2017 Prius Prime First Drive: Best Prius Ever

Discussion in 'Prius Prime Plug-in 2017-Now' started by Danny, Jul 11, 2016.

  1. Danny

    Danny Admin/Founder
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    Flying a total of 32 hours to spend 48 on the ground in Japan sounds ridiculous, but when offered a chance to drive the Prius Prime in its birthplace and natural habitat, I would've flown twice as far. Twice as far just happens to be the goal with Toyota's second attempt at a plug-in Prius, improving on the original Plug-in's electric range from 11 miles to 22. 22 miles of all-electric range paired with the Prius' utterly amazing MPG and versatile packaging makes for a formidable re-entry into the plug-in market.

    Design

    Prius Prime blue front 34_crop.JPG

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    The design of the Prius Prime is striking. It's as if we're getting a mid-cycle refresh design 9 months after the launch of the 2016 Prius hybrid. I'm a documented fan of the 4G Prius design, but upon seeing the Prime in person for the first time, there's a sense that Toyota had bigger and better ideas for the Prius that they just weren't able to execute for the 2016 model. That theory actually has a basis in reality, with Prius & Prius Prime Chief Engineer Toyoshima-san telling me that they had originally planned to have the "dual wave" rear window and carbon fiber rear hatch as features on the standard Prius. Both created production concerns due to the amount of time and effort that goes into the parts. The projected lower production volume of the Prius Prime means that they can put the effort into producing these unique features without worrying about creating delays.

    The exterior design is an excellent refinement of the ideas evoked in the 2016 Prius. The redesigned tail light housing helps the rear end of the car look less bulbous and more fitting with the enhanced performance aspects of the 4G Prius platform. The lower light cluster holds the all-LED amber turn signals and is nicely mirrored on the front of the car, with an LED fog light added to the front cluster, as well. While the front of the 2016 Prius looks like an angry bass fish, the Prius Prime has the look of a sly shark on the prowl.

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    The interior is largely unchanged from the hybrid Prius, except for the addition of a large 11.6" touch screen up front and the subtraction of the middle seat in the back. The large tablet-like touch screen will be available in the higher-end models of the Prime (yes, it sounds like we're getting more than just Base and Advanced models in this generation of Plug-in) and is another one of those features that Toyoshima-san informed me was originally planned for the hybrid Prius. I'll have a full review of the user experience with this new interface after I have more time to drive the car at the press long lead in a couple of months. This attempt to be more like Tesla and put more engaging tech in the Prius is very welcomed, but the devil is in the details and any current Prius driver knows that Toyota's strong suit is not in their software UX.

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    The loss of the 5th middle seat in the Prius Prime is... regrettable. For a large portion of the population I'm sure it won't be a factor in will they/won't they buy the Prime, but for those with 3 kids (a club I recently joined), or with lifestyles that frequently find themselves with a 5th passenger, the Prime becomes a vehicle of inconvenience or even out of the running entirely if you don't have another, higher passenger-capacity vehicle. Chevy's research must have told GM that the 4 seats in the 1st Generation Volt excluded many buyers from considering it, and they engineered around that limitation to put 5 seats into the 2G Volt. The Prime's 4-seater configuration is a result of the added 300 lbs over the average weight of the hybrid Prius models. The Prius name has always stood for a highly versatile vehicle package, so removing a passenger seat definitely puts a ding in that reputation.

    Fortunately, Toyota has done a very nice job turning the back seat into a 2-seater, and while I don't have any specs yet to back it up, the dedicated seat space for each passenger appears to be more spacious than the Prime's hybrid sibling. Toyota also added 2 dedicated cup holders and a nice padded armrest in place of the missing seat (picture the rear armrest always being down, but dressed more nicely). I wish they had added a couple of dedicated 12v outlets for the rear seats and seat heaters to help save energy in cold weather.

