Love it or leave it, few vehicles have had more of an impact on the auto industry than the Toyota Prius, which helped introduce the concept of “electrification.” Today, it’s just one of dozens of hybrids on the market, and has lost most of its early momentum.
As it prepared to launch an all-new, fifth-generation Prius, the Japanese automaker knew it had to make as significant a leap as it did with the original. And, for the most part, it’s succeeded, as the 2023 Toyota Prius is decidedly more stylish than the ungainly entry it’s replaced. It’s better equipped and more refined.
And while it delivers only a modest improvement in range, the new hybrid is significantly more powerful. For the first time, you can use the term, “fun to drive,” in the same sentence as “Prius.”
Now, the Japanese automaker is following up with a replacement for the plug-in hybrid version of the hatchback. And the 2023 Toyota Prius Prime arguably has even more going for it. Not only does it does it get a 77% increase in horsepower, but it manages to boost all-electric range by 76%, up to a full 44 miles per charge. That’s even more than Toyota promised during a media reveal last November.
While the original Toyota Prius was a breakthrough product, the original plug-in version, the Prius Prime, was largely forgettable, carrying a steep price premium for barely a dozen miles in all-electric range. The outgoing model did do a little better at 25 miles, enough for those with short commutes to rely solely on battery power.
At 44 miles, 2023 Toyota Prius Prime finally offers a seriously compelling business case for those who’d like to run in EV mode during day-to-day use while still having the ability to travel long distances without worrying about where to plug in.
Beyond the larger battery pack, the Prime is all but identical to the conventional Prius hybrid. That’s not a bad thing, given its decidedly sportier design, upgraded cabin amenities and new tech features.
Add it all up and Toyota is counting on both the Prius and Prius Prime to stabilize, if not reverse, a decade-long sales decline.
Other than making a few features, like standard rain-sensing wipers, the 2023 Toyota Prius Prime doesn’t really stray from the new and well-received design of the conventional Prius hybrid.
And that’s a good thing. While the Prius and Prius Prime retain their hatchback body style, they’re 2 inches longer, an inch wider and an inch lower, than the outgoing model. Visually, these are decidedly different vehicles, with shorter front and rear overhangs and all but none of the goofier design details found on the outgoing model, starting with the jug-eared taillights.
Overall, the new Prius gets a gentle, coupe like slope to the front end, windshield and roofline, though it retains its five-passenger hatchback layout.
Slit-style lamps stretch across the nose, then hook along the front fenders before boomeranging back in front of the hood. The jug-eared taillamps have been replaced by a crossbar mirroring the front headlights – and looking much like what Toyota developed for its Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle.
As with the conventional hybrid, there’s a clean and uncluttered look to the interior of the new Prius Prime. And it does move away — though not entirely — from the use of the hard plastic surfaces that gave the outgoing hybrid a bit of a cheap look.
The cabin of the 2023 Prius appears to have been strongly influenced by Toyota’s new battery-electric vehicle, the bZ4X. That starts with a high-mounted 7-inch digital gauge cluster, with a large touchscreen infotainment system mounted at the top of the center console. The hatchback does retain more conventional controls for some vehicle functions, such as volume and climate settings.
The twin-screen layout is visually appealing but does have its drawbacks. The digital gauge cluster, in particular, has been mounted up high, apparently to obviate any need for an additional head-up display.
Personally, I found it easy to read, minimizing the need to look down to check vehicle speed, for one thing. But I tend to position the steering wheel low and out of the way. A number of colleagues have complained that, for them, part of the digital display can be blocked unless they move the steering wheel to an uncomfortable position.
There are a couple other drawbacks to the new design: less rear headroom and poorer rear visibility. But unless you have a couple NBA pros who’ll be riding in the back seat, these are more than worth the tradeoff.
On the flip side, the added width and length of the new Prius line does yield more shoulder and legroom. And the new Prius adopts larger, more supportive seats that are easier on the back and butt during long drives.
Toyota has completely upgraded the drivetrain technology for both the Prius and Prius Prime.
With the conventional hybrid, the existing 1.8-liter gas engine has been replaced with a new 2.0-liter inline-4. As before, the internal combustion powerplant has been paired with twin electric motors. But they’ve also been upgraded, allowing the combined output to climb from 121 to 193 horsepower, a 60% improvement over the outgoing fourth-generation Prius.
The numbers are more impressive for the Prius Prime. The plug-in pairs a 2.0-liter inline-4 making 161 horsepower with a 161-hp electric motor/generator. The numbers aren’t additive, but combined power jumps to an impressive 220 hp, a whopping 100 ponies more than the old Prius Prime. Torque jumps 32%, meanwhile, from 105 to 139 lb-ft. And to throw out a couple more numbers: that means a 40% improvement in launch times, the 2023 Prius Prime now hitting 60% in a factory-rated 6.6 seconds.
Power comes from a new 13.6 kWh lithium-ion battery that will take you up to 44 miles in the base Prius Prime SE, or 39 miles with the sportier XSE and XSE Premium trims.
While you can’t use one of the new DC fast chargers, the Prius Prime battery can be fully recharged in about four hours using a 240-volt power source. With the more common 120-volt plug, it will take about 11 hours.
Safety and Technology
The 2023 Toyota Prius Prime now offers the automaker’s semi-autonomous Traffic Jam Assist system as standard fare on all trim packages. Toyota describes it as “a driver-assistance feature that helps ease the burden of the stressful stop-and-go of a traffic jam.” It works only up to speeds of 25 mph, but can handle acceleration, braking and steering. Technically, it’s known as a “Level 2” system and requires a driver to keep their eyes focused on the road, ready to quickly retake control, if needed. Traffic Jam Assist also requires a subscription to Toyota’s Drive Connect service.
