Applying the word "prime" to something usually indicates it’s the best possible version, and indeed, we think that certainly applies to the 2019 Toyota Prius Prime. Quite simply the plug-in hybrid version of Toyota’s definitive hybrid hatchback, it can easily be considered the most appealing version of it. Sure, it has a higher initial price tag, but hefty tax rebates and running on electricity alone thanks to its plug-in battery will ultimately make it cheaper.
How much does plugging in make a difference? Well, during our long-term test of a Prius Prime, we saw a single tank last three months and more than 2,000 miles. Do the math, and we got a staggering 235 miles per gallon! Even when we went beyond the somewhat modest 25-mile electric-only range, we still managed exceptional fuel economy. Of course, other plug-in hybrids, including the Hyundai Ioniq, the Honda Clarity, the Kia Niro and the Chevrolet Volt offer comparable eye-popping fuel economy, so we do suggest looking at these other appealing plug-ins as well.
As for other differences with the regular Prius, the Prime has slightly different styling, which some say improve the rather polarizing looks. Differences include its headlights, the broad wraparound LED taillight bar and a unique concave rear window that, while interesting, eliminates the rear wiper. Inside, the back seat loses its middle position, reducing seating capacity to four (not ideal), and the upper trim levels come with a Tesla like vertical touchscreen that’s only available on the priciest regular Prius (pretty cool). In sum, we think it lives up to the name "prime."
What’s New for 2019?
The Prius Prime carries over unchanged for 2019. See the 2019 Toyota Prius Prime models for sale near you
What We Like
Affordable price given current tax credits; massive mpg; low price for a plug-in hybrid; standard safety tech; versatile hatchback design
What We Don’t
Four-person seating capacity; less cargo space than regular Prius; questionable styling
The Prius Prime is a plug-in hybrid featuring a considerably larger lithium-ion battery than the regular Prius, allowing for all-electric propulsion up to an estimated 25 miles. Once that all-electric range is depleted, the Prime essentially operates like a regular Prius, though it continues to provide a bit more electric power. In that scenario, it returns an estimated 55 miles per gallon in the city, 53 mpg on the highway and 54 mpg in combined driving. Its miles per gallon equivalent estimate from the Environmental Protection Agency is 133 MPGe.
Those mpg figures aren’t that much different than with the regular Prius, but as a plug-in hybrid, it very much depends on how much and how far you drive. If your commute is no more than 25 miles round trip, it’s feasible you’ll go through thimbles of gasoline every month and get far better fuel economy than the EPA would indicate. In fact, we filled up our long-term Prius Prime only once in the course of 3-plus months and 2,036 miles, which adds up to a staggering 235.1 mpg. In a separate, week-long test that involved a road trip between Portland and Seattle, we still managed 82.3 mpg.
Standard Features & Options
The 2019 Toyota Prius Prime is available in three trim levels: Plus, Premium and Advanced.
The base Plus ($27,350) comes standard with 15-in alloy wheels, LED headlights, automatic high beams, forward-collision warning with automatic braking and pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning and intervention, adaptive cruise control, heated mirrors, passive keyless entry and push-button start, a backup camera, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, cloth upholstery, a steering wheel trimmed with SofTex vinyl simulated leather, a cargo cover, a 7-in touchscreen, Bluetooth, a navigation system, one USB port, satellite radio, HD Radio and a 6-speaker sound system.
The Premium ($29,050) adds automatic LED headlights, an 8-way power driver’s seat, SofTex vinyl seats, a smartphone wireless charging pad, an 11.6-in vertically oriented touchscreen and Toyota’s Entune suite of smartphone apps.
The Advanced ($33,350) adds LED fog lights, automatic wipers, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert systems, parking sensors, an automatic parking system, a heated steering wheel, a color head-up display, an upgraded cargo cover, additional smartphone apps, Safety Connect emergency communications and a 10-speaker JBL sound system.
Every Prius Prime comes standard with antilock brakes, stability and traction control, front side airbags, a driver’s knee airbag, full-length airbags and a backup camera. It also includes a forward-collision warning system with automatic braking and pedestrian detection and a lane-departure warning and intervention system. The Advanced trim includes blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert systems and Safety Connect emergency communications, which include automatic collision notification and a stolen-vehicle locator.
The government hasn’t yet crash-tested the Prius Prime, but the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has, naming it a Top Safety Pick for its top performance in all pertinent categories.
Behind the Wheel
Like the regular Prius, the Prime represents a distinct improvement over past versions of Toyota’s quintessential hybrid hatchback. It offers better handling, a more comfortable and composed ride, a quieter cabin and a better driving position, especially for taller drivers. Still, there are other hybrids and plug-ins that outdo it in these regards, especially Honda’s Insight and Clarity.
Now, unlike the regular Prius, the Prime’s extra electric motor and battery capacity ultimately yield a different driving character. It’s most noticeable when in all-electric mode, since you get the sort of silent, ultra-smooth acceleration typical of electric vehicles (and which you can only briefly feel in the regular Prius). There’s a nice low-end punch when accelerating that even carries over a bit when that all-electric range has been depleted. As a result, the Prime can feel a little quicker and ultimately better to drive.
The verdict inside is less decisive. For starters, the Prime can only seat two people in the rear, reducing passenger capacity to four, and the remaining center console isn’t especially useful or as comfortable as an armrest. Simply put, it’s a less practical car. Aesthetically, it’s a different story. We like the various cool-white accents and the vertically-oriented touchscreen found on the Premium and Advanced trim levels (another Prime-only feature). The smaller base touchscreen actually works quite well and is pleasantly easy to use, but the big 11.6-in screen looks cooler and allows you to view navigation and audio controls simultaneously. Indeed, we added the Prius Prime to our list of the 10 Best Car Interiors Under $50,000.
Other Cars to Consider
2019 Hyundai Ioniq Plug-In Hybrid — The Ioniq Hybrid is a serious competitor for the Prius Prime, delivering comparable fuel economy and electric-only range for less money. It’s also more enjoyable to drive.
2019 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid — The Clarity can go 48 miles on electricity, meaning it could be a better choice than the Prius Prime for those with longer commutes. It’s also a bigger, more substantial and luxurious car.
2019 Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid — The Niro’s all-electric range matches the Prime’s and offers a distinctive crossover body style. Its fuel economy when not in all-electric mode isn’t as good as the Prime, but it’s still an excellent 46 mpg combined. Watch how much will fit in the Niro Plug-In Hybrid’s trunk.
2019 Chevrolet Volt — This is the last year for the Volt, but it’s still a viable choice thanks to a class-leading 53 miles of electric range.
With so much standard feature content, we think most people will be perfectly happy with the base Plus trim level. At the same time, for less than $2,000 more, you can get an 8-way power driver’s seat, that big touchscreen and various smartphone-connectivity apps in the Premium trim level. Find a Toyota Prius Prime for sale