plug-in capability. While 121 combined horsepower ensures that the Prime will never thrill the senses, with acceleration lacking urgency, and the responses from the steering wheel being about as enjoyable as an episode of the old Match Game Hollywood Squares Hour. But efficiency is the rule of the land here, and our tester managed to do well for the most part, with the car doing a good job of sipping gasoline especially with the gas engine and the electric drivetrain working in full harmony. This cohesion helps net 54 mpg in combined driving, and an impressive 133 mpge rating. However, the biggest flaw here is the low 25 mile driving range in pure electric driving. That figure is low for the segment, and both the Hyundai Ioniq plug-in hybrid and the Honda Clarity offer more all electric range with 29 and 48 miles respectively
Handling is still pretty well sorted for a plug-in, with the Prime doing a good job handling the rigors of the daily commute. The suspension does a good job nullifying many kinds of bumps and divots, but we did notice occasions where the ride became brittle over more blemished sections of concrete. Braking in our tester was also stable, and in normal mode, the regenerative braking system is barely noticeable.. Moving the shifter to B increases the amount of regenerative braking on hand, and our tester noticeably dropped speed as soon as we took our foot off the throttle. The only noticeable gripe we had during our time with the Prime is that while the transition between normal and regenerative braking is smooth, it was difficult to keep the braking meter in the Eco zone.
Pricing for the 2020 Prius Prime lineup is still very competitive for its segment. As mentioned, the trim lineup was renamed for the 2020 model year, with the base XLE model now starting at $28,555 with the mid-range XLE boasting a sticker of $30,445. Our Limited grade tester is the range topper in the Prius Prime family, and has a base price of $34,455. Our lightly optioned tester had a final sticker of just over $35,000. While the Limited is the one to go to for those that want maximum levels of technology, we would actually recommend the mid-range XLE variant. That model still has a healthy balance of equipment, and can be had for roughly $30,000. That’s less than the base Clarity plug-in hybrid and is roughly $2,000 less expensive than the range topping Ioniq Limited. This in turn makes the Prime a very tempting value play in the segment, and that might please some buyers looking to enter the plug-in segment at a good price.
The 2020 Prius Prime is a welcome refresh for perhaps the most tech laden plug-in that Toyota has ever produced. The interior gains some new features, while also correcting some of its down to earth flaws. However, it continues to be handicapped by its low EV driving range, and we hope that Toyota will eventually address this handicap in a future update.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.