Test Drive Review of 2023 Toyota Prius Prime: Enjoy Electric Power Without Sacrificing

The stylish 2023 Toyota Prius Prime plug-in hybrid is the one to get excited about. Fresh looks aside, it’ll be the fastest and most powerful Prius you can buy when it goes on sale later this year. In today’s rapidly expanding world of full-on EVs, however, you do have to wonder if a new Prius plug-in still has a place. The answer is a resounding “hell yes.”

When the Toyota Prius first appeared on our shores 20 years ago (as if you needed to feel any older), the U.S. automotive market was a wildly different place. Most automakers were still very into incredibly awesome but gas-devouring V-10 supercars or building stuff like the Hummer H2. The Prius—with its strange goofball shape, modest gas-sipping tendencies, and revolutionary hybrid technology—faced a ferociously uphill battle, but it ultimately succeeded in bringing hybrid cars to the mainstream. Today, “Prius” is pretty much the proprietary eponym for “hybrid car.”

2023 Toyota Prius Prime XSE Premium rear of car

Of course, once you’ve made it to the top, you can’t become complacent. For this all-new fifth-generation Prius, it seems like Toyota really pulled out all the stops. Especially when it comes to the Prime.

Sharp Looks

We’ve heaped loads of praise onto the new Prius’ design, and since the Prime isn’t visually all that different from the regular hybrid version, let’s be brief.

2023 Prius Prime XSE Premium interior dash

Just like how everyone on your social feeds now has “Instagram Face,” designers behind the new Prius couldn’t resist giving it the slim, upward-slanting lights that seemingly all modern cars wear. It’s not a bad thing on the Prius, where they complement its minimalist, sleek, and clean overall look. What primarily sets the Prime apart from its regular hybrid sibling are its two fuel doors—one of course conceals a charge port—and the cursive “Prime” badge on the trunklid.

The Hardware

If there’s still doubt in your mind as to the intended sportiness of the Prius Prime, look no further than how Toyota has decided to name the three available trims: SE, XSE, and XSE Premium. They are, as associate editor Alex Leanse observed last November, “denominations reserved for Toyota’s sportier trim-level pillar.” No real mechanical distinctions separate the trims—only wheel diameter, interior touch screen size, and creature comforts.

All Prius Prime models venture into the world with standard front-wheel drive, a 150-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, and a larger, 161-hp electric motor that draws juice from a 13.6-kWh battery pack. Combined, the car produces 220 hp and 139 lb-ft of torque, which is up about 100 hp and 35 lb-ft of torque from the outgoing Prius Prime. (AWD is offered for now on the regular Prius.)

That extra power now means the Prime is claimed to hit 60 mph from a stop in just 6.6 seconds. This is no slouch of a figure, especially when you consider we measured the old Prime’s 0-60 time at 10.0 seconds.

What’s most impressive, however, has to be the all-electric range. In lower SE trim, the Prius Prime can travel an estimated 44 miles on electricity alone, up from 25 in the outgoing version. In the higher-grade XSE and XSE Premium trims, that figure falls to an estimated 39 miles, still a notable improvement. Provided your daily commute or errands fall within that mileage limit, you might not need to tap the gas tank at all. The XSE Premium can also be optioned with a 185-watt solar roof that charges the drive battery while the car is parked and feeds power to auxiliary functions while on the move.

Official numbers aren’t confirmed just yet, but according to Toyota, the estimated EPA efficiency for the SE is 53/51/52 mpg city/highway/combined; the XSE and XSE Premium should return 50/47/48.

Behind the Wheel

In a departure from the outgoing Prime, the new model feels much crisper to drive. Back to back, the old car is heavier, clunkier, and tangibly slower. The new one impresses by how clearly upgraded it is in all aspects, as though everything’s been torqued down by a couple of turns. Ride quality is relaxed but not totally numb or overly pliant. You still feel a healthy amount of road chatter through the wheels, while over bumps, the car exercises good body control with minimal jostling of occupants.

There’s actually some communication from the steering, too; it’s nothing incredible, but it’s nice to know what the front wheels are up to (especially in low-grip situations) and the car is responsive when you turn the wheel. One could reasonably expect something like the Prius to have feather-light steering, but the wheel weights up nicely as you tug it off-center. Brake bite is smooth and progressive, and the trade-off between the regenerative system, which feeds energy back into the battery pack, and the traditional friction system is all but imperceptible.

Really, though, the acceleration steals the show, especially for anyone who’s driven the older model. Wow. This isn’t to say you should immediately go out and drag race your new Prius Prime, but the extra power is a welcome addition for passing maneuvers, pulling out into traffic, merging, and similar situations. Rather than powerlessly watching gaps in traffic close ahead, proceed with newfound confidence you can actually fill one. The car lacks the instantaneous torque of more powerful dual-motor EVs and instead hits its acceleration stride at what feels like a beat after it’s off the line, but the new Prime can finally keep up. It’s a nice feeling.

A few hours spent puttering around the wide boulevards of Carlsbad, California, on the media drive program didn’t yield enough opportunities to fully explore the car’s all-electric abilities, but a Toyota spokesperson confirmed 84 mph as the maximum allowable speed in EV-only mode. This means highways are also fair game when on the quest for zero-gas driving.

On the utility front, the new Prime offers a comfortable driver’s seat that rises enough to fully accommodate, say, 5-foot-3 drivers like your author. There’s a commanding view out the front despite the windshield’s steep rake, but rear visibility is poor; those with older Prius models—such as the Prius V, with its more upright rear window—might find issue with the new one. And the sculpted C-pillars that look so good from the outside create substantial blind spots.

Rear headroom also suffers due to this silhouette, so although two adults can sit comfortably side by side, they might scrape their heads on the headliner. Trunk space is decent, but the cargo floor seems unnecessarily high considering the batteries are stashed under the rear seat. Even so, there’s enough room for a long vacation for two or a weekend trip for a young family.

The Last Laugh

Mild utility foibles aside, however, the new Prius Prime impresses with its increased efficiency, stellar looks, and newfound power. The Prius is quick now. Yeah. In fact, it’s … cool?

For years, the Prius faced significant headwinds from skeptics and haters alike. There was even an entire South Park episode dedicated to laughing at the car and the people who drove one. But Toyota stuck it out—doggedly, almost. And as V-8s and V-6s fell by the wayside to be replaced by turbocharged four-bangers, EVs, and more hybrids than ever, the Prius is a survivor. It’s also more than that, as in an increasingly electrified world, the new Prius Prime stands tall.

If you want to start breaking up with gasoline and reduce your carbon footprint but can’t make a full EV work with your lifestyle—our public charging infrastructure needs to get its act together, yo—this very well could be your car. The new 2023 Toyota Prius Prime is an affordable and practical plug-in hybrid like its showroom sibling, the RAV4 Prime, promising truly usable electric range and a gas-fired backup when you need it. And it looks fantastic.

Who’s laughing now?

Looks good! More details?

2023 Toyota Prius Prime Specifications
BASE PRICE $33,445-$40,265
LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door hatchback
ENGINE 2.0L/150-hp Atkinson-cycle DOHC 16-valve I-4 plus 161-hp front electric permanent-magnet motor with 13.6-kWh battery; 220-hp, 139 lb-ft comb
TRANSMISSION Cont variable auto
CURB WEIGHT 3,500-3,600 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 108.3 in
L x W x H 181.1 x 70.2 x 55.9-56.3 in
0-60 MPH 6.6 sec (mfr est)
CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 50-53/47-51/48-52 mpg (mfr est)
RANGE, COMB 550-600 miles (mfr est)
ON SALE May-23

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