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First Reviews2023 Toyota Prius Prime First Drive Review: The Upcoming Cult Car

2023 Toyota Prius Prime First Drive Review: The Upcoming Cult Car

Travelling longer distances in style.


  • The 2023 Toyota Prius Prime starts at $33,445 in the United States and at $39,850 in Canada, freight and delivery charges included.

  • Improved range, improved looks, improved driving dynamics.

  • Front pillars create blind spots, pricing has gone up significantly, noisy engine under acceleration.


The automotive industry is going electric, whether manufacturers and consumers like it or not. During that transition to a zero-emission future, realistic or not, there are some great cars on the market to help get us there, such as the completely redesigned 2023 Toyota Prius Prime.

First of all, it’s car, not a utility vehicle, although it does offer some versatility with its hatchback configuration. That itself is a break from today’s me-too selection of electrified vehicles. In fact, Toyota is one of the few manufacturers that still builds and sells a diverse range of passenger cars in North America.

The 2023 Toyota Prius Prime is once again the plug-in hybrid variant of the Prius, which was one of first modern-day vehicles on the road to introduce a hybrid powertrain and the benefits of electrification—along with the first-generation Honda Insight. First launched as a four-door sedan, the Prius gained a following while the diminutive two-seat Insight was innovative, but not very practical.

Some 25 years later, the fifth-generation Toyota Prius is all-new for the 2023 model year, sporting a hybrid powertrain consisting of an Atkinson-cycle, 2.0L four-cylinder engine and two electric motors, producing a total of 194 horsepower, or 196 hp with AWD with its third electric motor mounted at the rear. Combined fuel economy is rated at up to 57 mpg in the U.S., or 4.8 L/100 km in Canada where AWD is standard.

2023 Toyota Prius Prime

Meanwhile, the Prius Prime is equipped with the 2.0L engine, a motor/generator unit and a stronger electric drive motor for a total system output of 220 horsepower. That’s quite an upgrade from the outgoing Prius Prime, which dished out a modest 121 horsepower. Performance-wise, that new generation is obviously quicker on its feet, but its driving dynamics and body rigidity have been improved as well, resulting in a car that’s much more engaging to drive. That being said, while its horsepower count is nearly the same is that of the Volkswagen Golf GTI and the MINI John Cooper Works Hardtop, and higher than that a Honda Civic Si, the Prius Prime isn’t as energetic, for lack of torque. Toyota claims a 0-60 mph time of 6.6 seconds, which actually isn’t bad.

Switching from the normal mode to the Sport mode quickens the 2023 Toyota Prius Prime’s liveliness, but spirited driving reveals one of the car’s minor weaknesses—the combustion engine feels strained, and can get loud at wide-open throttle. Said sound also isn’t all that melodious. Happily, under more relaxed driving conditions, the hybrid system is rather quiet. Aside from the Sport mode, we find the usual EV-only mode, the automatic setting that balances hybrid and EV driving on its own, a hybrid mode for conserving energy in the battery pack as well as a charge mode for replenishing the battery while driving—at the expense of slightly higher fuel consumption.

2023 Toyota Prius Prime

However, as sporty as the Prius Prime has become, that’s not the car’s forte. It’s rated at a combined 48 to 52 mpg or 4.5 to 4.9 L/100 km, and at 114 to 127 mpge or 1.8 to 2.1 Le/100 km when we factor in the vehicle’s EV-only range. The latter is now set at up to 39 to 44 miles, or 64 to 72 km, as the battery pack’s capacity increased from 8.8 to 13.6 kWh. By the way, the variations in all these numbers are due to the uplevel variants being heavier and riding on 19-inch wheels instead of 17 inchers, which reduce efficiency. The previous-generation Prius Prime could only cover a distance of 25 miles or 40 km on a full charge. The new Prius Prime can be fully charged in about four hours on a 240-volt plug and in about 11 hours using a household 120-volt outlet.

