2020 Toyota Prius Prime vs. 2019 BMW i3

Detailed Review, Specifications & Comparison

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Safety

For enhanced safety, the front seat shoulder belts of the Toyota Prius Prime are height-adjustable to accommodate a wide variety of driver and passenger heights. A better fit can prevent injuries and the increased comfort also encourages passengers to buckle up. The BMW i3 doesn’t offer height-adjustable seat belts.

The Prius Prime has standard Active Headrests, which use a specially designed headrest to protect the driver and front passenger from whiplash. During a rear-end collision, the Active Headrests system moves the headrests forward to prevent neck and spine injuries. The i3 doesn’t offer a whiplash protection system.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests front crash prevention systems. With a score of 6 points, IIHS rates the Pre-Collision System optional in the Prius Prime as “Superior.” The i3 scores only 3 points and is rated only “Advanced.”

The Prius Prime’s lane departure warning system alerts a temporarily inattentive driver when the vehicle begins to leave its lane and gently nudges the vehicle back towards its lane. The i3 doesn’t offer a lane departure warning system.

To help make backing safer, the Prius Prime Limited’s cross-path warning system uses wide-angle radar in the rear bumper to alert the driver to vehicles approaching from the side, helping the driver avoid collisions. The i3 doesn’t offer a cross-path warning system.

The Prius Prime’s driver alert monitor detects an inattentive driver then sounds a warning and suggests a break. According to the NHTSA, drivers who fall asleep cause about 100,000 crashes and 1500 deaths a year. The i3 doesn’t offer a driver alert monitor.

Both the Prius Prime and the i3 have standard driver and passenger frontal airbags, front side-impact airbags, side-impact head airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners, four-wheel antilock brakes, traction control, electronic stability systems to prevent skidding, daytime running lights, rearview cameras, available blind spot warning systems and rear parking sensors.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rates the general design of front seat head restraints for their ability to protect front seat occupants from whiplash injuries. The IIHS also performs a dynamic test on those seats with “good” or “acceptable” geometry. In these ratings, the Prius Prime is safer than the i3:

Prius Prime

i3

Overall Evaluation

GOOD

ACCEPTABLE

Head Restraint Design

GOOD

GOOD

Dynamic Test Rating

GOOD

ACCEPTABLE

Seat Design

Pass

Fail

Neck Force Rating

Low

Low

Max Neck Shearing Force

0

5

Max Neck Tension

269

561

(Lower numerical results are better in all tests.)

For its top level performance in IIHS driver-side small overlap frontal, moderate overlap frontal, side impact, rear impact and roof-crush tests, with its optional front crash prevention system, its “Acceptable” rating in the new passenger-side small overlap crash test, and its headlight’s “Acceptable” rating, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety grants the Prius Prime the rating of “Top Pick” for 2019, a rating granted to only 88 vehicles tested by the IIHS. The i3 was not even a standard “Top Pick” for 2016.

Warranty

Toyota’s powertrain warranty covers the Prius Prime 1 year and 10,000 miles longer than BMW covers the i3. Any repair needed on the engine, transmission, axles, joints or driveshafts is fully covered for 5 years or 60,000 miles. Coverage on the i3 ends after only 4 years or 50,000 miles.

There are almost 4 times as many Toyota dealers as there are BMW dealers, which makes it much easier should you ever need service under the Prius Prime’s warranty.

Reliability

J.D. Power and Associates’ 2019 Initial Quality Study of new car owners surveyed provide the statistics that show that Toyota vehicles are better in initial quality than BMW vehicles. J.D. Power ranks Toyota 8th in initial quality, above the industry average. With 12 more problems per 100 vehicles, BMW is ranked 20th, below the industry average.

J.D. Power and Associates’ 2019 survey of the owners of three-year-old vehicles provides the long-term dependability statistics that show that Toyota vehicles are more reliable than BMW vehicles. J.D. Power ranks Toyota second in reliability, above the industry average. With 14 more problems per 100 vehicles, BMW is ranked 7th.

From surveys of all its subscribers, Consumer Reports’ December 2018 Auto Issue reports that Toyota vehicles are more reliable than BMW vehicles. Consumer Reports ranks Toyota second in reliability. BMW is ranked 8th.

