2017 Toyota Prius Prime fares well on the long, winding road

James Raia

After two days of brief, round-trip commutes of only a few miles each way from Harvey’s to Heavenly Mountain Resort, I returned today from South Lake Tahoe to Sacramento in my test vehicle, a 2017 Toyota Prius Prime. It’s a plug-in hybrid.

I’m driving the new vehicle, the most upscale Prius ever made, for the entire Amgen Tour of California. The women’s race began May 11 in South Lake Tahoe and ends May 14 in Sacramento. The men’s race begins May 14 in Sacramento and will advance to its May 20 conclusion in Pasadena.

The 2017 Toyota Prius Prime is the newest and most upscale model in the Toyota Prius family. Images © James Raia/2017.
The 2017 Toyota Prius Prime, a plug-in hybrid, is the newest and most upscale model in the Toyota Prius family. Images © James Raia/2017.

Driving the reverse route of the 103-mile haul from my home in Sacramento to South Lake Tahoe, I made two brief side stops on the way to downtown Sacramento and covered 120 miles along Interstate 5o and then on city roads.

The initial uphill trip took about 3 hours and 5 miles. The downhill return trip, while passing the snow-covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada and glistening forests, took 2 hours and 35 minutes.

The east-to-west route along Interstate is winding and sometimes steep with descents with as much as a 6 percent gradient. The Prime Prius isn’t swift, so when the highway was two lanes, I mostly drove in the slower-moving, right-hand lane. On a few occasions, I moved to the left into the passing lane. I often drove at the speed limit, which varied from 30 to 40 mph on technical sections and 55 to 65 mph on the straights. I periodically accelerated into the low 70s on downhill sections.

The 2017 Toyota Prius Prime combines a plug-in electric motor (25 miles electric-only range) and a 1.8-liter, 16-valve, inline four-cylinder gasoline engine/generator with variable valve timing.

The Freel Perk Coffee Shop is located in Meyers, California, a hundred yards from the California-Nevada agricultural border check.
The Freel Perk Coffee Shop is located in Meyers, California, a few hundred yards from the California-Nevada agriculture border check stop.

Combined, there’s an estimated 121 horsepower and combined city/highway of 54 miles per gallon. It uses a continuously variable automatic transmission to send power to the front wheels.

During my uphill trip, I averaged only 45.3 mpg. With the largely downhill trip home, the gas mileage was appreciably better. I’ve now driven 236 miles and I’m averaging 58.7 mpg for the trip.

One travelogue side note: Just west of the state agricultural cross in Meyers, is small community coffee shop called Freel Perk. The coffee and specialty drinks are good and the specialty food items — breakfast sandwiches to smoothies — are fresh. Local newspapers are available to read as well as a few tables and lounge chairs. The shop is connected to a Mexican restaurant, Verde Mexican Rotisserie. The wooden building that houses both businesses has a comfortable vibe.

I stopped at Freel Perk about 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning and a rack of chickens was already cooking next door on the rotisserie. Remember, westbound, the coffee shop is on the left, a few hundred yards past the California-Nevada state border agriculture control station. It’s easy to miss but worth the effort to find.

Article Last Updated: August 7, 2023.

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