For years, driving a Toyota Prius was a rolling acknowledgment that you are willing to sacrifice everything for maximum fuel economy. Power and performance are omitted, which makes sense. Still, no Prius before has broken even the lowly 10-second barrier to 60 mph. The list of attributes left out also includes attractive styling, good driver ergonomics and a bit of handling prowess. The Prius has always been a one-trick pony that has no real ponies.
That’s over now—except for the part where the 2023 Toyota Prius makes excellent fuel economy. In fact, Toyota estimates this core mission even better. How does a combined 57 mpg (57 city/56 highway) pull you in? That’s for the LE with front-wheel drive and 17-inch wheels—the L Eco model is history. Front-wheel drive models XLE and Limited fit 52 combines (52 city/52 highway) with standard 19-inch rolling stock.
The first thing that stands out is how attractive the new Prius looks, words we’ve never typed before. This is because chief engineer Satoki Oya, newly assigned to the fifth-generation Prius program, takes a “love at first sight” approach. He allowed designers the “freedom to do as they pleased,” in stark contrast to what he called the “relentless pursuit of aerodynamic efficiency” that had produced the strange phones before him.
This makes the 2023 Prius longer (1.1 inches), lower (1.6 inches) and wider (0.9 inches). But his stance is even more dramatic than the numbers suggest. The new 17 and 19-inch wheels are shod with two-inch-high tires, and the wheel assembly is pushed closer to corners thanks to the wider track width by 2.3 inches at the front and two inches at the rear. Meanwhile, the wheelbase is a full two inches longer.
Beyond that, the apex of the peaked roofline has been pulled back so that the bonnet flows gracefully onto the windshield and roof. This stylistic decision was made despite a worse drag coefficient of 0.27, compared to last year’s 0.24. But the effect is softened because drag is the product of Cd and frontal area, and the latter has been reduced due to the much lower height of the car. Cargo space drops a bit, with the LE offering 24 cubic feet, and the XLE and Limited good for 20 cubic feet. Rear view also took a bit of a hit, due to the loss of the hatch’s vertical glass panels.
Acceleration Leaves Old Cars (Far) Behind
The invisible changes under the skin are arguably more transformative. The internal combustion engine is now a 2.0-liter inline-four making 150 horsepower instead of the 1.8-liter unit which is good for just 96 ponies. Permanent-magnet synchronous traction motors—made more compact by featuring six magnets per pole rather than three—are now good for 111 horsepower instead of 71. This year’s combined output at full throttle is 194 horsepower instead of just 121 horsepower, an increase of 60 percent.
The all-wheel-drive model gets a new permanent-magnet rear motor that’s good for 40 horsepower; the previous induction motor clashed only 7 ponies weak. This greatly widens the speed range and conditions under which rear drive can be used and, unlike last year, allows for a slight advantage in AWD’s peak horsepower: 2 horses more, for 196, to be precise. Every trim from LE to Limited can now be had with all-wheel drive, and the AWD LE enjoys the greatest fuel economy gains year over year: 54 mpg combined, up from 49 mpg.
In our Limited front-drive test car, this newfound power results in transformative performance—or simply “performance,” in the case of the Prius. Running to 60 mph on the short freeway compound now takes a breezy 7.1 seconds instead of 10.5 sei. A 50 to 70 mph chase when passing takes 5.0 seconds instead of 7.1 seconds. And for those judging by the quarter mile, the new car’s 15.5-second, 92-mph effort is 2.3 seconds quicker and 13 mph quicker than before.
Improved Handling and Braking
The new car’s lower height and wider stance also eliminates the feeling of tiptoe. This was reinforced by Oya-san’s desire to extend the “performance worthy of design” ethos to chassis tuning. The front strut and largely similar rear multilink suspension have been designed with handling in mind, featuring KYB dampers with internal check valves that close under lateral force to enhance cornering damping. Indeed, the body is much sleeker than before, and the new Prius flows gracefully through corners. Filtered through the contact patch of Michelin Primacy All Season 195/50R-19 tires, our tests revealed a healthy 0.87 g cornering grip. The ride buttons up nicely over most curb irregularities, even with the XLE and Limited’s low-profile 19-inch rubber.
