Do you remember the original Prius? It first came ashore in the US in 2000, and it was really the first Hybrid that was mass marketed. It was a slightly odd-looking agrarian sedan, but the technology was fascinating.
Nowadays, you can get a hybrid on pretty much anything – heck, Toyota alone offers you a hybrid choice on 5 model lines. And almost every other maker offers a hybrid powertrain – all the way up to Porsche.
Still, you must pay props to one of the originals, and along the way, Toyota has continually developed both the Prius and the Hybrid powertrain, including the Prime which features plug-in hybrid technology. So how has the current version of the original vision held up? Let’s look.
Meet George Jetson
Toyota has always wanted the Prius to stand out from its other models, giving it a different look. And even among the Prii(?) The designers have decided to give the Prime a unique presence. At the front, quad projector headlights on either side give a high-tech show at night.
The profile is pure Prius, but you do get Plug-in Hybrid Badging, a nice touch. The other obvious thing are 15-inch steel wheels with wheel covers – yes, it’s most certainly used to enhance efficiency, but it does look low rent.
At the rear, the Prime has a unique taillight treatment, which seems to expand across the entire width of the vehicle, while the see-through rear panel – great for helping visibility when backing up – is shared with other Prius models. Dressed in a blue-green Toyota calls Blue Magnetism, our Prime looked stylish and futuristic.
Inside is even more futuristic than outside. Open the door, and the first thing you see is the massive tablet-like display in the center dash. In the case of our Limited model, that includes a 11.6-inch info-tainment touchscreen, and a hooded 4.2-inch Dual Multi-information Display above the tablet.
At first, you find yourself looking down at the steering wheel and staring at the padded dashboard with no gauges, but you quickly get used to looking to the center for your info. The Multi-info display serves up most of the key info you need, including speed, Energy and Hybrid System indicator, audio, and navigation content as well.
The massive tablet is interesting too, in most cases it works like two separate screens, for example, putting our WAZE up top, and all the info-tainment below. Soft touch switches on the side give you access to various screens, as well as volume control, climate adjustments and the like.
If your Prime has navigation, it can switch the entire display into a giant map which includes charging locations – unfortunately it won’t give you that full-screen for Navi apps like WAZE. Your smartphone will be happy though, with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Our tester also had wireless charging, which is a nice touch, but without wireless Apple CarPlay, you still need to plug in.
If you don’t like looking at the center displays, the Limited model is the way to go, with a heads-up display that tells you key info without having to look away from the road.
In keeping with their eco-friendly ethos, the seats are covered in SofTex, Toyota’s synthetic leather (vinyl) the maker says requires 99% fewer Volatile Organic Compounds to manufacture and creates 85% less CO2 emissions in the manufacturing process. Impress your friends…
The seating position is low and sporty-ish, and those no-moo-cow seats are nicely sized and comfortable, and with the driver’s 8-way power and power adjustable lumbar support it’s easy to get comfortable. Rear seats are spacious too. They fold down easily, and the rear hatch makes for easy loading.
One note. If you carry lots of gear, you might want to look at the non-plug-in version of the Prius – the larger battery pack eats significantly into the hatch space with a taller floor.
The drive is what makes the Prime special. That larger battery in the cargo area lets the Plug-in hybrid run up to 25 miles of full EV driving before having to kick in the gas motor. You also get spaceship sounds that pumped out of the vehicle to warn pedestrians when you’re running silently. That’s pretty cool, and the range is useful if you have a shorter commute. The little gear nub that sticks below the center console lets you choose gears, and we like it – you know you’re driving something different.
Charging time is quick, too – only 5.5 hours on a 120V outlet, or 2-hours with a 240V outlet. Once you run out of juice, the Prime works like any efficient Prius, and we were quite pleased to average 53.9 mpg that way. Toyota says all added up, the Prime delivers an amazing 640-mile range. Yep, you’ll need more pits stops than the Prius Prime!
While some of Toyota’s plug-in hybrids like the RAV4 Prime are designed to be a performance vehicle, the Prius Prime isn’t. But don’t confuse that with it being a slug. Low-end power is smooth, and in Power mode, it feels quick off the line. Flog it and you move quickly, but you get the sense that it is not happy being driven that way. It’s out of character!
With the battery and other bits set low in the chassis, the Prime is a responsive handler. Now with those skinny eco-friendly tires, you’re not going to get a lot of grip – but it’s still fun to zip around town and traffic.
Another nice surprise – while the Prime does its best work sipping fuel around town, the attention paid to wind-cheating aerodynamics make it a sublimely quiet cruiser on the freeway. With a supple ride and long range, you can gobble up distance with ease.
Do the Savings Pay Off?
Like most super sippers, a good part of that depends on the cost of fuel. And with the high cost of fuel right now, the logic of a hybrid looks pretty good. Those squeezing the pennies will find that you’re most basic Prius comes in at $24,525 – with an EPA estimate 54 MPG, you’ll look stylish while zipping past the pumps.
Getting into a Prius Prime plug-in hybrid will set you back a minimum $28,220. If you have access to cheap or free charging, and a short commute it makes sense. The mid-level XLE at $30,000 adds the large tablet display and is probably the best bang for the buck.
Our Prime Limited adds a bunch of features, and takes a large step up in price, starting at $34,000. With no available options, adding in $1,025 for Delivery rang the bell at $35,025. One note worth considering, there are federal credits available for Plug-in Hybrids (up to $4,500) and in some states you may also qualify to drive in the Carpool Lane solo.
Competitors In this price range would include the Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid comparably equipped at $37,665. Also nice, and with extra utility – BUT you’ll have to decide if it’s worth the significant extra cost. The Hyundai Ioniq comes in at $34,155 and is a worthy competitor – you get a little more feature wise, and you lose a little in the more mainstream interior.
The 2021 Prius Prime shows Toyota is still at the leading edge of Hybrid technology. Fun, futuristic and efficient, what’s not to love?
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.