For the automotive writer, the 2018 Toyota Prius Prime is more challenging than most to review objectively. It’s hard not to love the plug-in hybrid’s efficiency — about 57 mpg without using the plug-in option — but we had to live with the Prius for just one week. Would we be happy with it over the long haul? Or would we eventually find the car’s deficiencies aggravating after 10,000, 20,000 or 100,000 miles?
For people who value style, the new Prius might well prove to be disappointing. Toyota has clung to the styling cues that helped make the car the hit of the 2003 automotive season — while bringing a sense of “newness” to each new edition. Where Honda engenders reactions of “Wow!” every time it rolls out a redesigned Civic or Accord, our reaction to the latest Prius redesign was more like “What?!” Toyota designers seem to have been more intent on making sure the car looked different than in making it look good. The crisp, clean lines of the 2003 Prius regrettably have been lost to the ages.
The Prius comes in several flavors, all of them with 4-cylinder gasoline engines, electric motors to maximize fuel economy, and continuously variable automatic transmissions. The Prius Prime’s plug-in system enables the car to run on its electric motor alone for as many as 25 miles. Commuters who drive fewer than 25 miles to work, and who can park in a space with a charger, may go weeks at a time without purchasing gasoline. Overall, there are four versions of the Prius: The entry-level Prius C; the Prius; the Prius V wagon; and the Prius Prime. The top-of-the-line Prime ranges from Plus to Premium to Advanced. Our test car, a Prime Advanced, had a sticker price of $34,390. Federal and Connecticut rebates for hybrid and all-electric cars would lower the test car’s price below $30,000.
There’s not much to distinguish among the various Prius models where ride, handling and acceleration are concerned. All are best defined by words such as adequate and acceptable for subcompact cars. The staggering fuel-economy heights these cars can achieve helps to explain their perennial success in the U.S. market. Still, sales numbers are looking a little grim this year. The 2017 sales total of 108,861 was the worst since 2006, and 2018 sales are trailing 2017’s numbers by more than 10,000 units sold through July.
The Prime line’s EV mode is much improved from a few years ago, when plug-in-hybrid Priuses were good for perhaps 12 miles on electric power alone. But Prius Prime models carry just four passengers, compared with five in other Priuses. On the plus side, They come with huge, Tesla-like touch-screens in the center of their dashboards. We found it user-friendly and responsive.
The Prius Prime is well equipped, with the full range of safety technology and a Top Safety Pick Plus designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
2018 Toyota Prius Prime Advanced
Engine: 1.8-liter inline Four with plug-in hybrid system, 121 horsepower, 105 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: continuously variable automatic
Weight: 3,375 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Wheels: 15×6.5 in. alloy with covers
Tires: P195/65R15 all-season
Seating capacity: 4
Luggage capacity: 19.8 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 46.2 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 11.3 gal.
Fuel economy: 133 mpge, electric only; 54 mpg combined, gasoline only
Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline
Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.