The Prius isn’t the same as it used to be, and that’s a good thing. With the new 2023 Toyota Prius, the company that made the hybrid car popular has given its famous nameplate a new look. This comes almost 20 years after a previous-generation Prius won our Car of the Year award. Since then, Toyota has made hybrid versions of almost every make and model it sells. This has made the Prius less important over time. But the Prius is back in the spotlight, thanks in large part to its great new looks and a lot more power than you’d expect from a car that gets 50 mpg. And, for the most part, it deserves to be the new star.
Few $30K Cars Look this Good
Go ahead and look at the pictures of this (relatively cheap) thing for a minute. Since we first saw the 2023 Toyota Prius, we’ve been drooling over it. Its new design from front to back is much cleaner and more striking, and it looks just as good in person as it does in photos. Even though its coefficient of drag has gotten worse, the result is a design that both old and new customers might want, even though it’s a hybrid.
Even though it looks much better, the way the new Prius drives may be just as important, if not more important, and Toyota has done a good job there as well. Power levels have gone from “Why is everyone in such a hurry?” to “Passing that truck is no problem,” and anyone who has driven a previous-generation model will notice the difference. Toyota is almost there when it comes to balancing power and efficiency. Models with front-wheel drive have a total system horsepower of 194 and models with all-wheel drive have a total system horsepower of 196. On the road, the new Prius has enough speed to please almost everyone, except those who want an all-electric car’s feeling of instant torque.
It has more power thanks to a new, more powerful 2.0-liter inline-four engine and a front motor that is also more powerful. The back motor on 2023 Prius models with all-wheel drive is also (wait for it) more powerful. FWD and AWD models now come with a lithium-ion battery pack, and the combined city/highway driving range is between 554 and 644 miles. This means you’ll spend more time driving and less time stopping for gas.
Toyota says that the 2023 Prius can go from 0 to 60 mph in 7.0 to 7.2 seconds and still get more than 50 mpg. No, its yet-to-be-certified EPA mpg numbers won’t be much different from the 2022 model. Toyota says that FWD models of the 2023 Prius will get 52-57/52-56 mpg in the city and on the highway, while AWD models will get 49-53/50-54 mpg. Even so, those numbers are still better than almost every other new car with an engine.
During our time with the new car, we talked to the chief engineer of the Prius, Satoki Oya. He told us that customers and Toyota dealers were already happy with the mpg numbers the Prius got, but they were tired of what they thought was its boring design. Problem solved.
Performance Worthy of the Design
Oya also talked about how hard it was to make the performance of the 2023 Toyota Prius hybrid match its design. Performance can mean different things to different people, but Oya and his team have mostly made a car that is more responsive, fun to drive, and handles better than the last one.
We were able to drive the new Prius right after a 2022 model. In addition to having more power, the accelerator pedal gives less feedback, and the brakes feel much better. This can be a real problem for hybrids, like the Prius we tested a while back, and the top half of the new car’s pedal travel does too much of nothing. But overall, the 2023 Prius stops better, with braking that feels almost completely natural (like a non-hybrid car) as you come to a stop.
Its continuously variable transmission is a star because of how smooth it is, and it also responds better if you need to pass quickly. When we drove the 2023 Corolla Hybrid, we could hear the engine and hear the tires. We’ll have to spend more time with the 2023 Prius before we can say for sure, but the new car’s engine is quieter than a typical compact sedan or your neighbor’s non-hybrid RAV4.
We can’t wait to put the 2023 Prius through a full set of MotorTrend’s instrumented tests, but for now we can tell you that it drives well for a regular car. The steering doesn’t have a lot of feel, but it’s light enough. The biggest dynamic problem we found was unique to the Prius AWD. When the car was in normal drive mode, it sometimes let us use the engine brake more than we wanted. It’s possible that this was only true of these early prototypes, but even if it’s not, it’s not a big deal.
2023 Prius: A Commuting Star? Yes And No
As long as you’re not as tall as your author (about 6’4″), the 2023 Prius should be a good way to get to and from work every day. The smooth transmission and faster acceleration of the 2023 Prius make up for the just-okay ride quality of the standard 19-inch wheels on the XLE and Limited models. It can be used for commuting because it has a long driving range and a 12.3-inch touchscreen.
The 2023 Prius has a sleeker look, but this comes at a cost in many objective ways. There’s less headroom in the front and back, and the XLE and Limited only have 20.3, while the LE has 23.8 cu. ft (the outgoing car could swallow 27.4 cubic-feet-worth of stuff). But there’s no question which one we’d rather drive, even though the 2023 model’s hidden rear door handles are awkward and inconvenient. Oh, and who else was hurt by the way it was made? Backwards view. It wasn’t great on the last Prius, and it won’t be great on the Prius plus in 2023.
Put Prius Back on Your List
Even though it’s no longer the carpool lane’s favorite, the 2023 Prius is a much better car that deserves a lot of thought. No, its back seat and visibility aren’t as good as the last model’s, but it’s easier to drive and just as good at getting you where you need to go. Plus, it has a power liftgate, which you won’t find on any Corolla or Camry hybrid, no matter how much you pay. We don’t know if buyers will like how it rebalances form and function, but based on what we’ve seen so far, they should take a close look at the latest version of Toyota’s longtime hybrid star.
|2023 Toyota Prius Specs
|BASE PRICE RANGE
|Front-engine, FWD/AWD, 5-pass, 4-door hatchback
|2.0L/150-hp/139-lb-ft Atkinson-cycle DOHC 16-valve I-4, plus 152-lb-ft front electric motor; 194 hp comb; 2.0L/150-hp/139-lb-ft Atkinson-cycle DOHC 16-valve I-4, plus 214-lb-ft front & rear electric motors; 196 hp comb