The 2023 Toyota Prius Prime is much more than simply the next generation of the brand’s popular plug-in hybrid. Its styling and performance are so un-Prius-like that it forced me to judge it by different standards than I have when testing Prius Prime vehicles of previous years.
Since its inception in 1997, Toyota has sold millions of Priuses. However, styling and performance have never been considered some of the vehicle’s best attributes. After peaking in 2012, US Prius sales have rapidly declined in recent years for several reasons. Toyota’s other offerings are partly to blame for falling Prius sales as the hybridization of the brand’s other models has made them more attractive to buyers looking for efficient transportation.
Additionally, rising electric vehicle sales may have also played an instrumental role in Prius’ recent decline. So Toyota stepped up its game and created a Prius like no other, one that’s more stylish, more powerful, and more efficient than any previous Prius: Enter the 2023 Toyota Prius Prime.
First off, Toyota’s designers killed it, and I mean that in the best way. The styling on the new Prius is simply stunning, full stop, and I’m still having a hard time accepting that I’m saying that. But Toyota didn’t stop there, the new Prius Prime also has 99 horsepower more - an incredible 82 percent increase over last year’s model, which completely changes the vehicle’s driving dynamics.
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|Quick Stats||2023 Toyota Prius Prime XSE Premium|
|Engine:||2.0-Liter I4 w/Permanent Magnet Motor|
|Output:||220 Horsepower / 139 Pound-Feet|
|0-60 MPH:||6.6 Seconds|
|Efficiency:||50 City / 47 Highway / 48 Combined|
|Trim Base Price:||$39,170|
Gallery: 2023 Toyota Prius Prime: First Drive
Toyota’s second-generation TNGA-C platform underpins the Prime, which brings a lower center of gravity, reduced weight, and increased rigidity compared to the previous car. The 13.6-kilowatt-hour, high-voltage lithium-ion battery is 55 percent larger than the 8.8-kilowatt-hour pack in the outgoing Prime and is located under the rear seat. Toyota has also moved the fuel tank slightly forward to improve the vehicle’s weight distribution and handling.
Front independent MacPherson struts and a multi-link rear suspension provide wheel control, with stabilizer bars front and rear for reduced lean. It works, and while the Prius Prime won’t likely walk away with many trophies from your local weekend autocross events, its steering feel, balance, and overall handling are much better than any other Prius I’ve ever driven.
The Prius Prime’s 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine puts out 150 hp and 139 pound-feet of torque and when combined with the 161 hp permanent magnet synchronous electric motor has a total output of 220 hp. That’s good enough to propel the Prius Prime from a standstill to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds, which is a drastic improvement over the 10.2 seconds it takes the 121 hp, 105 lb-ft, 2022 Prius Prime to accomplish the same feat.
Driving Range And Charging
The 13.6-kWh battery pack can propel the entry-level Prius Prime SE an EPA-rated 44 miles per charge, with the XSE and XSE Premium rated slightly lower at 39 miles as a result of the wheel sizes and weight. The SE comes with 17-inch wheels and 195/60R17 tires and the XSE and XSE Premium with larger 19-inch wheels wearing 195/50R19 shoes.
I was able to conduct the InsideEVs 70-mph highway range test with the 2023 Prius Prime during the first drive event, and the XSE Premium that we tested went 34 miles at 70 mph in the rain before its gasoline engine turned on. It was raining pretty hard during the drive and we figure that probably shaved at least a mile or two from the end result.
Therefore, I believe the Prime would have gotten pretty close to its EPA range rating driving at 70 mph if it wasn’t raining, which is encouraging. Driving at lower speeds in better conditions, I think 50 miles of all-electric driving range is certainly attainable after my highway range test.
The Prius Prime has a 16-amp onboard charger and takes approximately 4 hours to fully recharge when plugged into a 240-volt source. It will take approximately 11 hours when using the supplied 120-volt level 1 charging cord that Toyota provides with the vehicle. As with most plug-in hybrids, the Prius Prime isn’t capable of accepting power from a DC fast charger.
Pick Your Performance
There are four drive modes in the front-wheel drive Prius Prime: Sport, Normal, Eco, and Custom, which allows the driver to configure individual drive settings to their liking. Additionally, as long as the high-voltage traction battery isn’t depleted, the driver can then select if they want to drive in all-electric mode (EV) mode, hybrid mode (HV), or auto mode (Auto EV/HV) in which the vehicle decides what mode is the best choice for maximum efficiency at that time.
Unlike some other plug-in hybrid vehicles we’ve tested, the Prius Prime will stay in all-electric mode even under hard acceleration. I could easily complete the InsideEVs 70-mph range test without the combustion engine joining in until the battery was exhausted, as the Prius Prime can drive up to 84 mph in EV mode.
There is noticeably less power in EV mode, as the maximum output of the electric motor is 161 hp. You also don’t get that neck-snapping instant jump forward that electric vehicles are known for as soon as you press the go pedal. However, the Prius Prime applies the power in a linear fashion and the vehicle does pull strongly until you reach highway speeds in EV mode.
If you want a more spirited driving experience at highway speeds, you’ll want to drop the Prime into hybrid mode and allow the combustion engine to join in so you can take full advantage of the vehicle's available 220 hp.
Gimme A Brake
Toyota employed a blended regenerative braking system in the Prius Prime that combines both lift-off energy recuperation as well as increasing the regenerative braking force when depressing the friction brake pedal.
