For all the attention they get, hybrids and EVs are still in their infancy. Toyota, GM, and Ford have gotten pretty serious about them, while others like Mazda, Jaguar Land Rover, and FCA (though a Pacifica hybrid is on the way) don’t offer any yet. There’s clearly room for improvement here, and while big changes may be coming soon, the fact of the matter is that there are some pretty gaping holes for people who want to go green, especially if they don’t want to compromise on luxury.
The electric Tesla lineup is still great, but it doesn’t exactly offer anything that anyone would consider “affordable.” The Model S starts at around $67K, and goes well into the six-figure range. The Model X is even more expensive. And luxury hybrids from Mercedes and Audi don’t really offer big economy benefits that smaller, purpose-built models do, and they aren’t much cheaper than Teslas. There’s a wide gap between your run-of-the-mill Prius hybrid, or Nissan Leaf EV, and luxury offerings, and aside from the Teslas, you often pay too much for too little.
So what to do? Well, when it comes to hybrids, the Toyota Prius lineup is still the standard-bearer despite growing competition. And for those that are too fancy to drive a Prius, Lexus has offered the CT200h, a compact, boxy hybrid for the past five years. But with a recent redesign and a slight bump upmarket, the Prius is looking — well, not better, but certainly more interesting — than ever. So who rules Toyota’s hybrid roost: The force that is the Prius, or its tasteful, upmarket cousin? That’s what we’ll get to the bottom of in this latest installment of Buy This, Not That.
Tale of the tape:
The Prius nameplate has become synonymous with hybrids, and Toyota has been smart to expand it to a full model range. There’s the compact Prius C, the taller Prius V, and of course, the current fourth-generation Prius. Toyota decided to go bold with the current design, and love it or hate, it’s a lot harder to ignore than any earlier model. To top it all off, it’s also releasing the Prime, an even more upscale model with a truly avant-garde design.
The standard Prius rides on Toyota’s recent TNGA platform, which greatly improves handling over previous models. Don’t get too excited, we wouldn’t exactly call it fun-to-drive, but hey, it’s an improvement. The Prius is powered by a 1.8 liter Atkinson cycle inline-four paired to two electric motors, making a combined 121 horsepower. Acceleration times are abysmal (think zero to 60 times over 10 seconds), but that’s not why anyone buys a Prius, they buy it because of its estimated 54 miles per gallon EPA rating.
On top of fuel gains, customers love the car’s tech, fantastic use of space, and cavernous trunk. While Lexus’ offering once beat the Prius with its tall, wagon-like profile, it now finds itself down on space — 87 cubic feet to 92 in the Prius. And while power is up slightly in the Lexus (134 horses to 121 from the same powertrain), it isn’t enough to make the car feel any livelier. What’s more, the CT200h is also dealing with an older platform, which is an even bigger handling handicap than its low-resistance wheels and tires. Performance and handling aren’t a big deal for Prius buyers, but they are for an increasing amount of Lexus owners, regardless of the model. And don’t look to the F-Sport package to help either, it’s little more than a trim level here.
Unsurprisingly, the CT200h does have the Prius beat on interiors, where a suitably Lexus-level of leather and aluminum greets the driver. But the interior (like the rest of the car) looks conservative; it hasn’t received a major update since 2013, and it’s beginning to show its age. At just over $32K for the base car, and $33K for the F-Sport, and going up into the high $30K range with options, the CT200h is a bargain for something with a Lexus badge on it, but against a cheaper, newer, and more competitive Prius, we can’t find much that would make us ditch the newer Toyota for it.
This is easily the best Prius model yet, and you can see that inside and out, even though Toyota hasn’t found a way to let its drivers have any fun. For people in the market for a smart, sleek, and modern purpose-built hybrid, the Prius is still the standard-bearer and one to get. But for our money — and assuming dealers get some in stock sooner rather than later — we’d take the all-new Prius Prime for its combination of economy, wild styling, luxury, and maybe even a little fun. Toyota may have the hybrid market cornered, but until the Prime finds its niche, the standard Prius is still king of the hybrid hill.