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By Katrina Ramser
San Francisco Bureau
The Auto Channel

“How can you go wrong with 56 miles-per-gallon?” This was my standard response when friends and acquaintances would ask me what I thought of my Prius test drive. While the hatchback shape still stumps some, Toyota has pushed for more than just the sensibility vote and offers models that are shorter, longer, fancier, and can stretch fuel numbers even more.

I drove a 2017 Toyota Prime with the 1.8-liter DOHC VVT-I four-cylinder engine and Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system for a total output of 121 horsepower. The Prius comes in four trims: Prius One, Prius Two, Prius Two Eco and Prius Three (there is also the classier Prime model, plus the longer Prius v and sub-compact Prius c). My mid-level Prius Two Eco came with the following standard features: fabric-trimmed front seats; 6.1-inch touchscreen with a backup camera; a 4.2-inch multi-info display; Bluetooth technology; UBS and auxiliary input jack; 3-door Smart Key system; Smart-Flow Climate Control system; push-button start; and fifteen-inch wheels. Price as described came to $25,165 without options.

The Nissan Leaf, Honda Fit EV, Soul EV, and Chevrolet Volt compete with the Prius. I have also driven the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime, which features stylistic standouts like quad LED head lights and a more curved hatch with carbon fiver accents, not to mention a more luxurious approach to the interior and the addition of helpful safety technology.


Stylish But Comfortable Results: The Prius interior is modern and accommodating, with the lower center console able to rest your cell phone and keys how you like them – within sight and flat (too many carmakers don’t have a designed space carved out specifically these our two most common possessions). While I was certainly under the effects of the Prius Kool-Aid during my weekend test drive, a few bystanders – mainly moms – were able to point out a few challenges, the chief complaint being space for children and accompanying equipment: today’s modern stroller could not fit comfortably in the hatch area. If you want the little luxuries like SofTex leather upholstery, an upgraded 10-speaker JBL audio system, Qi-combatable wireless phone charger and new 11.6-inch display screen which has practically doubled in size compared to previous models (it’s bigger than an iPad and can display climate, navigation, and music without screen crowding), you’ll have to step up the Prius Prime model. Also, the Prime model gets quad-LED headlights and integrated fog lights that streamline the new design better.

Reliability & Safety Factor: The 2017 Toyota Prius is a Top Safety Pick with The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) with ratings of “Good” in all areas. The vehicle is not yet rated by The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Toyota’s Star Safety System is standard and includes VSC, anti-lock brakes, EBD, traction control and an advanced airbag system. So much is built as standards for all models like the Pre-Collision System and Lane Departure Alert; but the Safety Connect (emergency roadside assistance) is a standard for the Advanced trim only along with the Intelligence Clearance Sonar with Intelligent Parking Assist.

Cost Issues: The base model Prius One starts at $23,475. My mid-level Prius Eco Two went from $25,165 to $27,762 with options (alloy wheels, special Hypersonic Red paint, glass breakage sensor, rear bumper protector – items you can go without). My pervious full-loaded Prius Prime Advanced trim test drive with a few unnecessary extras (illuminated door sills, paint protection film) brought the total to $36,305 with delivery charges.

Activity & Performance Ability: By far, my favorite thing about Prius performance is the fuel economy. One of the perks of this job is getting a gassed-up car dropped off every week at my doorstep – so on the occasion I need to find the time to fuel up, I find the task an added stressor to my busy parenting schedule (I know, hard life, right?). But I consider each extra minute a gift, so the 54 miles-per-gallon perk blinds me. The Prius Two Eco takes it to that next level thanks to ultralow-rolling resistance tires, a lighter lithium-ion hybrid battery, and an inflation kit that replaces a spare tire. The Prius offers a smooth and attentive ride without the touchy brakes I felt on the Volt. After your journey, the digital cluster on the instrument panel will give you a driving score such as “71 out of 100” with suggestions on how to improve your numbers. Visibility remains a challenge. I do find the repetitive “beep” when in reverse confusing as most makers preserve audio warnings for when something is about to go wrong (it’s called Rear-cross Traffic Alert).

The Green Concern: The Prius with the 1.8-liter hybrid system gets 58-city and 53-highway for a combined 56 miles-per-gallon, which is a smidge better than the other Prius trims at 52 combined. The Prius Prime, which replaces the Prius Plug-in trim, gets 133 miles-per-gallon equivalent (note the Chevrolet Volt gets 106).

The 2017 Toyota Prius at the Eco Two trim is a done deal for me -- $25k gets me a vehicle with decent family-of-three space, the kind of fuel economy where I’d only need to fill up once a month, and driving life that aligns with my values. If you want a Prius with a bevy of technology and comfort perks, choose the Prime trim.

©2017 Katrina Ramser

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