Henry Payne Blog

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Payne: Navi-savvy Honda Prologue EV takes on Tesla

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 22, 2024

Healdsburg, California — Honda entered the U.S. market in earnest in the 1970s and ‘80s, selling affordable, fun-to-drive Civic compacts and Accord sedans to budget-conscious buyers. I was one of those customers, ultimately buying two Civics and an Accord for my young family.

For Honda 2.0, the Japanese automaker is going electric at a much higher price point.

The 2024 Honda Prologue EV is offered in front and all-wheel-drive on the same Ultium platform that GM uses for its Chevy Blazer EV.

The 2024 Honda Prologue EV is offered in front and all-wheel-drive on the same Ultium platform that GM uses for its Chevy Blazer EV. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

Starting at $48,795, the mid-size, two-row electric Prologue SUV is the most expensive Honda sold in the U.S. market. The top-trim Elite model I tested here nearly crossed the $60K mark at $59,295. That’s the same price as luxury-class EVs like an all-wheel-drive BMW i4, Cadillac Lyriq and Lexus RZ450e Premium. Yikes. Batteries ain’t cheap, and to achieve the holy grail of 300-mile range, the first Honda EV is entry-level only by the standards of the premium niche EV market.

That’s the reality as Prologue — aka, the beginning — leads Honda’s transition to an all-electric brand like Tesla.

Ah, Tesla.

The 2024 Honda Prologue EV options a panoramic roof for its roomy cabin.

The 2024 Honda Prologue EV options a panoramic roof for its roomy cabin. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

My Prologue may be cross-shopped against the cheaper-but-just-220-mile-range Toyota bz4x. But in truth, every EV is cross-shopped against the Tesla Model Y, the mid-size SUV that dominates EV sales and was the (wow) fifth best-selling vehicle in the USA last year behind the Detroit Three trucks and Toyota RAV4. Tesla’s trillion-dollar market cap is the envy of the industry and has automakers from Tokyo to Detroit to Munich playing copycat.

Tesla’s Apple-like design was key — but so was its proprietary charging network that trounced unreliable competitors. Until now.

The 2024 Honda Prologue EV's Google Built-In software will navigate a route complete with charging stops. This is LA-to_Vegas.

The 2024 Honda Prologue EV’s Google Built-In software will navigate a route complete with charging stops. This is LA-to_Vegas.. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

“Hey, Google. Take me to Las Vegas,” I barked at the Prologue’s tablet screen.

Just like my Tesla’s navigation system, Google Built-In charted my course — complete with charging stops. Where to eat while I charged at dinner time? Google listed a Wayback Burger joint, Subway and Taco Bell within 500 feet of the charger. Just like Tesla. What did the surrounding area look like? Google Earth showed a shopping center. Just like a Tesla.

Also, the trip would take 13½ hours — not the 10 hours in say, a similarly-sized gas-powered Honda Passport. Oh.

Passport is the reason EVs like Prologue are niche vehicles. Honda is targeting 40,000 sales for the $49K Prologue — same as the $42K Passport. Really? The conventional wisdom is EVs only need better infrastructure to be competitive with gas vehicles, but the well-trafficked, charging station-stuffed I-5 corridor that connects the Bay Area and Los Angeles to Vegas belies that claim.

Built on GM's 400-volt Ultium platform, the 2024 Honda Prologue EV can add 65 miles of charge in 10 minutes.

Built on GM’s 400-volt Ultium platform, the 2024 Honda Prologue EV can add 65 miles of charge in 10 minutes. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

Gas-powered cars are simply more affordable to buy and more efficient to operate than their EV peers. Honda boasts Prologue will gain 65 miles of range in 10 minutes at a fast charger. Passport will fill its 424-mile range tank in three minutes. Who wants to spend an extra 3.5 hours on the road charging with kiddies in tow when traveling to see grampa and gramma?

For all Honda’s ambitions to go all-electric by 2040, the brand knows EVs are a luxe niche. So it loads its advertising copy with the green greatest hits to attract the faithful:

Eco-Responsible and Effortless!We’re empowering eco-conscious driving!

