Toyota claims that the raw materials required for just one EV could instead go on to power seven plug-in hybrids or 90 traditional hybrids. Given Toyota’s goal to spread electrification of any kind as far and wide as it can, hybrids will remain an important part of the automaker’s portfolio for some time. And if they’re sticking around, they may as well be good. We’ve already driven—and enjoyed—Toyota’s
The Prius Prime has been around since 2017, and in recent years it’s been feeling its age. We tested a 2022 model ahead of its retirement, and while the PHEV’s fuel-economy benefits were hard to ignore, it was even harder to ignore its time-it-with-a-sundial acceleration, middling EV range, and frustrating touch controls.
For 2023, Toyota sent all those frustrations to The Bad Place and gave the Prius Prime a massive aesthetic and mechanical glow-up. With minor exceptions in badging, wheel design, and some silver trim around the lower air dam, the Prius and Prius Prime are now nearly indistinguishable—which is great, because the Prius looks better than it ever has. The second flap on the rear fender, which hides the SAE J1772 charging port, is an easy way to tell the two apart.
But it’s the upgraded mechanicals that make the Prius Prime relevant again. The Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder grows from 1.8 liters to 2.0, boosting engine output from a sad 95 horsepower and 105 pound-feet of torque to a more sensible 150 horsepower and 139 pound-feet. The engine works in conjunction with a 161-hp permanent-magnet AC electric motor driving the front wheels—a second motor is integrated into the Prime’s planetary gearset—for a net output of 220 horsepower, a huge leap over the 2022 model’s 121-hp rating. Toyota believes the 2023 Prius Prime will reach 60 mph in just 6.6 seconds, a massive improvement over the outgoing model, which required 10.3 seconds for the same feat in our testing.
Toyota also addressed range concerns by growing the Prime’s usable lithium-ion-battery capacity from a C/D-estimated 6.2 kWh to 10.9 kWh. The car will now operate on electricity alone for an EPA-estimated 44 miles (for the base SE, dropping to 39 miles on better-equipped trims), nearly doubling the old model’s range, yet only requiring four hours on a Level 2 charger to top off the battery. When functioning in regular hybrid mode, the Prime will return an EPA-estimated 53 mpg combined for the base SE and 50 mpg combined for XSE and XSE Premium variants. To the top trim you can also add a solar roof, which can feed up to 185 watts to the battery or the 12-volt electrical system. It won’t net you much charge while shopping, but it’s better than nothing.
On the roads around Carlsbad, California, the Prime’s perkier powertrain is immediately appreciated. Even in Eco mode, where the throttle is least sensitive, the plug-in Prius no longer feels like a slow-moving danger to others. It’s perfectly capable of getting up to speed with e-propulsion alone, but when the engine does kick in, it does so smoothly and without a lot of annoying drone. The Prius Prime is a little more playful now too, thanks to a stiffer TNGA-C chassis, but the suspension tuning remains on the softer side, soaking up road inconsistencies without sending much jostling into the cabin. Save for a little bit of wind whistling around the A-pillars, it’s pretty quiet inside as well.
The Prime’s shape leads to good visibility in all directions, but the cabin does suffer from some ergonomic concerns. Headroom isn’t as cramped as it is in the Crown, but a six-foot-tall driver may feel their hair rustling against the headliner; things are more dire in the back row, where there’s ample legroom, but even less headroom. The center console is tall, but there’s surprisingly little storage space under the center armrest. The dashboard sticks out a bit on the passenger side, and it’s easy to smack a knee against the plastic if you aren’t careful.
The Prius Prime’s old infotainment, with its tall portrait display and frustratingly button-free experience, is thankfully in the trash heap. In its place is a more traditional 8.0-inch touchscreen, growing to 12.3 inches on higher trims. It runs the latest iteration of the Toyota Audio Multimedia infotainment system, which is a vast improvement over its forebear in everything from aesthetics to response time. Wireless smartphone mirroring is standard on every trim, and all three variants also get six standard USB-C ports.
And then there’s the gauge cluster. The Prius Prime borrows its steering wheel and instrumentation from the bZ4X, which means the small steering wheel sits at a lower position while the cluster resides above it, closer to where a HUD would be on any other car. It takes some getting used to, but the setup jells in time. We just wish Toyota knew where to put its thousand little icons, which are currently scattered wherever there’s free space, leading to an unnecessarily busy cluster that makes it harder to discern relevant information quickly.
Safety systems abound on the Prius Prime. All three trims get a suite of active and passive nannies that include automated emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, and automatic high beams. It also includes Proactive Driving Assist, which provides steering or brake inputs to help the car maintain an appropriate distance from the vehicle ahead. Traffic Jam Assist allows the Prius Prime to operate without driver input at speeds under 25 mph, and there’s a driver-facing camera to ensure the pilot is still paying attention. There’s also an attention monitor that is entirely too heavy-handed, beeping at us when we dared look left or right before entering an intersection.
The Prius Prime may also be the first vehicle to offer a standard heated steering wheel with optional heated seats. All three trims get a free hand-warmer, but balmy butts are reserved for XSE and XSE Premium buyers. It’s yet another instance of Toyota being weird with heat-related packaging—the RAV4 Woodland Edition can’t be had with heated seats—but at least base-model consumers still get something this time around.
Considering how much improvement Toyota shoehorned into the 2023 Prius Prime, its swollen price tag shouldn’t shock anyone. While the last gen snuck its way under the $30,000 mark, the 2023’s base model will set you back $33,445. The sweet-spot XSE asks $36,695, while the bells-and-whistles XSE Premium bumps that up to $40,265. The 2023 Prius Prime starts hitting dealerships in May.
2023 Toyota Prius Prime
Vehicle Type: front-engine, front-motor, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door hatchback
Base: SE, $33,445; XSE, $36,695; XSE Premium, $40,265
DOHC 16-valve 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle inline-4, 150 hp, 139 lb-ft + 2 AC motors, 161 and 94 hp (combined output: 220 hp; 10.9-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, C/D est; 3.5-kW onboard charger)
Transmission: continuously variable automatic
Wheelbase: 108.3 in
Length: 181.1 in
Width: 70.2 in
Height: 55.9-56.3 in
Passenger Volume, F/R: 53/39 ft3
Cargo Volume, Behind F/R: 27/20 ft3
Curb Weight (C/D est): 3500-3600 lb
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST)
60 mph: 6.5 sec
1/4-Mile: 15.3 sec
Top Speed: 115 mph
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Combined/City/Highway: 48-52/50-53/47-51 mpg
Combined Gasoline + Electricity: 114-127 MPGe
EV Range: 39-44 mi
Cars are Andrew Krok’s jam, along with boysenberry. After graduating with a degree in English from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2009, Andrew cut his teeth writing freelance magazine features, and now he has a decade of full-time review experience under his belt. A Chicagoan by birth, he has been a Detroit resident since 2015. Maybe one day he’ll do something about that half-finished engineering degree.