The Toyota Prius was the original hybrid vehicle way back when. To this day, it is still one of the most easily recognizable hybrids on the market. But up to only a few years ago, all you could do was fill it up with gas and let the hybrid powertrain aid the regular gasoline engine. Now though, you can drive the 2020 Toyota Prius Prime on electricity alone… for a short while that is.
Engine – Under the hood is a traditional 1.8L 4-cylinder gasoline engine. But it does have a motor/generator attached to it which can aid it in acceleration or provide direct power to the wheels. The total system output is a mere 121 hp which is not a lot. But because the electric motor provides instantaneous torque, the Prius Prime can accelerate up to regular traffic speed in an adequate amount of time without impending anyone’s way. What’s more, the electric motor is powerful enough to drive the 2020 Toyota Prius Prime up to a speed of 135 km/h on electricity alone.
But it can’t maintain that speed for a long distance because the 8.8 kWh battery can only hold a charge for approximately 40 km of pure electric driving range. At least that’s what Toyota claims. The trip computer calculated that it could actually go for approximately 50 km of electric only range. At that point, the gasoline engine will take over to provide drive and to charge up the battery a bit. You can also tell the engine to continuously charge the battery if you want to have some electricity later on in your journey. But the biggest benefit to the Prius Prime is the ability to plug it in and recharge it for pennies. In about 5.5 hours from a 120 Volt outlet or in about 2 hours from a level 2 charger, you can get up to 50 km of electric driving range.
If you continuously plug it in and recharge it from a house or charger, you don’t have to fill up the Prius Prime for weeks or maybe months on end. During my time with the Prius Prime, I had plenty of chances to recharge it. I only needed to use the gasoline engine during two longer trips down a highway. As a result, my average fuel economy over a 300 km test drive was just 1.1 L/100km.
Transmission – Mated to the engine & motor combination is an eCVT transmission. There’s nothing really spectacular about this transmission. It’s only purpose is to vary the engine’s rpms depending on demand. It works well at doing what it’s supposed to do so I have no issues or complaints with it.
Brakes – This being a part electric vehicle, the 2020 Toyota Prius Prime comes equipped with regenerative braking. It can recapture some of the car’s momentum when slowing down to recharge the battery. This is automatically done when you apply the brake pedal however there is a stronger regen braking mode by selecting “B” on the gear selector. This mode doesn’t provide one pedal driving like the Nissan Leaf for example but it does aid in slowing down more quickly with less brake pedal application. As for the physical brakes they provide adequate braking force to stop the Prius Prime however the car is let down by the low grip eco tires. Automatic emergency braking is standard as part of the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 package.
Handling – Driving the Prius Prime in a city is one of the simplest tasks that you’ll have to do on an average day. Steering effort is light which makes it easy to maneuver around tight parking lots. Unfortunately it doesn’t make it a very engaging drive if you find yourself on a twisty mountain road. Either way you don’t want to push it hard on a mountain road because the eco tires that are designed for low rolling resistance don’t provide a lot of grip. Take a corner too hard and the Prius Prime will understeer with noticeable tire squeal.
Ride Comfort – This new generation Prius sits on a new chassis that helps improve the ride comfort. Over most bumps and road imperfections, the Prius remains composed and the suspension can easily absorb the shunts.
The front seats also provide good comfort for front passengers with just enough adjustability and cushioning. As for that seat material, it’s not real leather. It’s a synthetic leather-like material but I don’t mind it because it feels soft to the touch.
Interior Space – As it is the case in many cars, the front passengers have the majority of the cabin space. There’s plenty of leg and head room even for taller adults. This 2020 model year is the first to offer a 3rd seat in the rear. Previous years were just 2 passengers in the back seats. But even so, 3 adults will not be very comfortable in the back. Two will be fine so long as they are not too tall but 3 is stretching it a bit.
Cargo capacity is rated at 561 L which is ok but it is a bit less than the regular Prius. The Prius Prime’s floor is raised a bit to accommodate the battery pack.
Noise, Vibration, & Harshness – When in EV mode, the 2020 Toyota Prius Prime is as quiet as any other electric vehicle. Even on a highway, the aerodynamics of the Prius reduce the amount of wind noise that intrudes into the cabin. When the gasoline engine kicks in, you do notice it but it’s not a big shunt that can be felt throughout the entire car. It’s relatively quiet at lower rpms but it is annoyingly buzzy and loud at higher rpms.
But the most annoying sound in the entire car is the beeping when the Prius Prime is in reverse. It has the traditional truck “beep, beep, beep” sound and for some reason that sound is played inside the cabin, not outside. Other full electric vehicles don’t make a sound inside the cabin when in reverse. Outside, yes. But not inside. I don’t understand Toyota’s reasoning behind this because it will drive you crazy.
Odds and Ends
Gadgets – Let’s just address the elephant in the cabin; the 11.6-inch touchscreen. On the face of it, it’s a good idea. But in the real world, it has problems. Biggest problem it has is the screen face itself because in direct sunlight, it reflects the light making it difficult to see the controls or navigation map. Also when in reverse, it is a giant waste of real estate. The backup camera is only ⅓ of the entire screen. The rest is just blank. There is no option for a surround view system either. The screen itself is responsive to touch but I just think the standard 7-inch touchscreen is enough for the Prius.
Other gadgets include a heads-up display, heated seats, wireless phone charging, a full suite of advanced safety and driver aids, and a 10-speaker JBL audio system. Apple CarPlay is standard but Android Auto is not available. It is available in the 2021 model years however according to Toyota Canada’s website, Android Auto is only available with the 7-inch touch screen and not the 11.6-inch screen. Just another reason to opt for the standard 7-inch screen.
Interior Design – The best way to describe the interior of the 2020 Toyota Prius Prime is: quirky. The instrument cluster is situated in the middle so that all the passengers can see how fast you’re going or how much power you’re using. It is angled towards the driver but you still have to look to the right to see key information. Thankfully the heads-up display is directly in front of the driver so there’s no need to take your eyes off the road.
The large infotainment screen is the predominant feature of the dashboard and it will be hard to avoid it if sunlight hits it as it will reflect a lot of the light. Underneath the screen, the gear selector is probably the “quirkiest” thing in the Prius. It’s fairly simple to use but just looks a bit odd. The rest of the interior is pretty normal with good outward visibility all around. Unfortunately “normal” these days also means black piano plastics around the touschscreen & on the center console. It looks fine from a distance but up close, you will easily see scratches, dust and finger prints.
Exterior Design – The exterior was designed with aerodynamics in mind. It has a long oval shape to reduce drag with a tall rear end. Speaking of rear ends, avoid damaging the hatch because it’s made out of carbon fiber and the glass has a very unique and complex shape which is expensive to manufacture. But overall, I like the somewhat edgy styling. Even to non-gearheads, this still looks like a Prius.
The 2020 Toyota Prius Prime starts at $32,990 CAD ($27,900 USD) while this fully loaded Prime Upgrade with technology package comes in at $37,990 CAD ($33,800 USD). It’s closest competitors are the Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in, which has a similar starting price, and the Honda Clarity. Ignore the Clarity because while it does have a longer all-electric range, it costs almost $10,000 more than the Prius. Also, can you live with the exterior styling of the Clarity? I can’t. The Hyundai is a strong contender but the interior is a bit “plasticy” and the Prius offers a slightly better ride. So by those metrics, the OG hybrid is still the best bet and now it’s even better with its plug-in capability.
Thank you to Toyota Canada for providing the vehicle. www.Toyota.ca