The Prologue offers exciting performance with sustainability!

Um, exciting performance might be stretching it. Honda is rightly proud of its performance heritage with some of the best-engineered cars on the planet. The Ontario-assembled 2006 Honda Civic Si in my driveway is still a hoot to drive with apex-hugging suspension and a screaming 8,000 rpm engine that begs to be flogged. Even the Ohio-made Passport can excite with its masculine V-6 and lithe (for a big ute) 4,200-pound curb weight.

The 2024 Honda Prologue EV comes from a long line of Honda corner carvers - but the SUV's porky 5,600-pound curb weight is a deterrent to feisty driving (assuming anyone drives SUVs fast in the twisties).

The 2024 Honda Prologue EV comes from a long line of Honda corner carvers – but the SUV’s porky 5,600-pound curb weight is a deterrent to feisty driving (assuming anyone drives SUVs fast in the twisties).  Henry Payne, The Detroit News

Mexican-made Prologue, by contrast, shares GM’s porky Ultium chassis with the Chevy Blazer EV and tips the scales at 5,600 pounds — a whopping 1,400 more than Passport. Oof. I steered Prologue over the spaghetti roads of Sonoma Valley, and the Prologue is no Civic (did Honda ever market Civic in the ritzy Northern California wine region?)

The electric torque is welcome, but Prologue can’t hold a candle to the similarly priced Tesla Model Y Performance, which has twice the power and is 1,200 pounds lighter. Step on Y’s throttle and — ZOT! — you’re in the next county.

Prologue has good, smooth torque for strong highway merges, which is where it’s at its most comfortable. With its pickup-like rear seat room (42 inches, which beats the Y’s already palatial 40 inches), Prologue is comfy and can swallow the family luggage in the large cargo hold. If the kiddies’ shoes get muddy on the trip, just throw them in the nifty sub-cargo storage bin.

The 2024 Honda Prologue offers good cargo room with the seats flattened.

The 2024 Honda Prologue offers good cargo room with the seats flattened. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

That cubby care is also present in the Passport, and Honda is determined that Prologue continue the bloodline into the EV future.

Stem to stern, Prologue is a Honda. The front maintains the horizontal lights and black brow of Pilot and Passport — even as it loses the big grille necessary to feed a gas engine. The greenhouse is narrower than Passport but still square for good headroom. Under my Elite’s panoramic roof, familiar Honda ergonomics included volume knobs, steering wheel controls and plentiful console storage space.

The 2024 Honda Prologue bears the brand's simple, horizontal design cues.
The 2024 Honda Prologue bears the brand’s simple, horizontal design cues. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

Still, frills are lacking at $50K. For an EV announcing a new age, there’s little New Age on Prologue.

Pop the hood and there’s only a nest of electronics — not a tidy, useful frunk that you’ll find in a Model Y or Mustang Mach-E. That seems an oversight for a brand usually obsessed (think Honda Fit dexterity) on additional room. That pano roof — standard on Tesla — is only available on top trims. Even the dash lacks the honeycomb flair of the Civic and Accord.

Honda also eschews driver-assist systems found in comparably priced Lyriq and Model Y models.

Honda Sense is generous with standard emergency braking, blind-spot assist and adaptive cruise — but competitors offer Super Cruise (GM) and Autopilot (Tesla) for easy highway cruising. Cruising own Highway 101, I activated adaptive cruise which was also . . .  familiar from other Hondas.

The 2024 Honda Prologue EV responds to multiple voice commands ("Heat up the passenger seat") - and will even tell you jokes.

The 2024 Honda Prologue EV responds to multiple voice commands  “Heat up the passenger seat”- and will even tell you jokes. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

Like its clever navi system, Honda lets Google Bulti-In answer voice commands. “Hey, Google,” I barked again. “Tell me a joke.”

Did you hear about the snowman that got upset when the sun came out? It had a total meltdown!

“Hey, Google. Turn on the driver’s heated seats.”

Turned on the driver’s heated seats.

