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 or Twitter @HenryEPayne

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