During our test in sunny California, we managed an average consumption of 50 mpg or 4.7 L/100 km aboard the 2023 Toyota Prius Prime, once the battery was drained. By the way, the Prime’s regenerative braking now has three intensity levels to choose from when we nudge the shift lever in the B position. What we should think about in particular is the Prime’s increased range, which is almost as high as what the now-defunct and much-loved Chevrolet Volt could muster. The Volt became somewhat of a cult car for its ability to cover the daily commute without using a drop of fuel, while its powertrain was deemed reliable as well. The Prius Prime could potentially be the spiritual successor to the Volt and gain its own cult status—more so than the regular non-pluggable Prius.

2023 Toyota Prius Prime

Another noteworthy change to the Prius Prime is, well, its looks. Once again, it bears a design that’s nothing like anything else on the road today, but now, it’s subjectively much more attractive than before. Like a pint-sized Toyota Mirai, the Prius stands out with its steeply raked windshield, very low roofline and stubby rear proportions.

When the latest-gen Prius debuted, our first thought was that occupants would be seating low to the floor, with a significantly inclined seatback position. That’s not the case, although the slanted front pillars are a little obtrusive and create blind spots. That’s another one of the Prius’ downsides which, in this case, favours form over function. Two people can ride comfortably in the back seat, with one inch more legroom than in the previous-gen Prime, but expectedly, squeezing in three across is still a stretch. Trunk space with the seatbacks in place totals 20.3 cubic feet or 574 litres, on par with the competition.

2023 Toyota Prius Prime

And what competition may that be? There are no other mainstream plug-in hybrid passenger cars available on our market at this time. However, we could arguably compare the 2023 Toyota Prius Prime with the also-redesigned Kia Niro PHEV crossover as well as the Subaru Crosstrek PHEV. There are a few compact plug-in hybrid crossovers on the market as well, but they have the Toyota RAV4 Prime to deal with.

On the tech side of things, the Prius Prime is equipped with a 7.0-inch digital driver instrument cluster and an 8.0 or 12.3-inch infotainment system touchscreen, along with an on-board Wi-Fi hotspot and connected services (subscriptions required after trial periods). We get Toyota’s newest interface that’s simple to use with main menu button zones on the left side of the screen, in addition to being capable of over-the-air updates. As usual, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is on board, as is a wireless charging slot on the centre console in the XSE and XSE Premium trims, but the base SE. Standard across the board is Toyota Safety Sense 3.0, which rounds up a slew of drive assist systems such as emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, traffic jam assist, automatic high beams, blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning and lane keep assist, among other features.

2023 Toyota Prius Prime

Other standard or available comfort and convenience features include a fixed glass roof, a power liftgate, fabric or SofTex simulated leather seating, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, heated front and rear seats, ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, a wiper de-icer, single-zone automatic climate control, a 360-degree camera system, a digital key and an eight-speaker JBL sound system.

In addition, six exterior paint colours are offered in the United States, but the Canadian market gets a seventh hue called Maximum Yellow that’s only available on the range-topping XSE Premium. On the flipside, the U.S.-market XSE Premium can be equipped with a solar roof to recharge the battery while parked, which Canada doesn’t get.

Alas, all these improvements come at a base price that’s more than $4,000 higher than that of the 2022 model-year Prius Prime. Pricing starts at $33,445 in the U.S. and at $39,850 in Canada, freight and delivery charges included.

2023 Toyota Prius Prime Pricing in the United StatesSEXSEXSE Premium
MSRP (including freight)$33,445$36,695$40,265

 

2023 Toyota Prius Prime Pricing in CanadaSEXSEXSE Premium
MSRP (including freight)$39,850$44,850$48,850

 

In Canada, the full federal $5,000 iZEV rebate applies as the Prius Prime’s driving range is now above 50 km, and it can be combined to any available provincial rebate as well. In Quebec, for example, the Prius Prime gets up to $7,500 in rebates after taxes, making it more affordable with the regular Prius. As mentioned earlier, the latter now includes AWD as standard, the Prime doesn’t offer it at all.

2023 Toyota Prius Prime

Overall, there is little to fault in the 2023 Toyota Prius Prime. It’s comfortable, fun to drive and very fuel efficient, while its increased EV-only range means we could potentially go for weeks without needing to stop for gasoline, if we plug the car every day at home and our daily commute is short. The Prime will start arriving in dealers in May, but if this plug-in hybrid car sounds tantalizing, we’d better get in line to order one sooner than later.

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