“Hey Google. Nice car, but don’t stop making affordable gas-powered models, OK?”

No answer, but we’ll see what the future brings.

Next week:

2024 Honda Prologue

Vehicle type: Battery-powered, front- and all-wheel-drive, five-passenger SUV

Price: $48,795, including $1,395 destination ($59,295 Elite AWD as tested)

Powerplant: 85 kWh lithium-ion battery mated to one or two electric motors

Power: 212 horsepower, 236 pound-feet of torque (FWD); 288 horsepower, 333 pound-feet of torque (AWD)

Transmission: Single-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.0 seconds (Motor Trend); towing, 1,500 pounds

Weight: 5,600 pounds (estimated, AWD as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA est. range, 273-296 miles

Report card

Highs: Roomy cabin; Google Built-In navigation

Lows: Lacks clever Honda interior, storage; long road trip compared to cheaper gas-powered Passport

Overall: 3 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or @HenryEPayne.

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Payne: Practical Chevy Trailblazer ACTIV goes to head of subcompact class

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 15, 2024

Oakland County — The Chevy Trailblazer fits like a glove.

On a cold, snowy Michigan night, driving requires special concentration. You want a car that is intuitive to operate, and Trailblazer complies. On 15 Mile in traffic, I simply punched the adaptive cruise tumbler on the steering wheel toggle and set my speed to 40 mph. The Chevy, unlike other makes, doesn’t require that you first activate ACC, then set the speed — a cumbersome process that forces you to take your eyes off the road. ACC is always at the ready, you just need to set the speed.

When the speed limit increased to 50 mph, I again felt for the raised tumbler — its surface dimpled so it’s easily located by your thumb in the dark — and scrolled it up by 10 mph. Dandy.

The 2024 Chevy Trailblazer is priced just above the Chevy Trax in the brand’s SUV lineup.Henry Payne, The Detroit News

Time to listen to the weather report. Again, without taking my hands off the wheel, I felt for the volume buttons on the back of the steering wheel with my right fingers and turned the radio on. With my left fingers, I scrolled through my preset stations on the back of the other side of the wheel until I found 950 AM. Once the WWJ weather report was done, I toggled between other AM, FM and Sirius XM stations — music, news, comedy.

At a long stoplight, I reached over into my computer bag to check my schedule for the day. In the pitch black, I reached behind the mirror and punched the ceiling light — the light and button incorporated into one big, easy-to-find button. The console flooded with light so I could read my notes.

The icing on the cake? The Trailblazer is one of the few vehicles in autodom with a fold-flat front passenger seat. That means you can load long items (surfboards, lumber) through its cabin with first and second-row seats flattened — or just sit in the second row seats and use the front seat as an Ottoman for when you’re on the road and need to get some work done. It’s a hidden gem.

No one does ergonomics better than General Motors.

In the dark, 2024 Chevy Trailblazer ACTIV drivers need not take their eye off the road thanks to intuitive steering wheel controls - even an overhead light that doubles as an easy-to-push button.

In the dark, 2024 Chevy Trailblazer ACTIV drivers need not take their eye off the road thanks to intuitive steering wheel controls – even an overhead light that doubles as an easy-to-push button. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

The perfect compact SUV recipe? Mix Chevy ergonomics, the performance of a Mazda CX-30 and minimalist Hyundai Kona design and you’d have a tasty dish.

But the Trailblazer makes a pretty good meal all by itself. When did Chevrolet get so good at compacts?

This is a brand that went through compact cars like socks. In recent decades, the Cavalier, Cobalt and Cruze came and went as competitors to perennial segment best-sellers Corolla and Civic. But with its switch to an all-SUV lineup, Chevrolet seems to have settled on a compelling formula: start with the terrific, affordable $21K Chevy Trax (a 2023 Detroit News Vehicle of the Year finalist), then offer a more rugged, all-wheel-drive Trailblazer at $28K.

