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2017 Toyota Prius Prime vs. 2017 Toyota Prius: What's the Difference?

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by James Riswick October 2016

So, there's now a 2017 Toyota Prius and a 2017 Toyota Prius Prime. Confusing, right? Well, in the simplest terms, the Prime is a new top-of-the-line plug-in version of the Prius that boasts a better driving experience and potentially superior fuel economy. But let's dig in to both hybrids to see what the differences are.

2017 Toyota Prius 2017 Toyota Prius Prime

Exterior

Unlike the old Prius Plug-In, it's easy to tell the regular Prime apart from the standard Prius. (For the sake of clarity, let's refer to each from here on out as the Prius and the Prime, respectively.) Although the general body shape is the same, the Prime's face is considerably different -- it has a large, blacked-out grille portion that extends from the hood to the ground, along with narrow LED lighting slits in place of the regular model's arrow-shaped units. To many observers, the Prime's styling represents an improvement over the far-from-loved Prius.

Around back, the Prime features an LED lighting cluster that wraps itself around the lift gate's vertical-window portion, a reshaped bumper that houses the reverse lights and a novel dual-wave rear window. The latter looks cool, but it does eliminate the Prius's rear wiper. The lift gate that contains it is constructed out of lightweight carbon fiber to help counteract some of the weight added by the Prime's extra batteries.

In terms of dimensions, the two Priuses do differ. The Prime's front overhang is an inch longer due to its different styling, while its tail is 3.2 inches longer to accommodate the larger battery pack located under the trunk floor. All other dimensions are the same.

2017 Toyota Prius     2017 Toyota Prius Prime

Interior

The Prius is ultimately the more practical car, as it can seat five people versus the Prime's 4-person capacity -- another result of the plug-in's bigger battery pack. And although Toyota outfitted a small console between the back seats in lieu of a middle perch, it's too low to be an effective armrest. The Prime also has less cargo volume due to its battery (19.8 cu ft. versus 27.4 or 24.6, depending on trim level), a fact that's easily noticed by the stagelike rise in the trunk's floor. It doesn't hamper usability that badly, though, especially compared to the plug-in hybrid versions of other vehicles like the Ford Fusion Energi.

Elsewhere inside, the Prime actually differs depending on which trim level you get. The base Plus trim level is essentially identical to the Prius, with a central pod of physical automatic climate controls located below a 7-inch touchscreen interface (standard on the Prius Three trim and replacing the 6.1-in screen on lower trims). It's generally quite easy to use, and in some ways, it might be better than the enormous, 11.6-in upgrade screen found in the Prime's Premium and Advanced trims.

Otherwise, both cars possess the same comfortable driving position that came along with the Prius's full redesign last year, as well as its greatly improved interior quality.

2017 Toyota Prius2017 Toyota Prius Prime

Mechanicals

The Prius is a conventional hybrid that consists of a small gasoline engine and a pair of electric motors -- one to help power the wheels and another to generate electricity for various vehicle accessories. The type of battery pack differs by trim level, with a less sophisticated and bulkier nickel-metal hydride pack in lower trims and a smaller, more power-dense lithium-ion battery in the others (this is why the Prius's trunk space can differ based on trim). Both are replenished by the engine and by capturing energy usually lost when braking.

According the Environmental Protection Agency, the Prius returns 54 miles per gallon in the city, 50 mpg on the highway and 52 mpg in combined driving. The Prius Eco trim level returns 58 mpg city/53 mpg hwy/56 mpg combined -- and although that sounds impressive, it really only amounts to about $50 in annual fuel savings.

The Toyota Prius Prime is a plug-in hybrid, with a considerably larger lithium-ion battery that allows for all-electric propulsion for up to an estimated 25 miles. Once that runs out, the Prime operates largely like the Prius, and in that scenario, it achieves an estimated 55 mpg city/53 mpg hwy/54 mpg combined when operating as a normal hybrid. That's an improvement, but it's important to remember that given the Prime's all-electric capability, fuel economy very much depends on how far you drive. If you live 10 miles from work, it's feasible that you wouldn't burn a single drop of gasoline. That's an enormous advantage that's difficult to put into an mpg number. Of course, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention that the admittedly pricier Chevrolet Volt can travel at least 53 miles on electricity alone.

2017 Toyota Prius2017 Toyota Prius Prime

Features & Technology

The main feature and technology difference between the two Priuses is the colossal 11.6-in touchscreen found on the Prime in the Premium and Advanced trim levels. Reminiscent of the one found in a Tesla Model S and Model X, this vertically oriented screen is impressive to behold and allows you to view navigation and audio controls simultaneously. However, navigation is always locked on top, and the audio controls aren't as user-friendly as those on the base touchscreen (you can't see your radio presets and song/channel information at the same time, for instance). The simplified climate controls located alongside the screen also aren't as user-friendly, and the Prius' volume knob is replaced by a touch-activated button -- never good.

There are other differences in features as well. The base Prius Two and Prime Plus trim levels are pretty much equally equipped, with a few exceptions: The Prime includes the bigger 7-in touchscreen as standard, and its steering wheel is wrapped in SofTex simulated leather. Those are included in the Prius Three trim. The price difference between those two base trim levels is $24,685 for the Prius Two and $27,100 for the Prius Prime Plus -- but keep in mind that as a plug-in hybrid, the Prime will be eligible for substantial federal and state tax credits that could ultimately make it cheaper.

Upper trims do differ, however. The Prime isn't offered with options. Rather, the Prius's Premium Convenience and Advanced Technology package are included in the top Prime Advanced trim level. Key features within both include a 10-speaker JBL premium sound system, parking sensors, an automatic parking system and a color heads-up display.

There are also certain colors that are available on one but not the other.

2017 Toyota Prius2017 Toyota Prius Prime

Driving Experience

Last year's redesign of the Toyota Prius yielded a considerably improved driving experience. The more sophisticated rear suspension resulted in better handling and a more comfortable, composed ride. It's also considerably quieter and just more pleasant to spend time in. The steering also improved, but that's relative -- in general, the Prius is far from an engaging car to drive.

The Prime doesn't really change that, but its extra electric motor and battery capacity do yield a different driving character. That's most noticeable when in all-electric mode, since you get the sort of silent, ultra-smooth acceleration typical of electric vehicles. There's a nice, low-end punch when accelerating from a stop that you just don't get in the Prius. Some of that feeling remains even when the all-electric range runs out, and as a result, the Prime can feel a little quicker and is ultimately better to drive as a result. That doesn't mean it actually is quicker, though. As speeds rise, the extra weight counteracts its added pep, and both cars are therefore equally slow.

2017 Toyota Prius2017 Toyota Prius Prime

Safety

Both the Prius and the Prime come with an impressive array of standard features. Besides the front-side and full-length side-curtain airbags, the driver's-knee airbag and the passenger seat-cushion airbag (which prevents sliding under the seat belt), both cars come standard with the Toyota Safety Sense package. This includes forward-collision warning, an auto-braking system with pedestrian detection, a lane-departure warning and steering-assist system, automatic high beams and adaptive cruise control. A blind spot monitoring system and rear cross-traffic warning are optional on the Prime Advanced and the Prius Four trim levels.

Conclusions

Given that tax credits will probably make the Prius Prime cheaper in the long run, it seems like the car to buy. Besides its price tag, you'll most likely get better fuel economy, experience a slightly better driving experience and arguably be in a nicer-looking car.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2017 Toyota Prius Prime vs. 2017 Toyota Prius: What's the Difference? - Autotrader