    Performance

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    The Prime's elevated performance compared to the first Prius Plug-in (PiP) is the real story here. Let's not mince words: the Prius Prime is superior in every measurable way to the PiP. It has twice the battery capacity with an 8.8 kWh vs 4.4. 22 miles of AER (all electric range) vs 11. 11.3 gallon gas tank capacity (same as hybrid) vs 10.6. 120 MPGe vs 95 MPGe. Maximum all-electric speed 84 mph vs 62 mph. A heat pump system provides 30% greater efficiency than the PiP (at 14 degrees F) and, more importantly, keeps you from having to engage the ICE to get heat in the winter.

    There are three things that held back the first Prius Plug-in. Toyota addressed the first pain point by doubling the battery size to 8.8 kWh and 22 miles of electric range. Second, the 2012-2015 Prius Plug-in engaged the ICE any time speed reached 62 mph. As mentioned earlier, this issue has been addressed by increasing the max EV speed to 84 mph.

    The final source of consternation was the Prius Plug-in's lack of desire to ever actually drive like an EV. Back when the PiP was still in prototype phase, Toyota hosted a group of us at their California HQ to test the car out on the streets of Torrance. Russell Frost, my friend and co-host of the What Drives Us podcast and editor of the Prius Owner's Group blog, was so excited to drive an electrified Prius that he dared to accelerate out of Toyota's main drive like he normally would, only to immediately engage the ICE and have to wait through the dreaded 5ish minute engine warm-up cycle that car required. That was the last time that Russell felt any love for the Prius Plug-in. I can only imagine what providing test drives for that car must have been like. "So, you're going to want to turn right onto Main Street out of the dealership, but be very gentle with the throttle if you want to actually test the car's EV capabilities." The prospective buyer has the audacity to engage 50% throttle, the ICE engages, and the rest of the test drive is spent with the ICE whirring and warming up. Not a great test driving experience. Not a great driving experience, period. Believe me; I owned one.

    While the first Prius Plug-in wanted to be a hybrid first, and begrudgingly an EV second, the Prius Prime WANTS to be an EV, and that brings me back to my trip to Japan. My driving opportunity consisted of 4 laps around a test track, the first lap in EV, the second in hybrid mode, third in EV, and final lap in hybrid. In hybrid mode, the Prime performs exactly as you'd expect the standard Prius to perform. In EV mode, it performs better. The 0-40 acceleration is quicker in EV mode than in the standard Prius' HV mode. The Chief didn't offer any exact numbers yet, but he did show us an acceleration curve illustrating the difference. Now we're not talking Tesla Model S or BMW i3 0-40 acceleration, but there's an appreciable amount of torque available and better yet, 100% throttle is available in EV mode.

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    That was the most obvious part of the driving experience to me as a previous Plug-in owner: 100% throttle available in EV mode. It sounds silly to make such a big deal about it, but that was, in the end, the biggest limiting factor to the Prius Plug-in, even above the meager 11 mile range. This is not to say that 100% throttle will be available 100% of the time in the Prime. As you reach the end of the battery, the car's software may decide to go ahead and engage the ICE to assist at higher speeds or depending on acceleration requirements. The driving experience was very similar to that of other electric vehicles: quiet, confident acceleration. Toyota has also tweaked the regenerative braking in the Prime's EV driving mode to be slightly more aggressive with regen. Nothing like the Model S or i3's single-pedal driving where the regen is so aggressive that you don't need to use the brake, but any additional regen is welcome to help fill that larger battery.

    So, how'd they achieve this increased performance in the Prime vs the original Prius PHV Plug-in? To begin with, almost all of the components in the Prime are newly developed except for the engine, MG1 and MG2. Toyota added a one way clutch in the transaxle to create a Twin Motor system. It basically engages MG1 and MG2 at the same time. MG2 has always been the traction motor for the Prius, but the clutch allows MG1 to act together with MG2 as a larger, more powerful traction motor. That increases the power output to 127 hp in the Prius Prime vs 91 hp in the Prius Plug-in. Using a clutch this way, on the surface, appears to be a simple piece of engineering, but is actually pretty brilliant and a nice example of Toyota's philosophy of kaizen by using existing parts of the Prius' HSD system in new ways.