So good is the Trax with its longer wheelbase that the base front-wheel-drive Trailblazer makes little sense from $24K-$27K (unless you prefer the styling and need that fold-down front passenger seat). But when Trax models top out at $27K, that’s where the Trailblazer ACTIV becomes relevant with its AWD (not offered in Trax), bigger 1.3-liter, 155-horse engine, two-inch-higher seating position, underbody skid plate and all-terrain tires.

The 2024 Chevy Trailblazer ACTIV interior is roomy, comfortable.
The 2024 Chevy Trailblazer ACTIV interior is roomy, comfortable. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

My Trailblazer ACTIV tester has much more than an easy-to-use cockpit. The rear seat is palatial with 39 inches of legroom — a knee-breathing seven inches more than a Toyota Corolla Cross, and three inches more than my favorite CX-30.

I like to carve corners in the Mazda, but the Trailblazer ACTIV plays to Chevy’s strength, which is off-asphalt. To this end, the Trailblazer’s all-terrains complement its AWD in Michigan’s endless winters. You never know when the pavement runs out in Oakland County and you’re suddenly on a potholed, muddy wagon trail.

The Trailblazer’s Hankook tires have a nice, tall sidewall and grippy tread for just such roads — not to mention January/February snowfalls. With an additional one-inch lift over the standard Trailblazer, my ACTIV charged through slippery conditions with aplomb.

Back on clean asphalt, it likes to play. Credit a nine-speed automatic transmission that shifted gears smoothly under my size-15 boot. Under the hood is a measly turbocharged three to serve GM’s regulatory masters. But at least Chevy engineers have tuned it to bring on the 174 pound-feet of torque right away, complete with a growly exhaust note.

I wish Trailblazer would do an SS version (rather than the RS show horse) to compete with Mazda’s 310-torque, AWD Turbo model — but then, the CX-30 doesn’t come equipped with all-terrain tires.

The ACTIV model sums up Trailblazer’s approach to the segment. Front-wheel-drive Trax is Chevy’s entry-level subcompact, while the Trailblazer brings a more rugged personality channeling the brand’s reputation for making great trucks.

The 2024 Chevy Trailblazer ACTIV is boxier, more truck-like than its sleek Trax stablemate.

The 2024 Chevy Trailblazer ACTIV is boxier, more truck-like than its sleek Trax stablemate. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

Truckiness is all the rage these days, with Ford offering the Maverick pickup as its starter vehicle and the Toyota RAV4 adopting the Tacoma pickup’s design cues.

Trailblazer fits the trend with its upright grille echoing the Silverado pickup — ditto the blocky fender wells, high shoulder line and square fenders. The mid-mounted front headlights also follow design cues from the truck-based 2025 Tahoe and Suburban SUVs.

My ACTIV tester came with a two-toned package that colored the body Cacti Green, then added white icing on top. Sweet. The blocky look is a nice contrast to the more streamlined Trax and mid-size Blazer.

Chevy has lagged its Japanese competitors in standard features, and the Trailblazer continues that trend. Neither blind-spot assist not adaptive cruise control comes standard on the base model — or even on the upscale ACTIV. They will set you back (in addition to other safety features) $1,595. Meanwhile, the $26,370 the Mazda CX-30 comes with both safety systems standard.

The 2024 Chevy Trailblazer ACTIV gets a smooth, nine-speed automatic transmission.The 2024 Chevy Trailblazer ACTIV gets a smooth, nine-speed automatic transmission. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

My tester was loaded with all the goodies for $33,175. But I wish Chevy would complement its Trailblazer’s superb ergonomics with a generous standard tech package. Still, the tough little Chevy is similarly priced to the AWD Hyundai Kona N Line.

Great to have Chevy back in the compact game.

Next week: 2024 Honda Prologue

2024 Chevrolet Trailblazer

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front- and all-wheel-drive, five-passenger SUV

Price: $24,790 base, including $1,295 destination ($33,175 ACTIV as tested)

Power plant: 1.2-liter, turbocharged 3-cylinder; 1.3-liter turbo-3

Power: 137 horsepower, 162 pound-feet torque (1.2L); 155 horsepower, 174 pound-feet torque (1.2L);

Transmission: Continuously variable (1.2L and 1.3L FWD); 9-speed automatic (1.3L AWD)

Performance: 0-60 mph, 8.7 seconds (Car and Driver est.); towing limit, 1,000 pounds

Weight: 3,300 pounds (est.)

