Plug-in to juice up 2017 Prius line, extending reach of radical new hybrid

Last Update August 22nd, 2016

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What changes make the 2017 Toyota Prius different?

Newly standard safety gear and re-introduction of a plug-in model designed to travel 22 miles on electricity alone. This report covers the 2017 Toyota Prius Liftback hatchback in both its conventional gas-electric-hybrid form and in the new plug-in-hybrid Prius Prime guise.

The Liftback was redesigned from the ground up for model-year 2016, with radical new styling, better road manners, and even higher fuel economy. Toyota continues to sell a larger wagon version called the Prius v and a smaller, subcompact-class hatchback called the Prius c. The 2017 versions of these cars ride on derivatives of the previous-generation Prius architecture and see no significant changes. Low gas prices have short circuited the popularity of electrified vehicles. Year-over-year sales of the entire Prius line are down 25 percent through the first half of 2016. Not even introduction of the Prius Prime is likely to re-ignite demand; gas would need to climb back toward $4 per gallon to accomplish that.

Why should I buy a 2017?

To take advantage of the newly standard safety kit without suffering a steep price hike. – and to be among the first to own the plug-in Prius Prime This hatchback again boasts the interior volume of a midsize car but the friendly exterior dimensions of a compact.

And every ‘17 now comes with Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P). This suite of features consists of radar-based adaptive cruise control; pre-collision braking to a full stop, including pedestrian detection; lane-departure warning with steering correction to keep you in your lane; and automatic high-beam headlight control. These items had been available only on the costliest Prius trim levels, so kudos to the automaker for making them standard across the board while increasing starting prices by an average of just $374. By contrast, Honda Sensing offered by Toyota’s rival has technology similar to TSS-P, but its price premium is $1,000 and it’s not available on every trim level of every Honda.
The 2017 Liftback offers six levels of trim: a base version called the Prius Two, and ascending grades named Two Eco, Three, Three Touring, Four, and Four Touring. The full list of equipment for the Prius Prime was not available in time for this review, but it offers three levels of trim: Three, Four, and Four Advanced, with equipment roughly mirroring that of the similarly badged Liftback models. This is essentially a standard Prius Liftback with the ability to recharge the battery pack from the electrical grid, rather than from the car’s internal combustion engine or through regenerative braking. Unlike the previous-generation plug-in model, the Prime will be sold in all 50 states. Toyota promises up to 22 miles of electric-only driving and more than 600 miles total range on a tank of gas when factoring in the engine.

Check out our 2018 Toyota Prius Preview for the latest info

Should I wait for the 2018 model instead?

If you’re interested in the Liftback body style, probably not. Toyota won’t make noteworthy changes to styling or powertrains for 2018, though it probably will raise prices slightly. And it should repeat 2017’s six-model lineup

Do wait if you’re drawn to the exceptionally roomy Prius v. It’ll move to the current Liftback’s platform and adopt its styling cues, drivetrain, and standard safety tech for 2018. Absent gas-price pressure, the Prius c isn’t apt to undergo that transition until model-year 2019.

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Is the 2017 styling different?

No. Along with the RAV4 compact crossover SUV, the 2016 Prius Liftback was among the first Toyotas to adopt the automaker’s new design language. It’s a polarizing look, characterized by sharp angles and intersecting plains. The Liftback is modestly longer, lower, and wider than the model it replaced. Engineers moved the car’s roof peak forward by nearly 7 inches to improve aerodynamics. To avoid compromising passenger headroom, the drivetrain and seating positions were lowered slightly. More glass and a lower dashboard cowl improve visibility in all directions. Still requiring some acclimation for first-time Prius owners is the car’s instrument cluster, which is concentrated in the middle of the dashboard rather than in front of the driver.

Any mechanical changes?

None aside from addition of the plug-in model. All Liftbacks, including the plug-in, are front-wheel drive and pair a 1.8-liter gasoline four-cylinder engine with a battery-powered electric motor to deliver a combined 121 horsepower. The sole transmission is a continuously variable automatic (CVT).

