Stick Shift: Prius Prime vs XLE Hybrid

Photo via: Toyota

The Toyota Prius was one of the first full hybrid electric vehicles to become a mainstream success. Its life cycle began way back in 1997, where it was initially offered as a 4-door sedan. Without question, it was a groundbreaking achievement. Beating Honda’s hybrid Insight model off the assembly line by a full two years. While countless others that came after have shriveled and died on the vine, the Toyota Prius has outlived the early jabs and jokes, swelling in popularity and growing as the benchmark hybrid option. Now, with a wide range of shapes and sizes.

Of the Prius models, (their are six now in case you’ve lost count), you can choose from luxury trims, AWD models and more recently, a plug-in hybrid option. Prices can start as low as $24,200 for the L Eco base trim. I recently had a couple of these Prius variations back to back and thought this a good opportunity to compare the two. If only to see how different they can be, while still claiming the Prius namesake.

My two test models where the Toyota Prius XLE AWD-e and the Prius Prime Limited. Right off the bat it should be noted that the Prime Limited carries a more prime price tag. At $36,127.00 compared to $32,195.00, it’s fair that we will be expecting a little more polish from the Prime model. 

Photo of Prius XLE via: Toyota


Both models come with a 1.8L DOHC 4-cylinder engine and hybrid synergy drive system. Both have various driving modes to dull or amp up the performance. The AWD in the XLE model delivered a slight edge when handling tighter corners. The Prius Prime is a plug-in hybrid model though. As such, it can deliver up some serious MPG’s. To the tune of 133 between electricity and gasoline. On just gasoline, it will still manage 54 MPG. The XLE model, being hybrid only will still impress at 50 MPG combined. 48 on the highway. The obvious advantage goes to the Prius Prime. A true champion of the short commute and long road trip. 


To be clear, it’s still the Prius we are talking about. Nothing about the outside shell screams edgy or avant-garde. The XLE hybrid features LED headlights, 15” alloy wheels, heated side mirrors and an overall effect that’s perfectly neutral to the senses. The Prius Prime follows the same formula in general, with a few added surprises. Quad-LED headlights are playfully shaped, rounded over and sculpted around each individual LED. Underneath you’ll find LED fog lights and other accent lighting around the exterior as well. The effect is striking, really helping to elevate the Prime model above lower trim levels. The surprises continue to the back, where I was shocked to find what appeared to be a good amount of carbon fiber wrapped around the inside of the back hatch. Wheels are still 15” but styled more aggressively. 


On the inside, the clear differences manifest further. In the Prius XLE, an 8.1” touch screen with 8 Entune speakers can be found. SofTex trimmed heated front seats are wide and supportive. There’s Qi charging, 3 USB ports, bluetooth, Siri Eyes and more. Slide in behind the wheel of the Prime Limited Prius and the biggest difference jumps right out in the form of an enlarged 11.6” touch screen display. Oriented vertically, extending down the center controls much like the Tesla vehicles. Just with a lower screen resolution. It’ll control a higher end JBL audio system with an extra two speakers, making for a grand total of 10. You’ll find separate USB ports for media connection and charging. Plus the Qi wireless charger as well. Seats are the same SofTex-trim with heating. The enlarged infotainment screen alone really elevates the interior of the Prime model. Making it feel higher tech and generally more special than the XLE Prius. 

Photo via: Toyota

When stacked up against one another, a clear winner isn’t hard to identify. For only $4,000.00 more, the Prius Prime Limited is assembled with better hardware, better lighting, and generally speaking, a more interesting interior and exterior. Not to mention the plug-in option that will give you stratospheric MPG’s and help you recoup the extra few thousand spent on the more premium model quickly with far fewer stops for gas.

By: Brandon Randall

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