Hard to believe Toyota’s Prius hybrid is more than 20 years old. First introduced to the Japanese market in late 1997, it came to the US in 2000 as a four-door sedan, only to be replaced in 2003 as a five-door hatch. In its latest, fourth generation, the Toyota Prius is available in several varieties.
There’s the older Prius C, the smallest derivative that was reviewed here in June of 2018, the Prius and the Prius Prime, which is the plug-in version that has a range-extending gasoline engine, along with its own distinctive body lines. In any iteration, the 2018 Prius and Prius Prime are far more stylish than their predecessors, with their lighting enclosures dictating just how the balance of the body lines are directed.
The front view of this five-door hatch is dominated by its lighting and the inset grille; there is a distinct upper body line that cascades to the rear, which is also dominated by lighting fixtures and aerodynamic assistants. The dual-pane rear window is large and large side windows aid vision about the car. All but the tires, petite 195/65R rubber mounted on black and polished alloy rims, are covered by the gorgeous Blue Magnetism-painted body, giving it an integrated shape.
Aiding aerodynamics is important for Toyota as it produces this Prius Prime, a hybrid with about 25 miles of pure electric power. That might be enough to get some folks to and from work without a recharge, but for the rest of us, it’s not sufficient. For that reason, this plug-in hybrid has a 1.8-liter four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle engine that makes 95 horsepower at 5,200rpm together with 105 lb-ft of torque at 3,600. It’s coupled to a permanent magnet AC synchronous motor of 600V maximum and a Lithium-ion traction battery that together add 121 horsepower.
For all that equipment, it’s still a leisurely lineup stirred via a CVT automatic transmission. As with the standard Prius, the shifter is a spindly affair, mounted on this car centrally atop the tunnel. In Reverse, constant beeping can be irritating. The front-wheel-drive Prius Prime has independent MacPherson strut and double-wishbone style front and rear suspensions that coexist to give the 3406-pound 2018 Toyota Prius Prime Advanced (top of the line) a compliant but not wallowy ride.
There are four drive modes available: EV, Eco, Norm and Power settings. One can keep the car in EV mode around town but it’s bound to deplete pretty quickly; a separate EV Auto mode button allows the Prime to decide when and where to apply electricity. The mode disliked most is Eco, which dulls power. Power mode, of course, removes any essence of economy. A hatch-installed outlet charger (120V) cable will leisurely reboot the electricity while a faster 240-V gives a two-plus-hour recharge.
There are only four seats inside the 2018 Toyota Prius Prime, which is imbued with a rubberized, lengthy plastic dashboard, lots of soft-touch panels and plenty of interior space in which to store all those items that simply won’t fit under the covered hatch area. Seats are okay for comfort and have power adjustments including lumbar for the driver (my body and Toyota seats seem to have issues); sight lines are excellent.
For the Advanced Prius Prime model, Toyota fits an 11.6-inch touchscreen that many find similar to units placed in the Tesla. It’s pretty straightforward and has hard-button shortcuts to effect key functions like audio, navigation and phone. There are real audio volume and tuning knobs. The screen has an interesting look to it at first glance, but washes out easily in direct sunlight and has some confusing mannerisms.
If the driver concentrates on navigation, the climate and audio settings lie at the base of the screen in lower corners, wasting all that display area. To compensate, at least there are floating on-screen balls that move around and allow quick access to different apps and navigation/destination menus, efficiency information and the like. Pairing the phone was easily done and the wireless Qi charging pad in the central tunnel area is hugely appreciated.
As it does with many of its hybrids, Toyota places the gauge cluster atop the endless dash – nearly at the windshield. It’s all easy to see with its hooded area, and with the steering wheel’s native controls (audio/phone/trip info on the left and heated steering wheel/infotainment/lane departure/cruise trailing distance controls on the right) the driver doesn’t need to place hands elsewhere to take care of standard needs.
The radar-equipped cruise control is operated by Toyota’s separate stalk, while seat heater controls are behind the white-framed gearshift module (there’s similar white plastic at the base of the steering wheel). Cruise must be restarted every ignition, which is, of course, by pushbutton at dash central. Music plays at start-up and shut-down and driving scores are tallied each time the driver completes a trip.
The two rear occupants have no temperature controls but do have a 12-volt at the rear of the central tunnel. There is good storage between the rear seats that fold 60/40 to give 19.8 cubic feet of storage, according to Toyota. To get that, one must remove the cargo cover and put down the rear seats; there’s precious little space with the charging apparatus taking below-floor space.
Toyota’s Prius is known for its frugal use of [regular unleaded] fuel in the 11.4-gallon tank. It’s rated at a total of 133 MPGe using electricity and gasoline, along with 54mpg for fuel use only. As it was impossible for me to find a place to plug in this Prius, it was exclusively operated in hybrid mode. (Even when the electricity is depleted, Toyota keeps a wee bit in reserve.) A drive out to the California desert in the Prius Prime Advanced brought more than 56mpg in enthusiastic driving; once in the mountain areas the mileage dropped to 54mpg. Wholly acceptable that. And it didn’t feel like a slug on those back roads.
This particular 2018 Toyota Prius Prime, dressed in the gorgeous blue Magnetism paint has no options, making its list price including $895 freight, a total of $33,995. For that one gets pushbutton start, keyless entry, a full array of Toyota Sense driver aids (pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alerts with steering assistance, auto high beams, the radar cruise control, rear cross-traffic alerts, engine immobilizer and tire pressure monitoring system). There are rain-sensing wipers, a lovely color head-up display that gives MPH and driving score and faux leather seating. The 10-speaker JBL audio is excellent and satellite is included in Toyota’s EnTune app suite.
The Toyota Prius Prime Advanced a very nice package for the price and even better if one has ready access to electricity. After a week together, I find the infotainment kinda confounding, due to the overly large display and needing to jog between screens, but the driving capabilities of the Prius Prime Advanced keep it a viable alternative to, say, the Chevrolet Bolt. While power is not as great nor is electric-only range, the 2018 Toyota Prius Prime Advanced does offer the extensive knowledge that Toyota has accrued during its work on this hybrid technology. That knowledge takes it to the head of the class.
Words and Photos by Anne Proffit