Toyota positions Prius Prime as a value play
The Prius Prime offers tech features and a lower price. Toyota hopes value could attract buyers wary of electrification.
OJAI, Calif. — To fully understand the selling points of the new Prius Prime plug-in hybrid, pull out a calculator.
With just 25 miles of electric-only range, the newest member of the Prius family isn’t going to let you play EV enthusiast for very long. Its closest competitor on the market today, the Chevrolet Volt, has enough range to let your imagination run more than twice as far, 53 clicks on the odometer.
But otherwise, the math is kind to the weirdly styled Prius.
Even in base trim, the Prime comes with heated seats, a safety suite and a bevy of gauges to monitor all the goings-on in the drivetrain. Drive modes include a combination of eco, normal, sport and electric-only, hybrid-only or automatic switching between the two.
Its base sticker price, with shipping, is $27,965. And it’s eligible for a federal tax credit of up to $4,500. That’s a lot of car and a lot of technology for the mid-$23,000s.
A $1,700 trim upgrade adds an 11.6-inch tablet-style screen on the center stack and apps to set charging times for the best electricity rates.
The base Volt, which is quicker but less efficient, stickers at $34,095 with shipping. It’s eligible for a federal tax break of $7,500, since it has a larger battery.
Both cars may be eligible for additional tax breaks in the few states that offer them.
Run the numbers and what the Prime has going for it is value. Toyota says that’s an asset that could help attract buyers who are still unsure about the payoffs of electrification.
The Prime is basically for buyers who want to dip their toes into the electric-car market but don’t want to take any chances with range anxiety or pay a premium they may not be able to recover in fuel savings. For short trips, the peppy electric powertrain will let them experience the future of automobiles on a tried-and-true hybrid platform.
And since the conventional Prius hybrid is no longer eligible for federal tax credits, the base Prius Prime actually comes in priced below the base Prius, assuming the buyer qualifies for the full $4,500 tax credit.
The Prime, which was redesigned for 2017 on Toyota’s new global platform, is also a much better car than the first-generation plug-in Prius, which sold poorly.
The new platform has an independent double-wishbone rear suspension, a lower center of gravity, improved ride and some mildly sporty intentions. Also new is the Prime’s ability to engage two electric motors rather than one to improve performance. The battery size has doubled for greater range.
“Despite more than doubling the electric range, increasing all the standard equipment and making it better looking and more fun to drive, we’re going to be lowering the starting price by $3,000 over its predecessor,” said Doug Coleman, Toyota’s national marketing manager for advanced-technology vehicles.
Such aggressive pricing reflects market realities for hybrids in an era of cheap gasoline. But Coleman says Toyota thinks the plug-in market is poised to grow in the medium term.
Toyota says half of Americans can do their round-trip commute using the car’s electric-only power. That jumps to 80 percent if they have charging station at work.
With the redesigned model, Toyota tried hard to make sure that the Prime’s gasoline motor wouldn’t kick in prematurely during electric-driving mode, unlike its predecessor, which spoiled the fantasy of whirring around in a budget Tesla. With enough battery juice, the Prime can go up to 84 mph as an electric car.
“We listened to our customers, and they wanted to be able to have that EV-mode experience at highway speeds, whether they’re using the A/C or the heater,” said Chad Moore, product training expert at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. “They really wanted to maintain that all-electric EV mode.”
Even if the feeling lasts just 25 miles.
|Toyota’s Prius Prime has a shorter EV-only range than the Volt, but its thrifty gasoline engine gives it a longer overall range.|
|2017 Prius Prime||2017 Chevrolet Volt|
|Wheelbase||106.3 in.||106.1 in.|
|Length||182.9 in.||180.4 in.|
|Width||69.3 in.||71.2 in.|
|Height||57.9 in.||56.4 in.|
|Curb weight||3,365 lbs.||3,543 lbs.|
|Engine||1.8-liter inline 4-cyl. with 2 electric motors||1.5-liter inline 4-cyl. with 2 electric motors|
|Battery||8.8-kWh lithium ion||18.4-kWh lithium ion|
|EV-only range||25 miles||53 miles|
|Total range||640 miles||420 miles|
|System horsepower||121 hp||149 hp|
|EPA mpg||55 city/53 hwy.||43 city/42 hwy.*|
|*2016 EPA estimate|
|**Includes shipping, excludes tax credits|