They say you should never meet your heroes, but what about never meeting your villains? Mobile appliances like the 2022 Toyota Prius Prime are the perfect foil to the high-speed, fuel-chugging machinery gearheads supposedly hold close to their hearts, but for some reason, I just can’t stop thinking about Toyota’s plucky little hybrid. Maybe it’s because I’m older and barely any wiser, or maybe it’s because I have a mortgage and gas is expensive these days.
Whatever it is, I know this for a fact: I’ve finally made my peace with the Prius. Honestly, I never thought this day would come.
It’s hard to believe the Prius has been around for two-plus decades, but there’s no denying it’s a staple among Toyota’s lineup of electrified fuel-sippers, and not to mention iconic in its own way. This fourth-generation car is more of the same, delivering everything we know and “love” about the Prius — rock-solid reliability, a surprising comfy ride, and of course, superb fuel economy — in a package that’s as wacky-looking as ever.
The variants are long gone; pour one out for the adorably honest Prius C and the practical-yet-awkward-looking Prius V. Instead, you have three basic flavours to choose from: the “regular” Prius, an AWD variant, and the Prime plug-in hybrid we have here. On account of Toyota’s well-documented wait-and-see approach when it comes to full EVs, there’s no Prius that runs solely on electrons.
Alright, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: the Prius Prime is not a tire-shredding powerhouse, and that’s OK. The 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine under the hood runs on the Atkinson cycle, and works with two electric motors and an 8.8 kWh battery pack to deliver — drumroll, please! — a whopping 121 horsepower, sent to the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission. Curiously, Toyota doesn’t dish a combined torque figure, but if you’re after even a remotely reasonable amount of kick, the Prius Prime and its miserly powertrain isn’t the right tool for the job. Performance is certainly a relative term.
It is, however, exceptionally gifted at the one thing everyone seems to overlook: being a regular car. Sometimes, you want a no-nonsense, drama-free way to get from point A to B, and the Prius Prime excels at that. Yes, the steering is numb and light, but it’s reasonably accurate and navigating through tight spaces is a piece of cake. Sure, those low-rolling-resistance tires don’t deliver much grip when you’re exploring the Prius’ limits, but they work well with the chassis to deliver a comfortable ride with minimal intrusions over bumps and rough pavement.
And who cares if it isn’t fast?! Your wallet will thank you: with a range of about 40 kilometres on a full charge, and provided you have easy access to a charger, you probably won’t touch a drop of gas on your commute, or when you’re running those errands you’ve been putting off all week. Just remember to plug in when you get home.
Even if you do have to use some gas, the Prius Prime won’t drink much. Officially, it’s rated at 4.3L/100 kilometres in the city and 4.4 on the highway; factor in the electric-only range and that drops to a paltry 1.8 Le/100 kilometres. Using a standard 120-volt outlet, the Prime tops up its battery in about five and a half hours, but that drops to just over two on a 240 V outlet.
By now, everyone knows the Prius won’t win any beauty pageants — not because it can’t handle the stress put forth by its overbearing mother trying to relive her youth through her own child, but rather because it’s almost alien-like looks don’t do the car any favours. That’s OK, though: it’s what’s on the inside that counts, and the Prius certainly makes up for its awkward styling with a surprisingly great interior.
Of course, what counts as “great” in the Prius differs considerably from, say, the Alpina B8 Gran Coupe, but it’s nonetheless a pleasant place to spend time. Fit-and-finish is impressive for the price, the massive windows and the two-tone “Moonstone” colour option lend a bright and airy feel, and the cabin is well-isolated from wind and road noise. Oh, and best of all? It no longer beeps at you like a friggin’ microwave when you’re backing up. Hallelujah!
That said, it’s not perfect: the infotainment is generally intuitive, but the portrait-oriented 11.6-inch touchscreen doesn’t effectively use all that real estate, especially when Apple CarPlay or the backup camera is running. Plus, the display becomes somewhat washed out on brighter days, and the lack of physical switchgear for the climate controls is annoying — but at least there are physical switches for the heated seats! Cargo space with the rear seats up punches in at about 560 litres, but that’s down from the standard Prius, since the battery pack raises the load floor a tad and eats into the space you have to play with.
Price-wise, Toyota keeps it simple. The Prius Prime starts at $33,550, with goodies such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, LED lighting all around, and Toyota’s suite of active safety features — in addition to the perk of driving solo in carpool lanes — coming in as standard. Stepping up to the $36,650 Upgrade trim adds the aforementioned 11.6-inch infotainment and blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert to Toyota’s active safety kit, along a power-adjustable driver’s seat wireless charging for your smartphone — although the big-screen infotainment loses out on Android Auto.
Our Upgrade tester featured the $2,350 Technology package and you get pretty much all the bells and whistles, including a heads-up display, a 10-speaker JBL sound system, and parking sensors, for a total of $38,955 as-tested before any provincial or federal rebates. Now, almost $40,000 might seem like a lot of cash for a fuel-efficient jellybean from Mars, but it’s pretty much in line with a full-jam Hyundai IONIQ and Kia Niro PHEV.
Sometimes, all you need to grow is a little time and perspective. Five years ago when the current-gen Prius came out, my daily driver had 300 hp and a six-speed stick, I used to think the Prius was the antithesis of everything I was supposed to hold near and dear to my heart, and despite all that, I miraculously had a girlfriend. Today, driving stick in traffic is a chore, my girlfriend is my fiance, and I’ve made peace with the 2021 Toyota Prius Prime: it’s comfortable, incredibly frugal, and it stands out against the blob-shaped crossovers that dominate our roads. See? Meeting your villains isn’t that bad.