Despite Mixed Reviews, Prius Prime Tops Plug-in Sales in May

By · June 02, 2017

2017 Toyota Prius Prime

The Toyota Prius Prime plug-in hybrid outsold all other electric models in May. That marked the second straight month in the top spot for Toyota’s plug-in hybrid that grants 25 miles of all-electric driving before resorting to gasoline. The model's relatively low price tag could partly explain why the Prius Prime is beating cars like the Chevy Volt and Tesla Model S, but it’s not the whole story.

The Prime’s sticker price is a few thousand dollars less than the Volt’s. However, the price advantage is reduced because buyers of the Toyota plug-in hybrid qualify for a $4,500 tax credit, while Volt buyers get a $7,500 credit. May 2017 sales of the Prius Prime were 1,908 units, beating the Volt—with its superior 53 miles of all-electric range—by about 100 cars.

The June review of the Toyota Prius Prime from Car and Driver raises questions about why the car is enjoying so much success. The automotive enthusiast magazine starts by criticizing the Prime’s looks. “We’ve finally figured out the Toyota Prius Prime’s spirit animal: an anteater,” states Alexander Stoklosa, the reviewer. “That long snout, the humped appearance, and those squinting headlights look ready for ant-scooping duty.”

The reviewer likes the peppy feeling of the Prime when driving on electrons. But when the gas engine kicks in, he says “it is growly and grainy” and “recalcitrant to respond to accelerator inputs.” A further criticism is levied for the Prime carrying only four passengers, and for a dashboard screen that is “half-baked” with “dated” aesthetics.

These criticisms didn’t bother syndicated reviewer Warren Brown, who in May described the Prime as a “Tesla for the rest of us.” He tallied 56.7 mpg on his test drive. Moreover, Brown said the Prime was “fun to drive and comfortable on the highway,” and believes it has a “sporty exterior” and “ergonomically sensible interior.”

Preferences for style and driving manners are highly subjective. Also, it appears that the benefits of greater all-electric range—which we argue is a plug-in hybrid’s most important characteristic—is not necessarily crucial to many car shoppers. Despite lagging behind the Volt in all-electric range, the Prius Prime’s sales numbers are telling us that the sum of a car’s features, and its brand, could make the Toyota plug-in hybrid the most popular electric car in 2017.

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