I laid a lot of praise on Kia’s new Niro hybrid recently, all deserved, but I was basing my hybrid comparison to the previous Toyota Prius. Now I’ve driven the 2017 Prius Two Eco and wow, this is a stellar hybrid.
Get this, I got 57.5 miles per gallon in a week’s drive. That includes plenty of city and two longish highway jaunts. But that’s just a number, and as the EPA says, your mileage may vary, although it rates this Eco version at 58 mpg city and 53 highway. Believe it!
Yet, if this were a tinny econobox that rode like a soapbox derby racer, well, most of us wouldn’t care so much about the mileage. We still need function and comfort, and Prius delivers.
First, note that there are nearly as many Prius models as there are pickup versions from most automakers. The Two Eco is the cost leader at $24,540, with a $865 delivery fee to end up at $25,405. There are five other trims of the four-door hatch model that, while slightly more streamlined than its earlier version, still remains dowdy looking. The exception are its stylish taillights.
Looks aside (and that’s where the Niro wins hands down), the new Prius is light and agile and so tightly built it feels as snug as a three-piece suit. There are no squeaks or jiggles. It’s as quiet inside as most entry-level luxury cars. The doors close with such a resounding thud as to need a little extra elbow grease to latch the doors, the seal is that tight.
Road and tire noise is nearly non-existent.
And at just more than 3,000 lbs., the Prius Two is light, leading to nimble handling, good cornering and creating a relatively fun driving experience.
Burst of speed? No, not really, but hybrids usually have good low-end torque from their electric motors and this one, with 71 horses, will kick the Prius up to 30 mph fairly quickly before settling down and oozing its way up to highway speeds. Or, if you press the accelerator hard enough, the 1.8-liter gas engine works hard to get you there quicker. At that it makes a little noise, but nothing serious.
Like most newer cars, and hybrids in particular, there are three drive modes — Normal, Eco and Sport. You can guess which one I used mostly and in Sport mode you get that extra torque boost right away. Normal is fine for most driving conditions.
Because the car rides on a moderate 106.3-inch wheelbase the ride is comfortable and well controlled. The car has a low center of gravity and that keeps this light weight from being pushed around on windy days and helps give it better cornering ability than any small ute.
The electronically controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (ECVT) gives acceleration a seamless feel while aiding gas mileage. The only odd functional thing with Prius is its use of a push button to put the vehicle in Park. Several newer models have switched to this system and it’s a disturbing feature. Why? For many of our lifetimes an automatic transmission could be put in Park by pushing it all the way forward. For these new systems that’s Reverse. Easy to forget that, for many of us, that is until the car starts to creep backward as you take your foot from the brake.
Inside, the Blue Crush Metallic test car featured a bright white and black dash along with gray and black cloth seats and gray headliner. Honestly, the white was too bright and a bit jarring when you first got in the car on the rare sunny Wisconsin day. It would have been better to match the seats’ gray tone or the cream color of the facing around the shift pod at the bottom of the center stack.
Still, the seats are so darned comfy, with great side and lower back support that it was easy to overlook the styling faux pas. Yet there were others.
Prius features a gimmicky centered main gauge pod that is supposed to make viewing the gauges easier, but I find the opposite. It seems odd and there are so many readouts on the small screens that it became tiring.
On the plus side, the radio was easy to operate on a small, about 4 inches, touchscreen that also features a rearview camera. Other safety devices include Toyota’s Safety Sense P that includes pre-collision and pedestrian warning beeps, adaptive cruise control and automatic high beam headlights. Sadly, a blind-spot warning system is not included.
This being a low-cost Prius model, there were no heated seats or a sunroof.
Comfort though is good in the hatchback with reasonable legroom and headroom in back. The rear seats also fold flat to boost the smallish cargo area under the hatch. With those down the Prius cargo space grows to 27.4 cubic feet and there’s a cargo cover too.
Drawbacks? The Prius beeps incessantly as you back up. As long as the car is in Reverse the beep continues like you’re a delivery truck backing up. This is mind numbing. It would be a deal breaker for me, as would the poorly designed sun visors. While they flip to the side they are rarely deep enough to block early morning side sun. They do not slide.
Pricing, again, is economical and finding a Prius below $30 grand is easy. There’s this and the standard Prius Two in the $25 grand range. Or you may move up to the Prius Three, Three Touring, Four and Four Touring, ranging from $27,620 to $30,900 and each adding more features, including the later going up to 17-inch tires. Standard on the lower models are 15-inch tires.
This one added just carpeted floor and cargo mats ($225) and body side moldings ($289) to end up at $28,544.
This year Toyota also offers a plug-in hybrid, the Prius Prime, which will run 25 miles purely on electrical current, if fully charged. A full charge comes in about 6 hours from a 115-volt outlet. Competitors for that model include Ford’s C-Max Energi and Chevy’s Volt.
If you’re after a pleasant driving experience, low purchase cost and even lower operating costs, plus great resale value, any Prius model is an easy choice.
Hits: Superior gas mileage, quiet interior (nearly no road noise), good handling and ride, decent power in Sport mode, comfortable supportive seats, rearview camera and some safety features. Economically priced.
Misses: Gimmicky center-mount dash gauges, blah styling, push-button Park setting, constant beeping when in reverse, no blind-spot warning, sunroof or heated seats.
Made in: Aichi, Japan
Engine: 1.8-liter, I4 hybrid, 121 hp
Weight: 3,010 lbs.
Length: 178.7 in.
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Cargo: 27.4 cu.ft. (rear seats down)
MPG: 58/53 (EPA)
MPG: 57.5 (tested)
Base Price: $25,165
Invoice: $24,540 (includes delivery)
Carpeted floor and cargo mats, $225
Body side moldings, $289
Test vehicle: $28,544
Sources: Toyota, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage