Talk about your ugly duckling becoming a swan. The 2023 Toyota Prius hybrid has undergone the kind of transformation automakers often promise but rarely deliver when slapping an “all-new” label on a long-running model. But, dang! The Prius became a household name over two decades ago because of its efficiency and affordability—never, never, ever because of its looks—so consider us stunned it is now a stunner.
While the original Prius made headlines 22 years ago when it first went on sale and celebrities hoping to make an environmental statement pulled them up to red carpets, fashionability largely eluded the hybrid’s first four generations. The fifth-generation Prius, by contrast, is sleek and modern, its windswept shape managing to look fast and efficient; it also sits atop the newest-generation TNGA modular platform. Toyota also has found a way to increase the hybrid system’s power and fuel economy. If Toyota were to say the Prius also costs less than before, we might dismiss the whole thing as a fever dream. But pricing won’t be announced until later this year, and a price drop is unlikely.
Coming up with a new Prius is no easy task, especially given the awkward business position Toyota’s found itself in as competitors continue to beat it—badly—to the rapidly popularizing fully electric vehicle segment. “The weight of the Prius name is heavy. It carries with it the identity of an entire category of vehicle powertrain,” said Toyota general manager Dave Christ of an approach to efficiency fast falling out of fashion among cost- and environmentally conscious buyers. “We’re confident the all-new 2023 Prius and Prius Prime will continue this important legacy.”
Let’s unpack what Toyota has done to the hybrid that’s found over 5 million buyers here in America and 20 million globally since its introduction, and hopes to find yet more in a world going nuts for EVs.
The 2023 Toyota Prius’ New Look
Forgettable as it is, we should remind you the 2001 Prius was bland and frumpy. Over the years designers overcorrected, with lines and creases the eye could barely follow. The 2023 Prius bears only the faintest hints of the Prii before it. The piercing silhouette came from the design studios in Japan, and the front bears the same hammerhead nose as the Toyota Crown and Toyota bZ4X. The roofline is 2 inches lower, the car is an inch longer, and the rear of the vehicle is almost 1 inch wider than the front which further enhances the wedge shape. Larger 19-inch wheels on the XLE and Limited trims add further substance to the look. The entry-level LE, which is the most efficient trim, has 17-inch wheels.
This is the first Prius with a fixed panoramic roof; it is an option on the XLE and standard on the Limited. The top trim also has a heated steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats, and optional heated rear seats. And check out the integrated door handles for rear passengers, which are on every Prius.
Among the three grades, the LE has a smaller 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen set into the more streamlined dash, but there is an optional tombstone-style 12.3-inch screen on the XLE, which is standard on the top-of-the-line Limited grade. There are six USB-C ports, and the higher trims come with a wireless charger. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is included, and you can upgrade to a JBL Premium Audio system with eight speakers.
The new electrical architecture improves the Toyota’s overall connectivity and makes it easier to send over-the-air software updates that enhance the vehicle. Just say “Hey Toyota” to give the car voice commands for navigation, climate, and audio control.
2023 Toyota Prius Has New Platform, Hybrid Powertrain
The new Prius moves to the second generation of the already good TNGA-C platform, which lowers the center of gravity, removes weight, and increases rigidity. With the car’s wider stance and lower driving position—the hip point is an inch lower—it should feel far less dorky to be behind the wheel of a Prius. From the appearance of the interior, it is apparent that Toyota is moving the Prius upmarket; it has room to do so, what with the popular and cheaper Corolla Hybrid family expanding for 2023.
The new hybrid system enjoys increased engine and battery output—hence more power and efficiency at the same time. The fifth-gen hybrid system is paired with a larger 2.0-liter I-4 engine (the current Prius uses a 1.8-liter) and a new lithium-ion battery that has 15 percent more output than the outgoing nickel metal battery. Toyota was slower than most to switch to lithium-ion chemistry, which results in a smaller and lighter battery. It is again located under the rear seats, but it doesn’t impinge on interior and cargo space as much as the outgoing car’s pack, which was also located primarily under the rear seat.
The resulting power boost is huge, with the Prius’s output going from 121 horsepower to 194 horsepower. Toyota claims this plummets the zero-to-60-mph acceleration time to 7.2 seconds in the front-drive model and seven seconds flat for the 2-hp-more-powerful all-wheel-drive version. As before, the AWD Prius adds an electric motor to the rear axle to spin the rear tires when starting off and at lower speeds in slippery conditions. Buyers can add e-AWD to every Prius trim level, too.
The efficiency play is equally compelling. The current Prius has an EPA rating of 52 mpg combined—the next-generation gets up to 57 mpg combined.
“Our design and engineering teams really delivered,” Christ said.
The latest version of Toyota Safety Sense is standard and there are “convenience” features to detect vehicles in your blind spot, behind you, or help when parking.
New ‘Beyond Zero’ Badging
The Prius is the first vehicle to sport Toyota’s new “Beyond Zero” badging, a blue circle that is a reference to the automaker’s electric bZ sub-brand in support of Toyota’s commitment to zero emission solutions that fit customer lifestyles. It is a dance around the fact that Toyota is behind most of the competition when it comes to EVs, relying more heavily on hybrids combining an electric motor and an internal combustion engine.
Going forward all electrified vehicles will have the circle logo with HEV (for hybrid electric vehicle); BEV (battery electric); FCEV (fuel cell electric); and, in many countries, PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric). However, in the U.S. the plug-in version will say “Prime,” in keeping with the outgoing Prius PHEV’s naming scheme. Toyota’s only battery-electric vehicle, the bZ4X, will adopt the new badging next model year.
Toyota also used an event on the eve of the 2022 Los Angeles Auto Show to debut the 2023 Toyota Prius Prime, the identically styled plug-in hybrid Prius, also with more power and electric range that increases to about 38 miles. And the automaker showed another pure electric concept: the Toyota bZ Compact SUV Concept which could be a precursor to a Toyota Crown EV in the future.
Toyota’s lineup consists of 10 hybrids, two plug-in hybrids, one battery electric vehicle and the Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. The automaker has announced it will invest more than $70 billion in electrified vehicles over the next nine years, with $35 billion committed to BEVs. Plans are to expand to about 70 electrified models globally by 2025. By 2030 Toyota will have 30 EVs with the goal of selling 3.5 million EVs annually. In the meantime, expect the Prius to bridge that period more stylishly than we could have possibly imagined.
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