At this year’s Los Angeles auto show, a new wedge-shaped automobile with far more power than its predecessor makes its debut. But this is no Rodeo Drive-bound exotic—it’s the 2023 Toyota Prius Prime. Although it’s still far—far—from a hybrid supercar, the redesigned Prius PHEV hatchback promises better performance, tech, and range—not to mention, aesthetics—than any Prius before it.
Wait, the Prius Looks Cool Now?
Like the equally new 2023 Prius hybrid (the one without a plug), the new Prius Prime receives a gob smacking glow-up. Admittedly, the old model set the styling bar about high as a Toyota Supra’s ground clearance, but the newest Prii (the identical-looking hybrid included) might be the first to ever beckon shoppers with its design, rather than mere affordability and efficiency. We suppose someone at Toyota finally asked the question whether stylistic self-flagellation for the sake of MPGs was necessary. Taking a sleek aerodynamic shape, the body carries dapper sculpting and clever details like hidden rear door handles. Based on an updated version of the TNGA-C platform, the wedge-like Prius is roughly 2.0 inches shorter and 1.0 inch wider and longer than the previous model. Most eye-catching are the thin LED headlights, which wouldn’t look out of place on a sports car. In fact, there are amusing parallels between the Toyota’s headlight design and, well, the same pieces on the latest Ferraris.
Unlike the outgoing model, the new Prius Prime’s body is essentially identical to that of the standard Prius. Toyota is differentiating the Prime by positioning it as something of a performance variant in the Prius range. The SE, XSE, and XSE Premium trims it’s offered in are denominations reserved for Toyota’s sportier trim-level pillar. (Toyota’s L-based designations such as L, LE, and XLE are reserved for more luxury-focused models—and are the only offerings on the regular 2023 Prius.) A cute cursive “Prime” tailgate badge, unique wheels, interior trim, and an available clear lens for the LED taillights are the Prime’s, um, prime design differentiators.
The Most Powerful and Electric Prius Ever
A subtle detail seen only on the Prius Prime is what looks like two fuel doors. In actuality, gasoline goes in on the driver’s side flap, while electricity flows into the passenger’s side charge port, which has a fitting for a J1772 connector to replenish the now lithium-ion onboard battery.
This new battery is located under the rear seats, ensuring a lower center of gravity and optimized space in the hatchback cargo area. Although official EPA certification is forthcoming, Toyota promises all-electric driving range will increase by more than 50 percent over the outgoing model—estimate 37 or 38 miles in EV mode. An available rooftop solar panel can help replenish the battery when parked, and power accessories while driving. When running as a hybrid, the 2022 Prius Prime scored a 54 mpg combined fuel economy rating, slightly better than the standard Prius’ 52 mpg score. Given that the new 2023 Prius is targeting 57 mpg combined, it seems likely that the new Prime’s hybrid efficiency will rise, too.
The electric propulsion system is supplemented by a 2.0-liter I-4 engine, up from the previous 1.8-liter mill. It remains connected to a planetary-type continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) and front-wheel drive; all-wheel drive is available only on the standard Prius hybrid. Working together, this battery and motor give the Prius Prime a huge power increase—now 220 hp, up from 121 hp; the standard Prius makes 194 hp with FWD and 196 hp with AWD. As such, Toyota estimates the Prius Prime will accelerate from 0-60 mph in 6.6 seconds, downright rapid compared to the 10.0-second result our test team measured from the outgoing Prime. Equally important to regular driving, Toyota says the Prius Prime’s accelerator responses have been tuned to feel more like those of an all-electric vehicle.
Screens and Buttons Applied Harmoniously
Inside the Prius Prime, Toyota earns a nod for not joining the industry trend of eliminating physical buttons in favor of digital everything. Hard keys for HVAC controls are placed on the dashboard, drive mode options are on the center console, and a variety of other functions are seen on the steering wheel, which looks borrowed from the brand’s bZ4X all-electric crossover.
Yet there’s no shortage of pixels. Like in the bZ4X, the Prius Prime’s driver looks at a digital gauge display. An 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen is standard on the SE and XSE grades, while a 12.3-inch unit is optional on XSE and standard on XSE Premium. Both screens come prepared for wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, dual Bluetooth device connectivity, and future over-the-air updates. Every Prius Prime includes six USB-C ports, and the XSE Premium will have a wireless charging pad. Furthermore, that range-topping trim offers a digital rearview mirror, semi-autonomous parking capability, and a surround-view camera system.
Self-Driving Capabilities Come Standard
Like most 2023 Toyota models, the Prius Prime will come with the Toyota Safety Sense (TSS) suite of driver-assist and active safety features. Here it’s the brand’s latest version 3.0 of the tech, which bundles front automated emergency braking, lane-keep assist, lane-change assist, adaptive cruise control, road sign recognition, and automatic high beams; XSE and XSE Premium models gain blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and rear automatic braking.
New to TSS 3.0 is Proactive Driving Assist, which runs in the background to provide assistance in situations less dire than what might activate, for example, automatic emergency braking. Rather, Proactive Driving Assist remains ever-aware to provide slight steering and braking inputs based on traffic conditions ahead.
Debuting on the Prius Prime is Toyota’s new Traffic Jam Assist. This system builds on the adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist systems to provide hands-free driving when traffic is moving at less than 25 mph. A camera integrated into the steering column monitors the driver’s eyes to ensure they’re paying attention.
The Best Prius Ever?
With the original Prius, Toyota revolutionized the auto industry by bringing hybrids to the mainstream. Yet as the world races toward all-electric vehicles, Toyota has ceded its leader status. Can the 2023 Prius Prime’s alluring looks and improved electric driving range make it an appetizer for Toyota EV models in the works? Time will tell, but right now, this much is clear: the car has mojo like it’s never had before. When pricing is announced in the first half of calendar year 2023, expect it to start a few thousand dollars above the standard Prius.
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