    Toyota's engineers have also added a 3rd driving mode on the Prius Prime: EV Auto. With EV Auto engaged, the Prime's ECU determines the most efficient use of battery vs engine depending on driving conditions. For example, the engine will engage when a greater load is required going up hills or accelerating at high speeds. So instead of wasting your battery juice performing an action like that, the Prime will automatically turn on the engine for a moment as needed and save your precious kWs. I didn't have a chance to test it, but look forward to doing so at the press event later this year. It sounds like a reasonable way to conserve battery power and use it later when it can be used most efficiently, which is something the Prius has excelled at for over a decade. The Prius Prime will default to EV mode.

    Conclusion

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    It's hard to decide what to pay attention to when you only have 4 laps on a test track in a beautiful foreign country to drive a new car, but as a 1st generation Prius Plug-in owner the improvements and changes jumped out readily.. I look forward to more time in the Prime later this year and a full review will follow. For all of the many people in the forums who have been holding off on buying a new Prius until the Prime launch, I think you've made the right choice and you'll be happy you waited.

    Given the other choices available out in the market today, Toyota's eco crown has seemingly lost some of its luster. Not only does the Prime put the shine back on that crown, it's the best Prius they've ever built.

    Other notes

    A few things that couldn't quite fit in the above review:
    • Toyota's fantastic Safety Sense package will be standard on all Prius Prime grades. That package includes Pre-Collision, Full Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Auto High Beams, Pedestrian Detection, and Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist.
    • Nationwide Availability from Day 1. Not a promise like in 2012.
    • The 8.8 kWh usable battery size is divided by software into a % that the EV mode can use and then a % that is reserved for HV mode. Toyota declined to reveal the true capacity of the battery, but they've been known to be conservative with actual battery usage in the past.
    • Weight of the Prius Prime is 3,362 lbs.
    • Every exterior light is an LED
    • Solar panel not in US has to do with marketability (cost). $3,000 option price in Japan.
    • Climate system is not modified by Driving Modes.
    • Quick Charge (Chademo) is included on the Japanese-spec Prime because of a lack of 240v home infrastructure. It's not as prevalent in Japan as it is in the US.
    • The emergency DC out uses the same port. That option is not available in the US (not sure if that's a chicken or egg situation with the DC out power not available because the US doesn't get the Chademo charge port or what).
    • Toyota didn't leave it up to dealers to decide on the Prime's paint colors, like they did for the Prius Plug-in. Instead of drab variations on black, the Prime has some really interesting color choices including the beautiful Hypersonic Red, a teal-ish blue, Magnetic Gray, Classic Metallic Silver, Blizzard Pearl (white), and a new beautiful color for Toyota, Desert Blonde. The photos I have of the Desert Blonde don't really capture it well, but it's an interesting and unique color.

    Prius Prime Colors Front.png Prius Prime Colors Rear.png
     

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    #1 Danny, Jul 11, 2016
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2016
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  2. fotomoto

    fotomoto Senior Member

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    Thanks for the write up Danny. It sounds very interesting. The 3 modes sound just like Ford's EV Auto, EV Now, and EV Later but with the Prime's EV auto probably being "smarter" since it's four years newer.

    On my Energi, the battery is divided similarly. My scangauge PID reports the usable EV portions as 100-22% and the hybrid portion from 22-15%.

    I've found a cheat to boost EV range during gas hybrid mode during highway travel. First step is to switch from EV to hybrid mode while you still have some EV range left (a mile minimum). Then when drastically slowing down from higher speeds (off ramp, stop sign etc), I switch from hybrid mode back to EV mode while braking/coasting. This allows all the recouped charge back into the "main" part of the battery (the 100-22% zone) and EV miles will accumulate. If left in hybrid mode while braking, the regen goes into the smaller "hybrid portion" of the pack (22-15% zone) and EV miles won't accumulate. And just like when my Gen 2 prius energy bars go full green, the computer programming in hybrid mode will burn off the excess regen charge ASAP to keep it below 22%. I've banked as much as 5 EV miles on a 45 mile hybrid trip by doing this at every stop or significant slow down.

