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The Toyota Prius Prime’s high-tech interior has a ‘budget Tesla’ feel

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Even though the new Prius is just a few months old, Toyota has already made major changes to the interior of the new plug-in version, the awesomely named Prius Prime. Unfortunately, the only Prius Prime on display at the New York Auto Show yesterday was a locked-up model we couldn't get close to — we had to wait until today for Toyota to bring one out onto the floor that we could touch. The software is still early (a representative tells us that they're on the first release of four prior to the car's launch), but we were able to get a pretty good idea of where Toyota's going with this.

The updated interior, which will be an option on the production car, is surprisingly cool. Toyota replaced the standard touchscreen with a big, 11.6-inch portrait display — a trend first started by Tesla and recently implemented by Volvo in its newer models. There's also a full-color heads-up display (HUD) available.

At a glance, the big touchscreen concept is similar to Tesla's, but there are some key differences in the details. The screen is a bit smaller than Tesla's enormous 17-inch touchscreen and is mounted flush with the glossy plastic bezel that surrounds it, whereas Tesla's is inset in a much fancier dash. And Toyota has added a few primary controls as touch-sensitive buttons on either side of the display — cabin temperature, volume, radio on / off, and the like. There isn't much tactility, but at least the permanent buttons make it so you don't need to fiddle with changing screens just to lower the volume, for instance.

But Toyota and Tesla share one unfortunate thing in common: neither company is supporting CarPlay or Android Auto at this point, and that doesn't change with the Prius Prime. It's not a limitation of the big display — Volvo figured out how to do it, after all — but rather, Toyota has been doubling down on its homegrown Entune platform, adopting an open-source version of Ford's AppLink to better integrate with smartphones. For Prius Prime drivers, that means fewer apps and more functionality that doesn't feel anything like the phone you're used to.

Otherwise, the Prius Prime's interior is largely similar to the mainstream Prius — the car is just slightly greener, lies slightly further along the EV spectrum, and will probably appeal to a more tech-savvy audience than the regular model. (Hence the big touchscreen, maybe.) It's still filled with way more plastic bits than you'd find in a Tesla or Volvo, but there's a Qi-compatible phone mat built into the center console, which is pretty cool.

As for the software and UI, the tablet basically does everything: in its basic mode, it's a giant navigation map. Radio and climate controls can be called up in the lower half while keeping the map visible in the top half, mimicking Tesla's split-screen mode. (Needless to say, there does not appear to be a web browser available in Toyota's implementation.) You can also access things like energy flow (a Prius mainstay) and your charging schedule, which lets you set the car to only charge during off-peak electricity rates. A companion app will also let you do a lot of this stuff from your phone.

I still think the Prius Prime's design is polarizing, but if I were to buy a Prius, this would clearly be it — it's maxed-out on tech, and you might as well get that pure electric highway driving capability.

Pricing hasn't been announced, but the model that it's replacing starts around $30,000. It'll be in dealerships come "late fall."