When the vehicle is placed in Drive, the lift-off regeneration is noticeable, but not very strong. To increase the amount of brake regeneration the driver can shift the vehicle into the B driving mode (braking mode) by pushing the shifter to the right and pulling back. Doing so dramatically increases the amount of lift-off regenerative braking force.
However, there are other ways to manipulate the amount of regenerative braking. By selecting the Sport driving mode the vehicle will increase its brake regeneration to a stronger level than is it in Normal or Eco drive modes.
And if the owner is really particular about how much regen they get, they can also choose three different levels of brake regeneration levels from the settings tab on the driver’s display. After cycling through a number of screens, you arrive at the regenerative brake setting that allows you to choose from three levels of “deceleration”. The only problem with this setting is that it will reset every time the vehicle is turned off. A Toyota rep told me they are working on an update that will allow that setting to stick, but at launch, it will not.
I can’t imagine taking the time to scroll through the settings every time I drive the car just to adjust the regen. Choosing drive or B driving mode combined with the different driving modes offers enough flexibility to get the level of regenerative braking force to suit most drivers' preferences.
Inside The Prius Prime
Sitting in the Prius Prime’s driver’s seat reminded me of the bZ4X because the driver’s display is set up higher than usual and is meant to be viewed from above the top of the steering wheel. That forced me to adjust the seat higher than I originally planned to and also lower the steering wheel a bit. Without those adjustments, the top of the steering wheel was smack-dab in the middle of the display. The bZ4X has a similar layout, although I prefer the aesthetics of the Prius Prime’s design much more.
The front seats are firm and supportive, holding the driver in place more than any Prius seat I’ve sat in in the past. The seats are also accented with red piping, which adds to the sporty feel of the cabin. The Prius Prime SE comes with an 8.0-inch center display, and a large 12.3-inch display is available on the XSE and standard on the XSE Premium. Apple Carplay and Android Auto are standard on all versions, but a digital rearview mirror is only available as an option on the XSE Premium.
The buttons to disable and enable traction control, select the drive modes, brake hold, and EV/HV modes are located on the center console. There’s also a drop-in wireless phone charger that I found to be located in the perfect place and extremely user-friendly. I don’t understand why more automakers don’t employ this same type of solution for wireless phone charging because it works so well.
The rear seating is comfortable for two, but a little cramped for three adults. The rear headroom will also be a problem for tall adults and offers nearly an inch less than the 2022 Prius Prime. I’m only 5-foot-8 and sitting upright in the rear seat I could feel my hair touching the headliner.
Rear seat headroom in the 2023 Prius Prime
This is an example of how the new Prius has evolved from the previous year’s models and the new styling has prioritized form over function.
Another example of that is in the cargo space. The new Prius Prime has an EPA-rated cargo volume of 20.3 cubic feet behind the rear seats, and 26.7 cubic feet with the seats folded down. That’s considerably less than the 36.6 cubic feet of total cargo space available in the outgoing model.
All versions of the Prius Prime have Toyota’s Safety Sense 3.0 and are packed with standard safety systems. Safety Sense 3.0 features include a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, steering assist, radar-controlled adaptive cruise control lane tracing and lane change assist, and a front traffic assist among other features.
The good news is that almost all available safety features will come standard on all Prius Prime, with the exception of the panoramic view monitor including a 360-degree overhead view (available only on XSE Premium) and front and rear parking assist which is optional on the SE, and standard on XSE and XSE Premium.
Additionally, Toyota’s new Traffic Jam Assist is available with a subscription once the trial period expires) on all Prius Prime models. Traffic Jam Assist is a radar-based system that will basically drive the vehicle itself in stop-and-go traffic at speeds under 25 mph. The system is designed to make driving in traffic jams less stressful. Unfortunately, I couldn’t test out this new feature in our time with the vehicle, but I’m looking forward to doing so in the near future and reporting on how effective Traffic Jam Assist is.
The Price Of A Prime
The Prius Prime SE starts at $33,445 including a $1,095 destination fee but we suspect it will be extremely difficult to get a hold of one for that price. Toyota has only committed to making a total of 15,000 Prius Prime per year initially for the US market so availability will likely be an issue. Jumping up to an XSE will add $3,250 and bring the MSRP to $36,695 while the XSE Premium will set you back $40,295, including destination.
With up to 44 miles of electric driving range and a combined EPA fuel economy of around 50 miles per gallon (52 for SE and 48 for XSE and XSE Premium), the new Prius Prime will gradually sip the recommended 87-octane gas and electrons efficiently. We could easily see owners averaging well over 100 miles per gallon of gas if they are able to plug in during the day and charge up a bit between driving trips.
That’s pretty good for a plug-in hybrid that can also scoot to 60 in under seven seconds. While we know some of the InsideEVs faithful will complain that Toyota should have also offered a BEV version of the Prius, and I personally wish that were the case, the new Prius Prime will appeal to a wide audience, and I doubt Toyota will any problem selling every one they make.
It’s not just a better Prius Prime, it’s really a completely different car with different priorities. Efficiency, being the hallmark of the Prius name, remains, but other than that, the new Prius Prime doesn’t resemble what we’ve come to expect from a Prius. It prioritizes styling over function and places an emphasis on the driving experience, something that just wasn’t present in any previous Prius offered.
2023 Toyota Prius Prime XSE Premium