In baking up the new Prius plug-in hybrid, Toyota sought to set it distinctly apart from the Liftback model. Thus the new Toyota Prius Prime not only gets extended driving range but its own charge if style.

A few emblems and a charging door for its 8.8 kWh lithium-ion battery wasn’t going to be enough. Plug-in buyers wanted more, and they get it with the Prius Prime.

An entirely new face shares nothing with the Liftback. Horizontally designed LED headlamps tie into a translucent plastic grille which is more a shield really, not so much airflow here. The lower fascia has vertical strakes and jowls, housing LED daytime running lights and fog lamps.

At the rear, horizontally opposed LED tail lights are joined together with a dual wave rear spoiler in a sassy kind of way. That dual wave carries up into the rear glass in a hatch who’s frame is actually made of carbon fiber to save weight.

The look is finished up with a lower rear fascia that echos that of the face with deep vertical side gills with lighting. Wheels here are less daring 15-inch alloys however, a nod to saving fuel which is really what this car is all about.

To that, under the hood is a 1.8-liter Atkinson Cycle four-cylinder engine mated to the same Hybrid Synergy Drive two-motor CVT you will find under the hood of the Prius Liftback, producing 121 combined horsepower.

What makes the scenario different from the Liftback starts with the larger 8.8 kWh battery back that with a full charge extends the cruising range to and EPA-estimated 640 miles. You get a more robust and extended EV range of 25 miles and it can travel up to 84 mph in EV mode.

17-toyota-prius-prime-17Facilitating this is a dual-motor drive mode unique to the Prius Prime that uses both electric motors at the same time when in EV mode. Producing around 100 horsepower, they provide acceleration similar to that of other contemporary compact EVs.

You can select EV mode to use only the battery, Hybrid mode to save your EV range and motor with the gasoline engine and electric motor, or Auto EV that makes these choices for you. The ability to hold your EV range for later when it makes more sense is a nice touch.

As with the Prius Liftback, power under full acceleration is somewhat mild with the loud drone of its engine constant, but it is quieter than the last generation.

The EPA rates the Prius Prime with 54 MPH on gasoline only and 133 MPGe when you combine both. The latter is a tough number to understand as it’s an “equivalent” based on a formula. We achieved 66 MPG in our week with it, charging up each night and using EV until it was gone.

17-toyota-prius-prime-3Your actual gas mileage depends on how many miles of hybrid driving are averaged into that 25 mile EV range. Charging itself takes 5.5 hours with the standard 120v wall outlet and about 2 hours using a 240v charger.

As to handling, the Prius Prime drive much like the Prius Liftback which gained a new level of liveliness with the new TNGA chassis. It has much better steering feel and a more sporting character than before. If there’s a difference, the Prius Prime feels like it has an extra passenger or two in the rear seat due to the weight of its larger battery.

And that gets us to the interior where the first tradeoffs for this extra driving range can be found. The rear cargo area floor is about 3-inches taller to accommodate its lithium-ion battery pack. This means with the rear seats folded your floor isn’t entirely flat.

Also due to weight, the Prius Prime is only a four-passenger car, the rear seat accepting only two passengers with an armrest in the middle. Additionally, because the battery resides where a spare tire might, you have an emergency inflator instead.

Aside those deficiencies, the cabin is every bit as charming as the Prius Liftback and then some. The dash and center stack of the the two upper grades of Prius Prime feature a large 11.6-inch portrait style touchscreen user interface.

17-toyota-prius-prime-13The large screen houses all manner of audio, navigation, hvac and connectivity controls laid out thoughtfully with bright crisp graphics. The home screen features a rotational finger swipe graphic for top menu choices that works very well.

What could improve is the glare factor. In most daylight settings the screen is hard to see with reflections or glare of direct light. It also still doesn’t offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto functionality.

At least the seats are comfortable and the materials inside of a very high quality. The futuristic design is really quite eye catching, especially in the black and white theme of ours with its turquoise accents.

So with the Prius Prime you get more of something but less of something. It’s a classic compromise of priorities. With it’s 25 miles of EV range for a cost, you can conceivably charge it and drive it entirely s an EV if your drive cycle permits. That is worth something.

In a longer commute that blends both EV and hybrid modes you can achieve 60, 70 and eve 80 mpg on a tank of gas. That too is worth some extra price tag if it pencils based on your drives. The question becomes do you need the extra cargo and passenger capacity more?

Either way, the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime is a dramatic improvement over the last generation plug-in hybrid in every way. If it’s your cup of tea, it just got a lot tastier.