    It will be interesting to see what Prime owners find.
     
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  3. bisco

    bisco cookie crumbler

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    meh. i hope the target market (whoever they are) likes it more than i do. did we learn anything new?
     
  4. Jeff N

    Jeff N The answer is 0042

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    Where did these numbers come from?

    The one-way clutch dual motor mode only works when the gas engine is off. The two motors are rated at 53 kW (71 HP) and 23 kW (31 HP) which would only 102 HP but I understood the Prime's EV output to be constrained to 68 kW (91 HP) because of battery limitations.

    The Prius Plug-in can only use its 60 kW (80 HP) mg2 in electric mode but the battery limits it to 38 kW (51 HP).

    The 127 and 91 HP don't correspond to any gas engine mode or total system output numbers that I'm familiar with either.

    The 2016 and 2017 Volt already use a one-way clutch in the same way as does the upcoming Chrysler Pacifica PHEV minivan.

    I thought I had read elsewhere that the Prime was only about 76 pounds heavier than the regular 2016 Prius which implies it would weigh much less than 3,362 pounds.

    UPDATE: GreenCarReports from the same event says:

    2017 Toyota Prius Prime: first drive of new plug-in hybrid (Page 2)

    They say this is achieved by using carbon fiber hatch components but their weight numbers are inconsistent with the specs published on Toyota's global website (1510 kg) which are close to Danny's 3,362 pounds.

    FURTHER UPDATE:
    GCR is confused. According to the Toyota event report from Wayne Gerdes, the 77 pound difference is not between the standard gen 4 Prius and the gen 4 Prius Prime but is instead the difference between the weight of the gen 3 Prius Plug-in 4.4 kWh battery pack and the gen 4 Prius Prime 8.8 kWh pack.

    Full speed dynamic radar cruise control will be standard?
     
    #4 Jeff N, Jul 11, 2016
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2016
  5. offib

    offib Junior Member

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    So the missing 5th seat is due to weight limitations, as if we've never gone above them before... Ah well, bit of a shame, and I guess it's too early to be swapping out rear seats with the regular car.
     
  6. iplug

    iplug Senior Member

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    Raised floor in the cargo area looks more refined now, fixed the fit/finish.
     
  7. Trollbait

    Trollbait It's a D&D thing

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    The new stuff I learned were the reasons we don't get the solar option and the emergency power out.
    The first is simply because of cost. Few of those that found the idea interesting are going to be willing to pay the $3000 for it. That is around the cost of getting a hybrid Camry over the ICE model.

    The second is tied to Chademo. In Japan, there are home EVSE available that allow any plug in, and FCEV with the plug hardware, to power the house, but it requires the Chademo plugs. With the Chademo option not as needed as in the Japanese market, there is no way to power a house. While many might be willing to pay to be able to charge by Chademo, few are going to buy that EVSE. They are coming here to make the Mirai's PTD an available option for the few getting the car, but the EVSE might cost around $10k. There are more affordable options for emergency power.
     
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  8. Coast Cruiser

    Coast Cruiser Senior Member

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    Are there any new Prius Prime's in the U.S. Yet? I'll tell you why I'm asking, after somebody replies to my question...

    And what are those "elongated" lights in the rear fenders? Thanks.
     
  9. Pijoto

    Pijoto Active Member

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    Great pics, falling in love with the Prime the more I see it... Too bad you couldn't test the efficiency of EV Auto though, that's what I'm most interested in since my daily mileage commute is in the 30's round trip.
     
  10. bisco

    bisco cookie crumbler

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    it doesn't come out until later this year.
     
  11. drash

    drash Senior Member

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    I think they are still tweaking and we may have a number using EV Auto as opposed to HV (121 HP) and EV (91 HP). Might have a different power curve in EV Auto much like "blended mode" on the current PiP. Since its still a preproduction model I guess we'll have to wait for the real answers.

    I think everybody's numbers are a little soft. The curb weight for my PiP is 3,165lbs. The Prime is about 89kg heavier not 100 like it says on the Toyota Global site. The curb weight on the 2016 Prius Two is 3,075 or about 130kg (287lbs) less than the Prime.

