The plug-in version of Toyota's iconic hybrid, the 2018 Prius Prime features a heroically-sized touchscreen on most models, outstanding fuel economy, roomy four-passenger seating, and a long list of advanced safety features. But quirky styling, an EV range that falls short of rivals, and larger and more mainstream competitors like the Camry Hybrid hold the Prius Prime back.

Best Value

Available in three trim levels, pricing starts at $27,995 for the Plus model, rises to $29,695 for the Premium trim, and tops out at $33,995 for the full-boat Advanced. All three models are mono-spec, offer the same engine and transmission, and are eligible for a $4,502 federal tax credit. Choosing one over another comes down to features.

Standard fare includes the usual power bits as well as automatic climate control, heated front seats, keyless push-button start, a 7.0-inch touchscreen, satellite radio, navigation, Bluetooth, 15-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry, LED headlights, taillights, and daytime running lights, heated outside mirrors, a rearview camera, and advanced safety systems that include pre-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning with steering assist, and automatic high beams.

Although both blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are appealing, the rest of what the Advanced trim offers isn't. However, for $1,700 more than the base Plus, the Premium model adds easier-to-maintain leatherette seats, Qi wireless phone charging, auto on/off headlights, an 11.6-inch touchscreen, HD radio with predictive traffic and weather, and an integrated rearview camera display. Here's how we'd build it:

  • Model: 2018 Toyota Prius Prime Premium
  • Engine: 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine / 60-hp electric motor / 8.8-kWh lithium-ion battery pack
  • Output: 95 hp (engine), 121 hp (system net) / 105 lb-ft (engine)
  • Transmission: CVT automatic
  • Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive
  • Fuel Economy: 55 City / 53 Highway
  • Options: None
  • Base Price: $29,695 (including an $895 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price: $29,695

Performance

Toyota Prius Prime

The Prius Prime's performance advantages include a smoother, more compliant ride than past versions courtesy of Toyota's newest platform, an improved braking system with a more seamless transition from regeneration to friction, and an equally seamless start/stop system. Fuel economy, as you might expect, is excellent at an EPA-estimated 55 miles per gallon in the city, 53 on the highway, and 54 combined. Its EPA-estimated 133 MPGe combined puts it in second place, just behind the 136 MPGe of the Hyundai Ioniq Electric.

The suspension does a nice job of isolating most bumps and road imperfections, exhibiting a sharper ride than past models. Initial step-off is acceptable, and, in around-town driving, accompanied by very little wind or road noise entering the cabin. In electric mode, a low-pitched whine from the electric motor can be heard, but even when the gasoline engine kicks in, its sound is muted. As for range, with an overnight charge and in sunny, 50-degree weather, we logged an impressive 30 miles of local driving (between 25 and 50 mph) in all-electric mode with a half hour of charge remaining – despite a stated 25-mile maximum.

In spite of the improvements, performance remains pokey. The transmission is listless, little in the way of road feel is transmitted through the steering wheel, and the Chevrolet Volt's EV range eclipses the Prime's. In addition, cornering induces noticeable body lean with the energy-efficient tires offering little lateral grip.

Topping it all off, our Advanced tester came with not one, but two electronic nannies. The first – found on all models – is an incessant beeping with reverse engaged that's inexplicably heard only in the cabin. The second, the Intelligent Clearance Sonar offered only on the Advanced model, is designed to maintain a safe distance from a vehicle in front. On two occasions, waiting in the drive-thru line at Starbucks, the alarm sounded multiple times as we inched forward. With little room to back up and quiet the thing, the only solution was to put the transmission in park.

Interior and Exterior

Say what you will, but there's no mistaking the current plug-in hybrid, both inside and out, as anything but a Prius – tapping into the "see me, I'm green!" design philosophy that's followed the model for over a decade and a half. Third-generation models are lower and sleeker, with the plug-in version getting its own distinctive fore and aft treatments.

Up front, the Prime's upper fascia, with its horizontal headlights separated by a pseudo-grill and centered emblem, more closely resembles the rest of Toyota's sedan lineup, while the outline of the lower fascia mimics the Lexus spindle grille. Toyota has also toned down the Prime's hindquarters, with a pair of triangular taillights joined at the top by a thin light band that traces the hatch's upper trailing upper edge, while two lower elements reach halfway to the center emblem.

A Tesla-inspired 11.6-inch touchscreen dominates the interior on all but Plus models. There's an abundance of soft-touch surfaces and plenty of room for four adults (there's a console between the two rear seats). The seats are nicely bolstered, and the driver's view out the front and sides is excellent. Versatility also isn't ignored with 19.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats.

At the same time, the polarizing design – with its many angles and shapes – isn't for everyone. Taller passengers may find headroom tight in back, while the price for extended range includes sacrificing the middle seat in back, the inability of that seat to flip forward, and the loss of seven cubic feet of cargo space behind it. In addition, the odd, flipper-like shifter – surrounded by hard, high-gloss plastic – takes some getting used to. Like its forebears, the view out the twin back windows, separated by the hatchback lid, is awful.

The Best and Worst Things

We appreciate the Prius Prime's outstanding fuel economy, but are turned off by its looks and limited EV range.

Right For? Wrong For?

Toyota Prius Prime

With EPA numbers that speak for themselves, the Prius Prime should be a no-brainer for eco-conscious buyers.

At the same time, its design and performance will have style-conscious buyers and enthusiasts alike looking elsewhere.

The Bottom Line

Regardless of its outstanding fuel economy and wide range of advanced safety features, the 2018 Toyota Prius Prime's polarizing design, poor handling and performance, and limited EV range place it only mid-pack in its class.