The front and rear brakes are larger, and the booster uses a hydraulic pump instead of vacuum assist to improve feel. That brake pedal feel remains consistent as the computer switches between regenerative and friction braking, fixing the Prius’ long-standing bugaboo. Stopping from 70 mph takes just 171 feet.
Improved Interior Ergonomics
The swoopy roofline does reduce headroom by 1.4 inches at the front and an inch at the rear. The extra wheelbase helps, allowing for 0.9 inches more front legroom and an additional 1.4 inches at the rear. That changes the driving position to a much more pleasant and less upright one. Adjusting the steering wheel did feel awkward as at first it seemed that the steering wheel had to be in your lap to see the instruments. That’s largely an illusion, as the steering column cover is uniquely styled to blend into the dashboard. There’s actually quite a bit of thigh clearance under the rim, and the Toyota logo on the horn pad points to your chin, not your sternum.
That the wheels affect the instruments is new territory for the Prius, as they are now (finally) off in front of the driver, not reeling to the right. The interface is also simple, and the controls on the steering wheel spokes make it easy to peruse the screen. The familiar Prius shifting remains, but somehow feels more logical and intuitive now that it protrudes directly from the console by the hand instead of jutting out of the dashboard at arm’s length.
The central touchscreen is an 8.0-inch display on the LE, but a generous 12.3-inch unit is optional on the XLE and standard on the Limited. Wireless smartphone mirroring is standard. Just below the screen, the physical HVAC switches and buttons operate with perfect logic, and the phone’s charging slot sits beside the shifter, with a clever clamping action that holds your phone securely. A second phone tray sits in front of the shifter, and six USB-C jacks are scattered throughout the cabin.
The completely redesigned Prius will go on sale this January. The base price is higher since the base model L Eco is gone, but the front-drive LE’s starting price of $28,545 is only about $1,100 more than last year. XLE is $31,990, and Limited orders $35,560. Add $1400 to either of the above if you want all wheel drive. From where we sit, the little extra outlay on this new car is totally worth it, as you get all of the former fuel economy without having to sacrifice good looks, reasonable performance, a bit of driving fun, or your pride.
2023 Toyota Prius Limited
Vehicle Type: front engine, front motorcycle, front wheel drive, 5 passenger, 4 door hatchback
Basic/As Tested: $35,560/$35,560
DOHC 16-valve 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle inline-4, 150 hp, 139 lb-ft + 2 AC motors (combined output: 194 hp; 0.9 kWh lithium-ion battery pack)
Transmission: continuously variable automatic
Suspension, F/R: struts/multilink
Brakes, F/R: 11.1-inch ventilated disc/11.0-inch disc
Tires: All-Season Michelin Excellence
195/50R-19 88H M+S
Wheelbase: 108.3 inches
Length: 181.1 inches
Width: 70.2 inches
Height: 56.3 inches
Passenger Volume: 91 feet3
Cargo Volume: 20 feet3
Restraint Weight: 3199 lb
CD TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 7.1 seconds
1/4-Mile: 15.5 sec @ 92 mph
100 mph: 18.8 seconds
The above result removes 1 foot launch from 0.3 seconds.
Rolling Start, 5–60 mph: 8.1 seconds
Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 4.0 sec
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 5.0 sec
Top Speed (gov ltd): 115 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 171 ft
Road hold, 300 ft Skidpad: 0.87 g
CD FUEL ECONOMY
Observed: 45 mpg
EPA FUEL ECONOMICS (EST MFR)
Combined/City/Highway: 52/52/52 mpg
CD TESTING EXPLAINED
This content is imported from OpenWeb. You may be able to find the same content in other formats, or you may be able to find more information on their website.