Fuel economy: EPA 29 mpg city/31 mpg highway/30 mpg combined (1.2L); 26 mpg city/30 mpg highway/27 mpg combined (1.3L AWD); 436-mile range (ACTIV as tested)

Report card

Highs: Class-leading ergonomics; rugged ACTIV model

Lows: Base FWD model forgettable compared to Trax sibling; miserly on standard features

Overall: 4 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or @HenryEPayne.

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Payne: As winter whips EVs, Prius Hybrid makes a statement

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 8, 2024

Oakland County — This has been the winter of electric vehicles’ discontent. First of all, it’s winter. Despite decades of predictions of snowless winters and dried-up Great Lakes, Chicago was still an icebox this January, registering subzero temperatures and wreaking havoc on EVs, which — when taken out of their natural California habitat — have a strong allergic reaction to cold.

A WGN-9 Chicago story went viral nationwide:

The subzero temperatures are taking a toll on the EV batteries, leaving drivers frustrated.

Darryl Johnson, an Uber driver, said he waited hours just to get to a charger, only to wait even longer while it charged. But the frustrations continued even after he left after he found his battery draining faster than normal.

“It’s horrible … it takes two hours to charge, then the charge leaves really quickly, so now you’re back at the charger twice a day,” Johnson said. “They definitely have to work on it because I’m out of this Tesla after today. I’m not going to ride it again.”

The 2024 Toyota Prius Hybrid will go 58 miles on a fill-up thanks to 52 mpg hybrid tech.Henry Payne, The Detroit News

Maybe he should try a Prius.

You remember the Prius? The hybrid gas-electric moral statement that launched the green car segment? It caught fire in the early 2000s as the car to be seen in if you preened green. All the cool kids had it, including Hollywood stars Cameron Diaz, Harrison Ford, Tom Hanks and Leo DiCaprio, who drove them to the Oscars to advertise their commitment to the planet. Prius introduced a new green language to our automotive lexicon: hybrid, tailpipe emissions and California high occupancy vehicle lane passes. And, of course, Pious.

The latter was the nickname non-believers gave to the Prius faithful. Pious sold like hot cakes, until it didn’t. The movement moved on to pure electrics and Prius became oh-so-15 minutes ago — losing its California carpool lane status, its $7,500 tax break, its popularity for not going all-electric. Sales plummeted to 35,800 last year as the Tesla Model Y became the new green king at 385,900 sales a year.

Suddenly, the OG is relevant again. Thank Chicago.

“It’s what we Prius owners have always known,” said my friend Susan as we chatted on a 32-degree Michigan winter day next to her 2020 Prius Prime plug-in hybrid and my all-new 2024 Prius Prime plug-in tester. “When the battery runs out, you have to have a gas engine backup. At least until there’s better electric infrastructure.”

Or even when there is better EV infrastructure.

The 2024 Toyota Prius Hybrid's shape is more streamlined than ever to get 52 mpg.

The 2024 Toyota Prius Hybrid’s shape is more streamlined than ever to get 52 mpg. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

A state-of-the-art, 800-volt EV platform can add 68 miles of range in five minutes in optical circumstances at a DC fast charger. My $42,510 tester will gulp down 500 miles in five. Oh. That’ll get you from Oakland County to Mackinaw City and back with a short trip to the gas pump. Take a $40k, 272-mile-range Tesla Model 3 (the cheapest Tesla offered) on the same trip and it will require three stops and 45 minutes to recharge in ideal conditions.

Try it on a Michigan winter day that causes 40% battery degradation, and that EV trip turns into five stops taking 70 minutes. In the freezing cold. In Meijer parking lots.

“I love my Prius,” said Susan, who once commuted from Oakland County to Ann Arbor and back — an 80-mile round trip that would leave a dent in the wallet in a gas-guzzling SUV.

