I’ll admit that when I first heard of the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Part of me thought that it may be that performance variant of the Prius I’ve been imagining. Another part thought it was just a Prius that can only be divided by one and itself. Both parts were wrong: the Prius Prime is the plug-in Prius designed to sort of quench Tesla-lust for half the price.
(Full disclosure: Toyota wanted me to drive a Prius Prime so very much that they flew me to Ojai and fed me well, but one day I had no hot water. I bathed in champagne instead, like in a rap video. It was quite lovely.)
Of course, the Prius Prime is not a Tesla. It’s not a pure electric car; it’s a hybrid. This one is a plug-in hybrid, and Toyota has given it an 8.8 kWh battery pack (twice the size of the regular Prius) so the Prime can go a whole 25 miles on a full electric charge.
That’s a far cry from the 200+ miles of a Tesla, but it’s enough for at least half of the population to get to work and back, and, remember, there’s an Atkinson-cycle 1.8-liter gasoline engine in there, too, giving the Prime a total range of an impressive 640 miles.
Now, there’s no way in hell Toyota is going to admit that anything about the Prius Prime is designed to play on the Tesla-desires of people in no position to buy a Tesla, but I’m pretty sure that was a big (if unspoken) part of this car’s design brief.
I say this because there’s one thing that everyone is going to remember about the Prius Prime when they see one: it can be had (and very likely, will be) with a massive 11.6-inch portrait-oriented center-stack LCD screen. It’s a big, vertical screen just like in a Tesla, and if anyone tells you that, no, they never realized that it will remind everybody of a Tesla, they’re lying to you.
Of course that screen supposed to remind people of a Tesla. Teslas are by far the most famous electric cars right now, and are well-known and desired even to people normally not that interested in cars. People who are, or were a few years ago, likely to buy Priuses.
There’s a lot of people who are loyal Prius buyers who have been smitten by the cachet of the Tesla, but nothing short of Craigslisting a couple of kidneys is going to get them in one.
Toyota, collectively, is no dummy, and it’s a wise move to have the top end of the Prius line be something that can perhaps suggest Tesla just enough to get frustrated Muskovites interested.
The Prius Prime is far uglier than a Tesla Model S. It’s also much cheaper, has a range that’s beyond just useful and well into remarkable, and, since you can just run it on gas when needed, is vastly more practical for long trips. This will never be realistically cross-shopped with a Tesla, but it will be considered by people who have very unrealistically cross-shopped a Tesla.
How’s it different from the regular Prius?
Toyota insists on calling their latest regular Prius the “Prius Liftback,” even though this one has a back that lifts as much as the any Prius ever did. But, whatever, they can call it whatever the hell they want.