2023 Toyota Prius: The Swan’s Glow-Up
The youths call it a glow-up. I call it a case of the ugly duckling. However you say it, the bottom line is this: Toyota took 20 years to make a pretty Prius and there is one staring at me through the kitchen window as I write this.
While the Prius didn’t hit the scene until nearly a century after the first hybrid car, it gets credit for taking the concept into the mainstream market. It made a name for itself with dual-power technology and grabbed attention with (I’ll be charitable) unconventional styling. Now there are rumors that it’s nice to look at and possibly even fun to drive.
The competition has had 26 years to catch up. Does the Prius still have an edge or is it a warmed-up holdover from the early days of hybrid cars?
Toyota calls the 2023 Prius a hybrid reborn. The slogan isn’t just in marketing materials, either; I found it stamped all over the car itself alongside a barrage of bizarrely insistent hashtags. Is "#glovebox" going to move the needle for Toyota on social media? I guess weirder things have happened.
The model name is a quarter-century old but this Prius is very much a new car. Its hybrid powertrain is the fifth generation from Toyota so it’s had plenty of time to mature end evolve. The gas-burning engine is larger for 2023; it’s now 2.0 liters up from 1.8 liters in 2022. Hybrid system horsepower gets a bump from 121 to 194 (or 196 with all-wheel drive). The result? A 0-to-60 time of 7 seconds — 26 percent quicker than last year.
Cosmetically, the Prius is drastically better looking than its predecessors. The streamlined, more athletic silhouette is a result of widening the body an inch and lowering the roof two inches. Larger, 19-inch wheels in the XLE and Limited trim packages give the Prius a more upscale appearance, as does the redesigned interior.
Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 is updated for 2023 and comes standard on every Prius. The pre-collision system, lane departure alert, dynamic radar cruise control, lane recognition, emergency driving stop, and road sign assist are all updated or new for 2023.
Some of these features work behind the scenes. Other times, it’s impressive to watch the car detect upcoming curves in the road and reduce the programmed cruise control speed accordingly.
Efficiency You Can Count On
Yes, the new Prius is prettier and more lively than the previous generation, but don’t forget that the whole point is to stretch each drop of gas as far as it can go.
The car’s sleek aerodynamics help it slice through the air more efficiently. That’s a big help on the highway, where hybrids and electric vehicles typically struggle to overcome air resistance. Skinny tires improve rolling efficiency, and the 2023 Prius uses 195-width tires that are narrower than some of the motorcycle tires I’ve used. Thin bodywork helps achieve a curb weight of 3,219 pounds (as tested). That’s on par with the current Volkswagen Golf GTI which, you’ll remember, isn’t saddled with a heavy hybrid system.
The result of all this work is an EPA-estimated fuel economy of 52 miles per gallon of 87-octane gas with the Limited trim and front-wheel drive. That’s the same figure for city, highway, and combined fuel economy. It’s a solid number on its own, made even more impressive by the fact that it doesn't fall off a cliff as soon as you merge onto the highway.
Hybrids Are Not a Monolyth
Hybrid vehicles combine power from an internal combustion engine and an electric motor, but they don’t all achieve the same performance. Some, like the Toyota Tundra TRD Pro iFORCE MAX, use the technology to boost low-end torque for towing and off-roading. Others, like the McLaren Artura combine forces in the pursuit of speed and acceleration. Typically, hybrids are focused on fuel efficiency but many of them do little more than pay lip service to the goal.
I’ve driven a bunch of hybrids recently. They’re all fine vehicles that do a great job of being a car, but many of them leave me looking at the odometer after each fill-up thinking, “Wait, that’s all?” If a manufacturer builds a hybrid system to improve fuel economy, it had better outperform a big V8 or smokey, old diesel — that’s all I’m saying.
The Prius is one hybrid that genuinely impressed me with its ability to squeeze range out of a gallon of gas. Toyota claims 52 miles per gallon for the 2023 Prius Limited FWD but I saw as high as 75 miles per gallon over the span of one day on county roads and highways. Getting 500 miles out of the 11-gallon tank isn’t just possible, you’ll very likely be able to go even further.
Does This Mean We Should Sell Our Hot Hatches?
If the Prius is so good, you might be wondering about its potential as a cost-effective daily driver. Todd and Paul pointed out (and I agree) that it’s still a long way off from being a fun, driver-focused performance car. But that was never the goal. The Prius is finally a genuinely good car without any caveats like, “For a hybrid.”
My test vehicle has a sticker price of $38,019. You can cut that by $1,085 if you skip the Limited Premium Package that includes the advanced park and panoramic view monitor and another $350 if you don’t want the dash camera. I think that any new car under $40,000 has a leg up in today’s market and the Prius combines price, efficiency, and a comfortable interior to create a compelling sales pitch.
Is this going to be your next one-car solution? I doubt it. But it might open up a world of possibilities for a fun second car. Commuting in a 2023 Toyota Prius and weekend blasting in an old Corvette sounds like a recipe for success to me.
Scott is a lover of motorized fun, whether on four wheels or two. A child of the ’90s, he has a particular soft spot for hatchbacks and believes all aging cars deserve a second chance at life. If he’s not behind a camera or a computer, he’s probably chasing down new coffee shops with his wife or throwing a frisbee for his dog.
The views and opinions expressed here are his own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.