Eighty miles is a cinch in a Tesla, especially if you put a 240-volt charger inside your nice, warm garage to charge up every night (assuming you have a garage). But that’ll cost you a coupla grand on top of the Tesla price premium.

Speaking of premium, my ‘24 Prius plugin Prime model costs an extra $5,000 over the base hybrid model (which has even better 588 miles of range). Susan likes her Prime and its ability to go 25 miles (that number has jumped to 44 for the new model) on electricity alone — though she noted real-world range was closer to 20 in the, ahem, cold weather. Still, that’s enough to get her ‘round town for chores on an average day.

The interior of the 2024 Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid is tidy with no white, toilet-bowl trim like the last-gen car.

The interior of the 2024 Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid is tidy with no white, toilet-bowl trim like the last-gen car. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

The most notable change from her last-gen Prius is all-new styling and chassis. Pious has gone from class geek to prom queen. The compact Toyota’s coupe-like shape and crisp features have even become a brand halo — echoed in other Toyota models like the Crown and Crown Insignia SUV.

“It’s really nice looking,” said Susan, who also appreciated the fifth-gen car’s simplified interior, compact shifter and shelving of the previous model’s bathroom sink-white console (though, oddly, Prius still requires a wire to hook up Android Auto). I particularly like the raised display close to the raked windshield, which combines the duties of digital instruments and a head-up display.

To complement its handsome bod, Prius is also more athletic. Where the OG was a wet noodle, the 2024 model sits on Toyota’s more rigid TNGA-C platform — making for more fun in the twisties when combines with 194 horses (220 in the Prime) from its hybrid powertrain.

Nerd-turned-jock also makes Prius more palatable compared to slightly cheaper, non-green segment stalwarts like the Honda Civic Hatchback. My favorite $27k Civic Sport, for example, starts about two grand south of the Prius, is fun to drive and sports a similar (7-ish) 0-60 mph time as the Toyota.

The 2024 Toyota Prius Hybrid comes in front or all-wheel-drive.The 2024 Toyota Prius Hybrid comes in front or all-wheel-drive. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

Prius’s CVT drone is annoying compared to the Civic’s — but then again, the Honda’s 31 mpg fuel economy isn’t in the same ZIP code as Prius’s 52. Once the darling of Hollywood greens, Toyota is now as popular as Donald Trump in a diesel pickup for its emphasis on hybrids — but Prius’s combo of gas range and affordability make it a more practical middle-class buy than the brand’s first EV, the $44k bZ4X.

A significant upgrade for Prius over Civic (and some others in the compact class) is its option of all-wheel-drive in the Hybrid model (not the Prime): LE, XLE, and Limited. Mrs. Payne, an all-wheel-drive Subaru devotee, was impressed.

I buzzed around Metro Detroit during a sloppy, slushy winter week, the front-wheel-drive Prime never putting a foot wrong. But were I to buy a Prius, I’d opt for an AWD Hybrid model, not least to get up my steep driveway when I come home to a Michigan blizzard.

The Midwest still has cold winters, after all.

Next week: 2024 Chevy Trailblazer

2024 Toyota Prius Hybrid

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front- or all-wheel-drive, five-passenger hybrid hatchback

Price: $29,045 base, including $1,095 destination ($42,510 Prime plug-in XSE Premium as tested)

Power plant: 2.0-liter, inline-4 mated to electric motor(s) and 0.9 kWh lithium-ion battery pack (10.9 kWh pack with Prius Prime)

Power: 194 horsepower (Hybrid); 202 horsepower (Prime plug-in)

Transmission: Continuously variable

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.5 seconds (Car and Driver est.); top speed, 112 mph

Weight: 3,536 pounds (as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 52 mpg city/52 mpg highway/52 mpg combined (Hybrid); 50 mpg city/47 mpg highway/48 mpg combined; 588 miles hybrid range (Hybrid), 498 miles (Prime plug-in)

Report card

Highs: The ugly duckling becomes a swan; drives forever in cold weather

Lows: Tight headroom due to coupe shape; wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, please

Overall: 4 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne

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