Light refresh. The Toyota Prius Prime is still a young buck, having debuted just five model years ago, but its cabin needed a refresh.
The 2020 Toyota Prius Prime obliges by scrapping the dirt-attracting gloss-white trim, eliminating the ill-advised fixed rear center console and adding a fifth seat in its place, adding charging ports to the rear seats, and a few other useful upgrades.
While the interior got plenty of updates, the wild Prius Prime exterior remains the same. At least it's better looking than its other Prius sibling, even considering the standard Prius' recent refresh.
An interior the whole family can enjoy. The Prius Prime has always had a decent interior, but that bright white trim needed to go. And go it went, as Toyota replaced it with a sleeker, more premium-looking gloss-black trim. Not to mention, it doesn’t show dust and dirt quite as much as the gloss white.
Roominess and comfort are decent in the front seats, though the available SofTex leatherette upholstery feels more like upgraded vinyl than a leather alternative. Support is good enough on the backside, but some extra bolstering would be nice to counter the slipperiness of the material.
The big update inside is the addition of the rear center seat and the elimination of the silly fixed console. Despite the third seat, the Prius Prime still isn't a legit five-seat sedan, as stuffing three across will result in some shoulder checking for space. Still, it's nice to have the option in a pinch.
The tale of the tape shows the Prius Prime’s rear seats have just 33.4 inches of legroom, which is OK for young kids but torture for teens. Fortunately, Toyota spent time crafting the backside of the front seats to allow for more foot and knee room, making the limited legroom more bearable.
Though Toyota did a lot to improve and normalize the Prius Prime’s cabin, some buyers may still find it too wild. This is where more traditional plug-in models like the Hyundai Ioniq Plug-In Hybrid and Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid come to the rescue.
Tech at (almost) every turn. The Toyota Prius Prime is a technical marvel. On the fun side, it has a standard 7-inch touchscreen and a large 11.6-inch tablet-style optional screen. The latter looks excellent about 85% of the time, but it's enormous and catches a lot of sunlight, so you will find yourself trying to shield from the sun about 15% of the time so you can see the map.
The Prius Prime also has standard Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa so you can run your favorite apps or shop for granola through the infotainment system. But it still lacks Android Auto.
What's odd is that with all the advanced tech that makes up the Prius Prime, it still has a traditional pedal-style parking brake. It’s not a big deal, but you may be as surprised as we were to not find an electronic parking brake in such an advanced car.
On the keep-you-safe side, the Toyota Prius is all business with a full array of standard features. These include automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, automatic high beams, and full-speed adaptive cruise control. In Limited models, you also get front and rear parking sensors and blind-spot monitoring.
The Hyundai Ioniq Plug-In Hybrid comes up short in safety, as it lacks all the standard safety bits the Prius Prime has, other than the obligatory rearview camera.
Living fuel-free has a price. The Prius Prime offers up to 25 miles of electric-only driving on a full charge, according to the EPA. Just tinkering around town, we never touched the gas in the tank, burying our fuel-economy meter at a comical 999.9 miles per gallon after about five days.
When we made a 50-mile roundtrip later in our test, we used the 1.8-liter engine on the tail end of one leg and the entire return trip. This dropped it to a slightly more realistic 250 mpg. At the end of the test, which included another day and a half of all-electric driving, we pushed the number back to 345 mpg.
This all comes at a cost, though. First, the cost of plugging in. No, it isn't significant – unless you live in high-utility-cost areas like California – but it's something the EPA uses to calculate the Prius Prime’s official 133 MPGe (miles per gallon of gasoline equivalent) when running on electricity.
Another cost is fun. The Prius Prime, like the standard Prius, is no fun to drive. You get a small pop from the instant torque the electric motor delivers, but it quickly levels out into a snoozer of a 0-60 mph time. With so many electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids delivering more exciting acceleration, like the Chevrolet Bolt EV's 6.5-second sprint, the Prius lags way behind.
The final cost of going fuel-free in the Prius Prime is cargo space. The battery and other plug-in bits gobble up a lot of cargo room. This space is 7.6 cubic feet tighter than the standard Prius, leaving the Prius Prime with just 19.8 cubes to work with.
With the Hyundai Ioniq Plug-In Hybrid offering 23 cubic feet of cargo room in roughly the same footprint, buyers looking to maximize space may prefer this option.
Final thoughts. The 2020 Toyota Prius Prime is what the automaker designed it to be: a thrifty city car. It's slow, not a great looker, and lacks a few of the more common tech features in today’s cars. But with a 25-mile EV range and a smooth ride, it can give a city-dweller years of comfortable, fuel-free driving in the perfect conditions.
Buyers who want a little utility with their plug-in hybrid may want to look to the Ioniq Plug-In Hybrid or Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid.