Think of it as a Tesla for the rest of us

The Washington Post Sunday - - CARS - War­ren Brown war­ren.brown@wash­post.com

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.

TOY­OTA

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