The Toyota Prius Prime is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) that bridges the gap between ordinary hybrids such as the regular Prius and full-on electric vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf. The Prius Prime uses the same basic mechanical setup as the Prius but adds a bigger battery. While the regular Prius automatically balances a mix of gasoline and battery power, the Prius Prime has enough battery capacity to drive for about 25 miles using battery power alone. When the battery gets low, the gas engine fires up and the Prime drives like an ordinary Prius hybrid.
Unlike the regular Prius, which can't be plugged in, the Prius Prime has an outlet that can be connected to either a 120-volt wall outlet or a 240-volt Level 2 EV charger. (The Prius Prime's predecessor was called the Prius Plug-In, a much more accurate and descriptive name.) By charging the Prius Prime from an external source, owners can reduce their gasoline consumption significantly. If you never charge the battery, the Prime operates like a regular Prius.
There are some subtle differences between the Toyota Prius Prime and the regular Prius. The bigger battery takes up more space, reducing the back seat from three to two seats and raising the height of the trunk floor. To accommodate the battery and recoup some of the lost cargo space, Toyota lengthened the Prime by 6.5 inches and gave it a unique double-bubble rear window. The front-end styling is also unique to the Prime — it bears more of a resemblance to Toyota's hydrogen-powered Mirai — and there are some extra parts in the transmission to enable electric-only operation. The Prime's driving experience is nearly as seamless as in the regular Prius, although the suspension has trouble dealing with the extra weight of the battery, resulting in a lot more up-and-down body motion over bumps and crests.
Current Toyota Prius Prime
The Toyota Prius Prime is sold in Plus, Premium and Advanced trim levels. The cloth-upholstered Plus model with its small stereo screen and driver-door-only keyless entry makes no bones about being an entry-level car. We much prefer the Premium, which adds a better stereo, faux leather seats and other desirable features. The Advanced model packs on the tech, but the price premium is rather high for what you get; in our opinion, the midlevel Premium offers the best bang for your buck.
If you buy a Toyota Prius Prime, you could invest in a dedicated EV charger, which will fill the car's battery in just over two hours. But since charging from a regular 120-volt outlet takes 5.5 hours, there's really no need to make the investment; you should be able to juice up the car while you sleep. If you don't want to be bothered with plugging in, you'll probably be better off with a regular Prius since the fuel savings won't offset the Prime's extra cost. (According to the EPA, the Prime is slightly more efficient than the regular Prius when running in hybrid mode — 54 mpg versus 52 — but with the battery fully charged, it's rated at 133 mpge, or miles per gallon equivalent.)
Aside from the fact that it runs on electricity when the battery is fully charged, the Toyota Prius Prime drives a lot like the regular Prius, at least from a power and refinement standpoint. But there is a noticeable difference in ride and handling. The back of the car bounces more over bumps, and you can really feel the weight of the battery hanging out over the rear wheels. It's not enough to ruin the driving experience, but we're surprised that Toyota hasn't tuned this behavior out of the chassis.
Used Toyota Prius Prime Models
The first-generation Toyota Prius Prime was introduced as a new nameplate for the 2017 model year. It replaced the Toyota Prius Plug-In, which was sold between 2012 and 2015.
Read the most recent 2017 Toyota Prius Prime review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Toyota Prius Prime page.