Revised suspension tuning, a lower center of gravity, and slightly wider tires were a part of the Liftback’s 2016 redesign. Its handling isn’t exactly sporty, but the car is responsive and stable in changes of direction and has good traction in the snow. Drivers can select among Eco, Normal, and Sport modes, which adjust throttle response. Sport allows for maximum performance from both the battery pack and gas engine, and acceleration is borderline lively. It’s particularly useful for highway passing and merging. Eco really dulls response, but overall, it’s fine for most daily driving demands.

Does fuel economy improve?

Yes, when you factor in the Prime. EPA fuel-economy ratings were unavailable in time for this review, but they’ll likely decrease very slightly because of changes in testing procedures designed to more accurately reflect real-world efficiency.

EPA ratings were 54/50/52 mpg city/highway/combined for the ’16 Prius Liftback and 58/53/56 mpg for the Two Eco. The Prime may well prove among of the most fuel-efficient vehicles on the road. Factoring the projected 22 miles of electric-only driving, Toyota expects an EPA rating of 120 mpge (miles per gallon equivalent).

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Does it have new features?

None, aside from the aforementioned TSS-P safety suite as standard equipment on all Prius Liftback models. In addition to TSS-P, every ’17 Prius Liftback has standard Bluetooth connectivity, a rearview camera, Toyota’s Entune infotainment system, and keyless entry with pushbutton ignition. Cruise control is unavailable on the Two.

The Three-level models add wireless smartphone charging and an upgraded audio system. Three Touring upsizes the wheels to 17 inches from 15, and trims the seats in Toyota’s SofTex leatherette. The Four adds heated front seats, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, and blind-spot alert with rear cross-traffic detection. Four Tourings have obstacle detection and hands-free parallel parking.

Toyota offers no factory options for the Two and Two Eco models, other than some extra-cost color choices. A $1,350 option on the Three and Four models is the Advanced Technology Package with a head-up instrument display and a power moonroof. Those items are standard on the Three Touring and Four Touring. The Four Touring can also be ordered with a $1,705 Premium Convenience Package that bundles such features as imbedded navigation, upgrades connectivity, and self-parking. recognition, and parking assist.

Are 2017 prices different?

Yes, they increase, but by an average of just 1.4 percent, a laudably small hike, given the advanced safety tech that’s now standard. Base prices include Toyota’s $865 destination fee. Most Liftback buyers pick the Three or Three Touring, though the Two Eco presents an interesting value case given its higher projected fuel-economy rating.

In the Liftback range, the Two starts at $25,550 and the Two Eco at $26,030. The Prius Three is priced from $27,600 and the Three Touring from $28,980. Base price is $30,000 for the Prius Four and $30,880 for the Four Touring. Prius Prime prices were not released in time for this review.

For reference, the 2017 Prius v offers Two, Three, Four, and Five levels of trim, with base prices ranging from $27,510 for the Two to $31,770 for the Five. Prices for the ’17 Prius c were unavailable in time for this review.

When will it come out?

Release date for the 2017 Toyota Prius Liftback is in early fall 2016. The Prime is due by the end of the calendar year.

The Prius is better than the…

Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid, Ford Fusion Hybrid, and Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, each of which is a conventional midsize sedan modified to accept an electric battery pack and associated hybrid technology. That compromises their cargo room – not an issue with the Prius, which was designed from the start as a hybrid. And none matches the Toyota’s fuel efficiency.

The Prius is not as good as…

Honda Accord Hybrid, which rates an impressive 48 mpg city-highway combined and delivers the excellent driving dynamics of the Accord; the Ford C-Max Hybrid and plug-in C-Max Energi, which have better road manners; and Chevrolet Volt, which beats it for electric-only driving range, with up to 53 miles of battery-only travel.

What change would make it better?

With Toyota Safety Sense P now standard, every ’17 Prius Liftback and Prime should merit coveted Top Safety Pick+ status from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The standing is contingent on the presence of automatic braking that can bring the vehicle to a full stop to mitigate a frontal collision. Given that, Prius detractors could quibble about the layout of the instruments and controls. It’s unorthodox, but surprisingly user-friendly. As for exterior styling, it might be a bit too forward-thinking for economy-minded shoppers. But since Toyota is rolling out the look over more of its product line, it’s probably not going to change drastically any time soon.

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About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]