Toyota Prius Prime impresses for plug-in value
If you're buying a Toyota Prius, it's clear that you like getting good gas mileage. Even a basic Prius, using its clever gas-electric hybrid technology, sips fuel at 52 miles per gallon in mixed driving.
But if you can get even better mileage for even less money, it's hard to say no. And that's the draw of the latest Prius model, the plug-in 2017 Prius Prime. Whereas a normal Prius recharges its small electric battery on the go, the Prime gives you an estimated 22 miles of all-electric driving if you charge it up at a power outlet before setting out.
And although its base sticker price of $27,965 is higher than a standard model's $25,550, the Prime qualifies for a $4,500 federal tax credit – so you save money on more than just fuel. You save time also: like other electric cars, a Prius Prime registered in Maryland can use the state's HOV lanes.
The Prius Prime isn't the first plug-in Prius that Toyota has offered. It's sold one since 2012. But with just 11 miles of quoted range, it didn't offer the same fuel savings or as much of a tax credit.
To be clear, even 22 miles of electric range pales in comparison to the 53-mile Chevrolet Volt, the leading plug-in hybrid competitor to the Prius Prime. But it covers substantial ground in the D.C. area. For instance, we could take a round trip from the Sentinel's office in downtown Rockville down to the White House, travel about 22 miles without using any gas, and then get 54 mpg on the remaining 8 miles – 0.15 gallons of gasoline. A slightly shorter commute would require no gas at all, just like in the Volt, though you'd get multiple trips out of the Chevrolet before needing to recharge.
The Prius Prime has the advantage at times you don't get a chance to plug in. Once its all-electric range is depleted, a Volt is rated for a decent but comparatively paltry 42 mpg. Meanwhile, although a brief preview drive of the Toyota on Maryland's Eastern Shore didn't give a chance to experiment with fuel-saving techniques, more extensive testing in other Prius models suggests it's especially easy to beat EPA estimates.
One significant Prius Prime advantage is the price. The Volt's longer range grants it an extra $3,000 in federal tax credits, for a total of $7,500, but its higher sticker price of $34,490 keeps the cost above a Prius Prime's. It may be worth it if you value the much better range, of course; the Volt also promises more premium-feeling driving dynamics. Unlike the Prius Prime, the Volt now offers five-passenger seating (the Prime has just four seats), though the Toyota's rear seat is roomier for the two passengers it does fit.
A note about the economics, though: Pay attention to the final sale prices, not just stickers. You may not get to haggle as much on a Prius Prime as you can with the Volt or the standard Prius. But money aside, the Prius Prime takes the Prius's existing blend of decent value, respectable practicality, and minimal fuel consumption to a new level.
New Cadillac crossover isn't a standout
Despite its reputation for stodginess, Cadillac makes some of the most agile, fun-to-drive sports sedans on the market: the compact ATS, the midsize CTS and now the full-size CT6.
But the brand's crossover/SUV lineup instead relies upon vehicles borrowed from elsewhere in the General Motors lineup and given some extra polish. And the new 2017 XT5 midsize crossover, which replaces the SRX, enters the market with clear compromises against the segment leaders.
Although the XT5 is an all-new vehicle, the exterior styling looks more like an update to the 2010 SRX than a complete departure. Inside, though, there's a fresher design and a more premium feel. Combined with spacious seating for five, the XT5's interior is a highlight overall.
Driving dynamics are less impressive. The XT5 is mechanically related to the GMC Acadia, a mainstream seven-passenger crossover, and the Cadillac doesn't seem any fancier than the GMC on the road. There isn't the sublimely cushy ride of a Lexus RX, the firm composure of a Mercedes-Benz GLC, or the relatively agile handling of a BMW X3. Just a reasonably smooth, reasonably quiet ride and safe but unsporting handling. The V6 engine, meanwhile, doesn't impress for smoothness, acceleration or fuel economy.
The base price isn't too bad at $39,990, but prices can exceed $60,000. If you want all-wheel-drive you're paying at least $48,385, as it's not even offered on the entry-level XT5. Although it's comfortable and well-finished, it's hard to recommend the XT5 over the competition at those prices.