The Toyota Prius is quite a popular vehicle for many reasons, primarily for it being one of the most fuel-efficient vehicles around. For many years, the Prius has been a staple synonymous with fuel efficiency, and often enough, the negative connotations of being rather sluggish for its acceleration. However, the Toyota Prius is what introduced the world to hybrid vehicles and has been the definitive staple for a hybrid, but this year, the Toyota Prius gets a full redesign that breaks free of its dismal power output restraints of the past with the fastest Prius ever.
We know, saying you have the fastest Toyota Prius to ever come off the assembly line doesn’t mean much considering the outgoing Prius took about 10 seconds to reach 60 mph. Now, things are different, and we’re happy to have a Prius that redefines its place among hybrids, not just its very own place, but the Prius can now hit 60 mph in just 6.5 seconds. That may not be exotic-fast, but it’s leaps and bounds better than what we used to have, and I welcome it.
Apart from the redesigned Toyota Prius’ new performance attitude, there’s a welcomed plug-in hybrid version of the Prius that returns with the Prime nameplate touting 44 miles of electric vehicle (EV) range with the standard 17-inch wheels in the SE trim, or 39 miles with the larger 19-inch wheels the XSE or in my Prius Prime XSE Premium test vehicle. Along with the new drivetrain, the redesigned Prius is rather sleek and good-looking, even with an extremely raked front windshield that nearly follows the same angle of the hood slope to help with aerodynamics. The Prius is a looker, and just about everything else about the newly redesigned model redefines what we should expect out of a Prius in a good way.
The normal non-plug-in Prius hybrid gets a 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder engine and an electric motor/generator that together produce up to 196 horsepower and hits 60 mph in about 7 seconds. Move to the Prius Prime, which is the plug-in hybrid version, and you’ll get a slight increase in power for a total system output of 220 horsepower. Toyota gives us a torque figure of 139 lb-ft but we suspect that may be just from the gas engine and doesn’t account for the instant torque output of the electric motor, which may equate to a much more substantial system output figure considering how much quicker the new Prius is over the outgoing model.
Having a plug-in hybrid vehicle that touts exceptional fuel efficiency when using the normal hybrid system and up to 39 miles of all-electric driving range for my top-level trim brings you something special. That specialness is that you never have range anxiety, and best of all, the new Prius isn’t a slouch out on the road. Another part of the specialness of the drivetrain is several drive modes, which defaults to a dedicated EV mode that only uses the battery when you have charged it. The EV mode is interesting because it never uses the gas engine, no matter how hard you press the accelerator. That means you’re a little down on power, where you will hit 60 mph in just over 11 seconds in the EV-only mode. However, you can utilize a hybrid mode that will first use the electric battery power but gives you the extra oomph by firing up the gas engine when you need it under moderate to heavy throttle application.
The increased rigidity of the body structure, along with a more connected feeling to the road, elevates the Prius’ standing in the world of ‘normal’ cars. Because let’s face it, the outgoing Prius generations were far from normal in the sense that they were nearly the slowest thing you found on American roads. That alone was a primary reason that even lighthearted enthusiasts stayed away from the Prius unless they put fuel efficiency far ahead of being able to keep up with Interstate traffic. Now, the new Prius feels like I would have it, zippy and never wanting for additional power. You can now overtake other vehicles with confidence and merge into traffic without the worry of getting an earful of horns blaring because you upset the flow of traffic.
Everything about how the new Prius Prime behaves on the road fits well for most, where you don’t have to overthink anything as the hybrid system is seamless for its power management and transitions from the electric motor to the gas engine. Even the braking feels natural as it transitions from regen to use of the friction brakes, in addition to using the B mode for extra regen that can be set through a deep menu in the digital gauge cluster. Unfortunately, for now, there is no all-wheel-drive option, so you’re left with the front wheels doing all the work.
The transmission in the new Prius Prime, a continuously variable transmission (CVT) making a return, is reworked to limit the engine buzzing along like you would imagine what dying unicorns sound like.
The inner-workings of the new fifth-generation Prius Prime give us a perfect gateway to vehicle electrification in that you can plug in and charge the Prius Prime to get about 39 miles of all-electric range on my top trimmed XSE Premium test vehicle. During my time with the new Prius Prime XSE Premium, I noticed a 30 miles range indicated after a full charge, which took me almost 4 hours for a full charge using my Level 2 240v home charger. Driving in rather aggressive traffic for a mix of interstate and back roads, I was able to drive a total of 35 miles in the electric mode.
The new Prius Prime is the unicorn of plug-in hybrids – it’s just that good because you can jump in and drive it like a normal hybrid and still get exceptional fuel economy – or you can charge it up to match that 114 MPGe figure after going through the fully charged 10.9 kWh lithium-ion battery pack and 10.6-gallon fuel tank. The EPA estimate of 48 mpg combined (52 mpg combined for the Prius Prime SE) is legit, as I was able to get that figure and best it on occasion using just the hybrid system with a depleted plug-in battery.
There’s an optional solar panel roof available for the Prius Prime XSE Premium, which was equipped on my test vehicle. I had high hopes for the $600 solar roof option, but in retrospect, the panel does provide some ancillary power to the tune of about 1.8 miles of range per day. Of course, that figure may vary greatly depending on the sunlight exposure to the panel. In all, over the course of several months, you could see yourself benefiting with well over 100 miles of added range from the solar panel’s collected energy.
Toyota kept things rather simple for the interior of the new Prius. There are not many premium amenities that you would otherwise think are included for the top trim. As such, I would have liked to see a dual-zone climate control or rear seat area climate vents. Toyota did change up the instrumentation game by giving the new Prius a driver-focused gauge cluster. But in the Prius’ case, it’s a little different and takes a bit to get used to a smallish digital cluster that is mounted high, so your viewing sight travels above the smallish steering wheel to meet the cluster. In a way, the cluster is mounted in the area where you expect a head-up display. Also, in dealing with the small cluster screen, some of the hybrid bar dials are on the small side and could take a while to become accustomed to viewing it.
In having just an essential cabin, Toyota at least included the latest infotainment system fed through a larger 12.3-inch touchscreen. The system is identical to what you find in other new Toyota vehicles, featuring a straightforward interface that’s very responsive and has the integration of wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The wireless smartphone charging pad is nicely positioned as a drop-slot and works well with most smartphones if they are not too big.
The front seats have a neat red accent as well as heating and ventilation, and the rear outboard seats have heating. Overall, the seating areas and space are decent, but you must be mindful of the sloping roof, which starts where the aggressively raked windshield ends. There’s also just a power driver’s seat, leaving the passenger with a manual adjustment. Retaining a hatchback form, there’s a good amount of cargo room accessed by a power liftgate.
All trims of the new Prius Prime come with the latest Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 system, which bundles up the highlighted active safety features of forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assistance, lane departure warning, front cross-traffic warning, rear cross-traffic warning, blind-spot warning, and adaptive cruise control. Additionally, the new 2023 Toyota Prius earned the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ Award.
The new Toyota Prius Prime starts at $32,350, which is exceptional considering the plug-in hybrid technology, remarkable fuel economy, and a decent list of features. Moving up to the top-level Prius Prime XSE Premium, you’re looking at $42,510 for my loaded-up test vehicle, which includes the optional solar charging roof and advanced technology package (advanced park and panoramic view monitor).
The new Toyota Prius Prime is really special and somewhat of a modern-day hybrid marvel, considering how efficient and versatile it is. I applaud Toyota for giving the Prius fans and those with an intriguing outlook on hybrids something that serves as a decent bridge to vehicle electrification.