    Meaning it'll have a higher price tag for the base. :cool:
     
  12. Coast Cruiser

    Coast Cruiser Senior Member

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    While driving through one of the beach cities here, I pulled up very close to a blue Prime at a traffic signal. It had Michigan license plates (which I thought was odd. rarely see those out here.) It was all dirty; you could tell it had driven across country. There was no mistaking that strange rear end... and those brake lights... and those weird elongated lights on the rear fenders. Probably came from the Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor? I got a long look at it. Positive it was a Prime.


    Toyota Breaks Ground on Expansion in Michigan at Toyota Technical Center | Corporate
     
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  13. drash

    drash Senior Member

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    Those elongated lights on the rear fenders might be for illumination for the rear camera for their auto park feature that allows the Prime to park backwards. Probably preproduction test mules. I'd be surprised if they started arriving before April on our side of the country, much like the PiP. I'm still surprised how recessed the tailpipe is. From Danny's pictures the tailpipe end must be 18" from the back of the bumper.
     
    #13 drash, Jul 11, 2016
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2016
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  14. bhtooefr

    bhtooefr Senior Member

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    It's worth noting this page: トヨタ 新型プリウスPHV | トヨタ自動車WEBサイト

    Japanese-spec Gen 4 PHV: 1510 kg
    Japanese-spec Gen 4 S: 1360 kg
    Japanese-spec Gen 4 S E-Four: 1430 kg
    Japanese-spec Gen 3 PHV: 1410 kg

    It's worth noting that S appears to be equivalent to our Two.
     
  15. hill

    hill High Fiber Member

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    and no solar panel for USA. so . . . . geee I'm surprised with all the U.S. holdbacks ... that Japan doesn't get FIVE seats to shove in our faces ah la red headed step kids. Can you image a Chademo Prius? Wow ... you could be back full up recharged in less than 10 minutes. They should of thrown that in our faces too.
    :mad:
    .
     
  16. bisco

    bisco cookie crumbler

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    i can't see the value/need/cost of quick charging a 20 mile phev.
     
  17. hill

    hill High Fiber Member

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    There are a handful of DIY folk who have Homebrew CHAdeMO setups. Imagine running around town, & then going home - recharging to quickly get back out on the road without having to pay high prices that many of the private companies charge for electricity that you may have at home for free on your roof. I think that would be a nice perk.
    .
     
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  18. bhtooefr

    bhtooefr Senior Member

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    Not necessarily - full 50 kW power would wreck the battery quickly - that'd be something like 5.7 C, and the fastest charging I'm aware of relative to the battery is the 100 kW charging on a Soul EV's 27 kWh battery - under 4 C.

    For a PHEV application, the Outlander PHEV's CHAdeMO can take an 80% charge in 30 minutes. They're running a 12 kWh battery, they're claiming 134 Wh/km, they're claiming 52 km range, which means they've got 7 kWh usable in the charge depleting range. 80% of that is 5.6 kWh, so they're charging the Outlander PHEV at an average of 0.9 C (11.2 kW).

    I'd expect the Prius Prime to be charged in the ballpark of 0.9 to 1.5 C on CHAdeMO, which would mean 7.9 to 13.2 kW charging. Note that we have 7.6 kW L2 charging. (Edit: Apparently the Prime doesn't, it's only got 3.3 kW.) CHAdeMO's used for this because of a lot of Japanese customers apparently only have 100 V service, so they can only ever L1 charge at home.
     
    #18 bhtooefr, Jul 11, 2016
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2016
  19. hill

    hill High Fiber Member

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    Doesn't the throttle down turn on how big the high & low battery buffer is? Danny says that's not being revealed yet & I guess it must have big buffers, since they're hooked up to CHAdeMO .... or else the QC would be pointless.
    .
     
    #19 hill, Jul 11, 2016
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2016
  20. bisco

    bisco cookie crumbler

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    i don't see it, but just from a personal standpoint. i don't know the habits of other phev drivers, except what i see here.
     
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