Toyota Prius — Original hybrid car is reinvented

By Jim Meachen editor

(June 25, 2023) Over the past couple of years the Toyota Prius — demonstrating underwhelming performance combined with rather frumpy styling — has been rapidly losing relevancy. What with the onslaught of full electric vehicles and the addition of high-mileage hybrid versions of popular compact crossovers and sedans, the nation's "original" hybrid car is fading.

Sales of the once-popular fuel sipper dropped to just 36,000 units in 2022. If fans of the Prius  yearned for something a bit more upscale and with some additional horsepower, it was right there in the Toyota showroom — they could simply purchase a RAV4, Corolla or Camry in hybrid format and get style, performance and excellent mpg.

Granted, none of those hybrid variants offer as much mileage as the Prius, but they don't come with the "slow" and "frumpy" baggage. It was clearly a time for change. We applaud Toyota for not abandoning the Prius for an all-electric model, but for upgrading the familiar hybrid with considerably better performance while wrapping it in a very attractive sports sedan-like package — without sacrificing any of its 50+ mpg legacy.

We maintain that you can drive the gas-electric Prius more cheaply than you can charge an electric vehicle "on the road" or even overnight in your garage based on your area's electricity rates — if gas prices remain stable. And now you can have 60 percent more horsepower inside a sleek package, and a suite of technology that will rival most electrics in the mainstream segment. No need to worry about the woefully lacking charging infrastructure in about 80 percent of the country.

“As a company, we set our sights on developing a new Prius for the future, and our design and engineering teams really delivered,” said Toyota group vice president and general manager Dave Christ. “The weight of the Prius name is heavy — it carries with it the identity of an entire category of vehicle powertrain. We’re confident the all-new 2023 Prius and Prius Prime will continue this important legacy.”

After a week behind the wheel of a 2023 Prius Limited we agree with the Toyota official — the new Prius really delivers, although with a few caveats we will discuss later.

You will find no argument that this is by far the best looking Prius yet. Same five-door hatchback format as always, but now with an ultra-aerodynamic coupe-like profile, and big wheels — 19-inches in our tester — that has it blending in with most current EVs. It’s both wider and lower than the last generation, with a roofline two-inches closer to the ground.

Inside, things are modern in both appearance and tech features, but still highly functional aided by a considerable amount of actual physical controls. The multimedia system has an 8-inch touchscreen standard in the lower trim levels and 12.3-inch in the Limited such as the screen in our test car. Accessing Apple CarPlay and all its features including the Apple navigation system that we have come to use and trust is a snap. And needed driver information is now displayed on a well-designed 7-inch LCD screen mounted in a large housing behind the wheel similar to Toyota’s bZ4X.

The gauge cluster almost acts like a head up display. We give the design a thumb's up for its clarity and allowing the driver to keep his eyes squarely on the road while digesting a fair amount of driving information.

The biggest complaint about previous Prius models was their lackluster acceleration. Last year's fourth-generation Prius, for example, produced a meager 121 system horsepower. The new Prius makes 194 horsepower with front-wheel drive and 196 with AWD and can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in around 7 seconds. That's more than three seconds quicker than the 10.7 seconds needed by the outgoing Prius, and makes accelerating quickly while merging with fast-moving traffic a snap.

The Prius is motivated by a 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder engine combined with an upfront motor in the front-drive version. The all-wheel version gets a second 40-horsepower motor to drive the rear wheels, but only results in only two more horsepower.

EPA mileage is very similar to the outgoing model. MPG varies and if you want the most out of your hybrid go for the base LE with front drive for 57 mpg city, 56 highway and 57 combined. The all-wheel drive version of the LE is rated at 53, 54, 54. The front driven XLE and Limited is rated at 52,52,52 and the all wheel drive Limited is 49, 50, 49. Our test car was rated at 52, 52, 52 and the computer showed us squeezing out 47.6 mpg after 200 miles of lead-foot driving.

We think Toyota has made big improvements in interior design, but there are some compromises. The sweeping design has cut down on backseat room, and outward visibility compared to the outgoing model. Headroom is a bit compromised in the rear seats. If you regularly carry passengers 6.0-feet and taller, we suggest you test drive the seats before making a purchase decision. Cargo space is also down slightly, but there are 20 cubic feet as well as under floor storage available.

Like most Toyota and Lexus vehicles for 2023, the Prius comes with Safety Sense 3.0, which includes a feature called proactive driving assist designed to detect objects ahead at higher speeds in order to help avoid a collision. The system detects vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, and upcoming corners by using the car's camera and radar. It can provide gentle braking to help control the distance between your vehicle and the one ahead, as well as gentle braking into curves. If you start to get too close to the vehicle ahead, it will actively work to slow the vehicle  down. We found it a very useful tool in stop and go driving.

It’s similar to how adaptive cruise control system works to keep you from getting dangerously close to the vehicle in front of you although, unlike adaptive cruise control, you will still need to apply the brakes for a full stop. It's the third Toyota/Lexus vehicle we've driven this year with the feature, which we have found very helpful in low-speed driving.

There is a price increase from the last generation. For example the base LE trim starts at $28,545 compared to the 2022 price of $27,310. Top Limited pricing starts at $35,560 compared to $34,395 in 2022. Our Limited front-wheel drive model with a few options carried a bottom line of $37,494.

2023 Toyota Prius


Base pice: $28,545; as driven, $37,494
Engine: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, electric motor
Horsepower: 194 @ 6,000 rpm
Transmission: continuously variable
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 108.3 inches
Length: 181.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,219 pounds
Turning circle: 35.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 20.3 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 11.3 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 52 city, 52 highway, 52 combined
0-60: 7 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Kia Niro hybrid, Hyundai Elantra hybrid, Toyota Corolla hybrid

The Good
• Head-turning style
• Adequate acceleration
• Excellent safety features
• Above 50 mpg

The Bad
• Backseat headroom compromised

The Ugly
• Noisy under hard acceleration