The plug-in hybrid also updates to the latest Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 suite of advanced driver assistance systems. These include as standard technology including blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert and forward collision warning with emergency automatic braking. There are a handful of systems that are added on higher trim packages — or offered as options on base and mid-level versions of the hybrid. These include front cross traffic alert and lane change assist.
With Toyota officials billing the fiith-generation Prius as a “high-tech marvel,” you can expect plenty of other features, including an electronically operated curve control system to help a driver stay in their lane during aggressive maneuvers.
But much of that high-tech gear can be found inside the cabin, starting with twin digital displays. That includes the new, high-mounted LCD gauge cluster, as well as the latest Toyota infotainment display. In the base model, that’s an 8-inch touchscreen. The mid-range XLE hybrid can be upgraded to a 12.3-inch display – which is standard on the high-line Prius Limited.
With the larger screen you’ll also get a new Amazon-Alexa-style voice assistant that simply by saying, “Hey, Toyota,” will let you issue commands. And the system can operate a wide range of vehicle functions while also answering questions, such as the weather forecast.
There’s Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, as well as Sirius/XM radio. Depending upon trim package there’s wireless smartphone charging. And one of the new features, dubbed Digital Key, lets you rely on a smartphone app to not only get into your Prius but run it, leaving the keyfob at home. Add the latest suite of advanced driver assistance technologies.
Automotive executives seldom trash their own products — even past models. But Mike Tripp, U.S. vice president of Vehicle Marketing, was strikingly candid when he said the new Prius line marks “the first time in my 28 years at Toyota I would consider driving a Prius.”
While this is no sports car, there is no question the 2023 makeover has created a much more fun-to-drive Prius, whether you’re behind the wheel of the conventional or plug-in hybrid. There are numerous changes that enhance the driving experience. The gas tank has been repositioned and the hatchback’s overall lower height give the new model a lower center of gravity. The steering system also has been enhanced – it’s a bit quicker and offers more road feel.
And then there’s the added power. It came in handy as I flogged the 2023 Prius Prime around San Diego County during a recent Atmospheric River downpour. The new drivetrain was quick and reasonably responsive, and despite the slick roads, the standard all-wheel-drive system kept the hatchback firmly planted on the road.
As with the conventional Prius hybrid, let me be clear: this is no sports car. But the new Prius Prime proved far more responsive to demands for power, allowing me to stomp on the throttle coming out of a corner and pointing the nose right where I wanted to go.
2023 Toyota Prius Prime Specifications
|L: 181.1 inches/W: 70.2 inches/H: 56.3 inches/Wheelbase: 108.3 inches
|2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine; twin electric motors; continuously variable transmission
|50 mpg city/47 mpg highway/48 mpg combined
|220 horsepower and 139 pound-feet of torque
|Base price: $39,570; As tested: $40,665, including $1,095 destination charge.
I have to echo Toyota VP Tripp.
While I’ve long respected the technology in early versions of the Prius, it was never a product I had a desire to own. And the outgoing model, with its cartoon-like design, just seemed the answer to a question no one was asking.
A few years ago, in a conversation with a senior Toyota official, it seemed like there was a good chance the automaker might abandon the Prius badge, at least in the U.S. market. Two other versions of the hybrid, the bigger V and compact C, were dropped as sales tumbled. And, with hybrid packages available for so many other Toyota packages, it begged the question of whether there was still a need for a Prius.
Internally, the answer turned out to be “yes.” And, after driving both the conventional hybrid and plug-in versions of the 2023 Toyota Prius, Toyota made the right decision.
Whether potential buyers will agree is yet to be determined. At its — um — prime, the Prius was the best-selling vehicle in California. Today, it’s almost an afterthought. Toyota itself hasn’t helped, as it rolls out one new hybrid model after another throughout its lineup. As an example, during my trip to San Diego, I also spent time driving the new Corolla Cross Hybrid.
That’s one reason Toyota Executive Vice President Lisa Materazzo expects Prius to generate, at most, 15% of its one-time sales numbers — but enough to still justify its existence.
Another challenge is pricing. The 2023 Prius Prime SE package starts at $32,350, and you’ll shell out at least $39,570 for the XSE Premium, (before factoring in $1,095 in delivery fees). The plug-in comes in several thousand dollars above the standard hybrid. And that model carries a sizable premium over the Toyota Corolla Hybrid.
That said, the new Prius is now one of Toyota’s most stylish hybrids — and one of the most fun to drive. Add the ability to do much of your daily driving solely on battery power and the Prius Prime suddenly looks like a solid choice. So much so, company officials have upped their estimates and now say the plug-in model could deliver at least 30% of overall Prius sales going forward.
2023 Toyota Prius Prime – Frequently Asked Questions
What is the fuel economy for the 2023 Toyota Prius Prime?
The base 2023 Toyota Prius Prime SE package makes 53 mpg city, 51 highway and 52 combined, according to the EPA, with a 127 MPGe rating. The XSE and XSE Premium grades get 50/47/48, and 114 MPGe.
How far can the 2023 Toyota Prius Prime go on battery power alone?
The Prius Prime SE gets 44 miles in all-electric mode, according to the EPA, with the XSE and XSE Premium packages EPA-rated at 39 miles per charge. You do need to plug in to get that range, using either a 120- or 240-volt source. Charging takes 11 hours at 120 volts, 4 hours using 240 volts.
Is the new Prius Prime worth it?
Starting at $32,350 for the 2023 Prius Prime SE package, and running to $39,570 for the XSE Premium, (before factoring in $1,095 in delivery fees), the plug-in hybrid does carry a premium over the regular hybrid model which starts at $27,450 LE. But Prime models are, on the whole, better equipped and could make up that premium if you routinely keep it charged and operate mostly in all-electric mode.