Think of it as a Tesla for the rest of us
This is how you compete: You study rivals who have taken giant steps forward. You look at competitors who are giving you real market challenges, but you proceed, unafraid, always thinking about and looking at the future.
You look at your own success — a technical, engineering and commercial win that opened the market for electric vehicles of all sorts, including gas-electric hybrids, plug-ins, plug-in hybrids, electric-only.
You don’t rest on your laurels. In fact, you view laurels as obstacles. You just want to get better and better … and better … and inarguably remain the best.
Welcome to the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime hatchback.
The Prius Prime replaces the Prius Plug-in, which operates for short mileage (about 14 miles as used by this column) electric-only and can motor on for nearly 50 miles per gallon as a gasoline-electric hybrid.
The Prius Prime operates in much the same manner — only better, much better.
The Prius Prime uses a larger lithium-ion battery to deliver 25 miles in electric-only mode. You plug it in to recharge. But if you want to use the front-wheel-drive hatchback as a gasoline-electric hybrid, you fill its 11.3-gallon tank with regular unleaded fuel that feeds a 1.8-liter, 16-valve, inline four-cylinder engine/generator.
Working in tandem with the car’s battery-powered motors, the hybrid gaselectric system can go 55 miles per gallon.
That is at least five miles per gallon more than a regular Prius, which already delivers some of the best fuel efficiency in the hybrid-electric world.
I kept thinking “Tesla” during my time in the Prius Prime. That is because much of the technology in the Prius Prime reminds me of what is found in the Tesla — at a much higher cost. But the Prius Prime really competes against models such as the Chevrolet Volt hatchback (a plug-in electric hybrid), the Ford Fusion Energi sedan, the Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid and, yes, the new-for-2017 Hyundai Ioniq and Kia Niro hybrids.
I’ll start an argument. I think the 2017 Prius Prime is better than all of them. Three reasons: It certainly is more accessible than most Tesla models, yet it has lots of Tesla-like technology, including an 11.6-inch center touch screen that controls most of the car’s operations and provides some of the best onboard navigation information available in any vehicle. It has a complete package of advanced electronic safety items (marketed here as “Toyota Safety Sense”) — a package usually found in more expensive automobiles. I got 56.7 miles per gallon in combined city/highway driving. 56.7!
Ah, yes, and it is a car — fun to drive and comfortable on the highway. The Hyundai Ioniq and Kia Niro have moved up in the “real car” regard. But they feel heavier, less agile than the Prius Prime.
Also, the Prius Prime seems better designed inside and out than its global rivals, although it is not as fancy as the much more expensive Tesla. But the Prius Prime has a sporty exterior and cleanly designed and ergonomically sensible interior — a comfortable, efficient and pleasant little car to be in and drive.
Yeah, Toyota. I really like what you’ve done with this one.
Much of the technology in the Prius Prime reminds me of what is found in the Tesla — at a much higher cost.