Fuel Economy and Range

On the EPA test cycle the Prius Prime gets better fuel mileage than the i3:

MPG

Prius Prime

Electricity (MPGe)

Electric Motor

145 city/121 hwy

Gasoline

1.8 4-cyl. Hybrid

55 city/53 hwy

i3

Electricity (MPGe)

Electric Motor

124 city/102 hwy

s Electric Motor

124 city/102 hwy

REx .6 2-cyl. Hybrid

107 city/93 hwy

s REx .6 2-cyl. Hybrid

107 city/93 hwy

Gasoline

REx .6 2-cyl. Hybrid

30 city/31 hwy

The Prius Prime has 9.1 gallons more fuel capacity than the i3 Range Extender (11.4 vs. 2.3 gallons), for longer range between fill-ups.

Tires and Wheels

For better traction, the Prius Prime has larger tires than the i3 (195/65R15 vs. 155/70R19). The Prius Prime’s tires are larger than the largest tires available on the i3 (195/65R15 vs. 175/55R20).

The Prius Prime’s tires provide better handling because they have a lower 65 series profile (height to width ratio) that provides a stiffer sidewall than the i3’s standard 70 series tires.

Suspension and Handling

The Prius Prime has standard front and rear stabilizer bars, which help keep the Prius Prime flat and controlled during cornering. The i3’s suspension doesn’t offer stabilizer bars.

For a smoother ride and more stable handling, the Prius Prime’s wheelbase is 5.1 inches longer than on the i3 (106.3 inches vs. 101.2 inches).

Chassis

The design of the Toyota Prius Prime amounts to more than styling. The Prius Prime has an aerodynamic coefficient of drag of .25 Cd. That is significantly lower than the i3 (.29 to .33) and many sports cars. A more efficient exterior helps keep the interior quieter and helps the Prius Prime get better fuel mileage.

Passenger Space

Because it has more passenger and cargo room, the EPA rates the Prius Prime a Mid-size car, while the i3 is rated a Subcompact.

The Prius Prime has standard seating for 5 passengers; the i3 can only carry 4.

The Prius Prime has 7.9 cubic feet more passenger volume than the i3 (91.5 vs. 83.6).

The Prius Prime has 2.7 inches more front legroom, .6 inches more front shoulder room, 1.5 inches more rear legroom and 3.8 inches more rear shoulder room than the i3.

Cargo Capacity

The Prius Prime has a much larger cargo volume than the i3 with its rear seat up (19.8 vs. 15.1 cubic feet).

Ergonomics

The Prius Prime’s standard power windows have a locking feature to keep children from operating them. BMW does not offer a locking feature on the i3’s standard power windows.

While driving with high beams on, sensitive light sensors standard on the Prius Prime detect other vehicles which could be blinded and automatically switch to low beams. The i3 doesn’t offer automatic dimming high beams.

On extremely cold winter days, the Prius Prime Limited’s standard heated steering wheel provides comfort, allowing the driver to steer safely and comfortably before the car heater warms up. The i3 doesn’t offer a heated steering wheel.

The Prius Prime has a standard center folding armrest for the rear passengers. A center armrest helps make rear passengers more comfortable. The i3 doesn’t offer a rear seat center armrest.

To quickly and conveniently keep personal devices charged without cables tangling and wearing out, the Toyota Prius Prime XLE/Limited has a standard wireless phone charging system (Qi) in the center console. The i3 doesn’t offer wireless personal charging.

Economic Advantages

Insurance will cost less for the Prius Prime owner. The Car Book by Jack Gillis rates the Prius Prime with a number “5” insurance rate while the i3 is rated higher at a number “10” rate.

According to The Car Book by Jack Gillis, the Prius Prime is less expensive to operate than the i3 because it costs $445 less to do the manufacturer’s suggested maintenance for 50,000 miles. Typical repairs cost much less on the Prius Prime than the i3, including $138 less for a water pump and $787 less for a power steering pump.

Recommendations

Consumer Reports® recommends both the Toyota Prius Prime and the BMW i3, based on reliability, safety and performance.

The Toyota Prius outsold the BMW i3 by over 14 to one during 2018.

© 1991-2018 Advanta-STAR Automotive Research. All rights reserved.

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