Say you’re looking to buy a Toyota Prius — one of the most fuel-efficient cars sold in the U.S. — and were told that you could get even better gas mileage and a fancier interior for the same money.
Or say you favor an all-electric car to avoid using any gasoline at all, but worry about what happens when your battery runs out.
In either case, you might find a surprisingly good fit in the new 2017 Toyota Prius Prime.
The Prius Prime is a plug-in hybrid, meaning that you can charge it up using electricity from the power grid but that it also has an on-board gasoline engine as a backup. While this technology is hardly new — there’s even been a plug-in Prius since 2012 — the new Prius Prime hits the sweet spot for value, efficiency, and everyday comfort and usability.
The Prius Prime is rated by the EPA as traveling 25 all-electric miles per charge. That figure isn’t too impressive compared to the many purely electric cars that can go more than 100 miles — or even more than 200 miles, like the Tesla lineup or the new Chevrolet Bolt. It’s also less than half the rating of the 2017 Chevrolet Volt, the second generation of the first plug-in hybrid.
But the Prius Prime still delivers outstanding fuel savings. In a recent weeklong test — taking place in traditionally hot D.C. summer days — the Prime traveled a total of 250 miles, of which 77 were powered solely by the electric company rather than gasoline. On the tested Prius Prime’s two full charges during the week of testing, the car lasted 27.8 miles and 29.6 miles, respectively — both trumping the EPA’s 25-mile estimate. The car has an 8.8 kilowatt-hour battery capacity, so at Pepco’s current Maryland residential rate of roughly 7 cents per kWh, the Prius Prime’s charge costs about 60 cents. A charge takes about 5.5 hours on a standard household outlet.
Running costs are pretty low if you exceed the electric range, too. The EPA rates the Prius Prime’s post-electric fuel economy at 52 mpg, but it’s easy to beat that mileage. Like other Toyota hybrids, the Prius Prime operates willingly in all-electric mode even without energy from the grid — the engine, the wheels and even the brakes all help charge the battery to allow gas-free driving if you don’t accelerate too hard. There’s another benefit: Like other plug-in vehicles, Prius Primes registered in Maryland have complete access to the state’s HOV lanes.
If those advantages aren’t enough, consider that Prius Prime buyers get a $4,500 federal tax credit. That brings the car’s effective base price down from $27,995 to $23,495 — less money than the non-plug-in Prius version, which is priced from $24,370, and the plug-in competition.
The Prime does sacrifice some passenger and cargo space to accommodate its additional electric components. Notably, it seats only four instead of five. And its dashboard with a neat double-height touchscreen display, while stylish, is missing the user-friendly buttons and knobs of a normal Prius.
But overall, the Prius Prime is a practical, affordable, comfortable hatchback that can get you from Rockville to downtown D.C. and most of the way back without burning any gasoline — and never leaves you stranded if you still have gas in the tank. While a host of other plug-in vehicles suffer from high price tags or risk sparking range anxiety, Toyota has created a superb fit for this region’s fuel-saving needs.
Audi’s latest high-performance sports sedan has an invigorating 354-horsepower V6 engine, a flashy high-tech interior and a base price of around $55,000. But the most notable thing about the new 2018 S5 Sportback? It’s not actually a sedan, but a five-door hatchback — a body style most commonly associated with functional but downscale economy cars.
Keeping this concern in mind, Audi has made sure to disguise the new Sportback’s utility. Until the power-operated back hatch glides open to reveal a spacious cargo hold, no casual observer would guess that it’s anything but a luxury sedan. BMW has done the same with its competing 4 Series Gran Coupe, another luxury five-door hatchback.
The S5 is the performance version of the Audi A5, itself a variant of the best-selling A4 sedan. Audi’s hatchback body style costs about $2,000 to $3,000 more than a comparably equipped sedan, and the 2018 A5 Sportback starts at $43,575 with standard all-wheel-drive and a 252-horsepower four-cylinder engine.
The A5 and S5 Sportback are worth the extra money, providing a generous 21.8 cubic feet of trunk space — 68 percent more than the A4 sedan. You can also fold the rear seat down to create a spacious open area that can hold bulky items. And you get the same top-quality interior; composed driving dynamics (with an extra dose of sport on the tested S5); and respectable gas mileage as the sedan. Unless you much prefer the more upright shape of the A4 sedan — or you’re on a budget and only want the sedan-only base model — the Sportback is really the way to go.