The 2023 Toyota Prius drives better than it looks now
From the February/March 2023 issue of Car and driver.
Over the years, driving a Toyota Prius has been a constant acknowledgment that you’re willing to sacrifice everything on the altar of maximum fuel economy. Power and performance are left out, which makes sense. However, no previous Prius has been able to break the modest 10-second barrier to 60 mph. The list of deprecated features also included attractive styling, good driver ergonomics, and minimal handling prowess. The Prius has always been a one-trick pony that lacks actual ponies.
That ends now, except for the part where the 2023 Toyota Prius achieves excellent fuel economy. In fact, it’s better at this basic task. How does 57 mpg combined (57 city/56 highway) appeal to you? That’s for the LE with front-wheel drive and 17-inch wheels – the L Eco model is history. Front-wheel-drive XLE and Limited models are good for 52 (52 city/52 highway) on their standard 19-inch wagons.
The first thing that stands out is how attractive the new Prius is, words we’ve never written before. This came about because chief engineer Satoki Oya, newly appointed to the fifth-generation Prius program, took a “love at first sight” approach. He allowed designers “the freedom to do what they wanted,” in stark contrast to what he called the “relentless pursuit of aerodynamic efficiency” that had produced previous exotic mobile phones.
This results in a 2023 Prius that is longer (1.1 inches), lower (1.6 inches), and wider (0.9 inches). But its situation is more dramatic than these numbers suggest. New 17- and 19-inch wheels are fitted with two-inch-tall tires, and these wheel sets are pushed closer to the corners thanks to a wider track width of 2.3 inches up front and two inches at the rear. At the same time, the wheelbase has become a full two inches longer.
Furthermore, the top of the high roofline has been pulled back so that the hood flows gracefully into the windshield and roof. This design decision was made despite a worsening drag coefficient of 0.27, versus 0.24 last year. But the effect is mitigated because drag is a product of the CD and the frontal area, the latter reduced by the significantly lower vehicle height. Cargo space is down a bit, with the LE offering 24 cubic feet, and the XLE and Limited good for 20 cubic feet. Rear visibility takes a slight hit as well, due to the loss of the vertical glass panel of the aperture.
Acceleration leaves the old (distant) car behind
The invisible changes under the skin are arguably even more transformative. The internal combustion engine is now a 2.0-liter inline-four making 150 horsepower instead of a 1.8-liter unit good for just 96 horsepower. The permanent magnet synchronous traction motor—made more compact because it has six magnets per pole instead of three—is now good for 111 horsepower instead of 71 horsepower. This year, total output at maximum power is 194 hp instead of just 121 hp, an increase of 60 percent.
All-wheel drive models get a new 40-hp permanent magnet rear motor; The previous induction motor only wrangled 7 weak ponies. This significantly expands the range of speeds and conditions under which rear-wheel drive can be deployed, and allows, unlike last year, a slight advantage in peak horsepower for all-wheel drive: two more hp, versus 196 hp to be precise. Every model from LE to Limited can now be had with all-wheel drive, and the AWD LE model has the largest 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 Prius’ case. The dash to 60 mph on a short highway now takes 7.1 seconds instead of 10.5 clicks. 50 to 70 mph 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 a full 2.3 seconds quicker and 13 mph quicker than before.
Improved handling and braking
The new car’s lower height and wider stance eliminate the feeling of being on tiptoe. This was reinforced by Oya-san’s desire to extend the “performance worthy of design” ethos to chassis tuning. The broadly similar front strut and multi-link rear suspension were massaged with handling in mind, and feature KYB dampers with an internal check valve that closes when subjected to lateral forces to stabilize damping in corners. In fact, the body is much less lean than before, and the new Prius flows gracefully through corners. Filtered through the contact patch of 195/50R-19 Michelin Primacy all-season tires, our tests revealed 0.87 grams of cornering grip. The ride is well-adjusted over most pavement irregularities, even with the lowered 19-inch rubber on the XLE and Limited.
The front and rear brakes are larger, and the booster uses a hydraulic pump instead of vacuum assist to improve feel. This brake pedal feel remains constant while the computer switches between regenerative and friction braking, correcting your long-term Prius Bugaboo. It stops from 70 mph and takes just 171 feet.
Improving the internal work environment
However, the choppy roofline reduces headroom by 1.4 inches in the front and 1 inch in the rear. The extra wheelbase helps provide 0.9 inches more front legroom and an additional 1.4 inches in the rear. This changes the driving position to one that is more agreeable and less upright. Adjusting the steering wheel feels awkward because at first, it feels like the wheel has to be on your lap to see the instruments. This is mostly an illusion, as the steering column cover is uniquely designed to blend in with the dashboard. There’s actually good thigh room below the edge, and the Toyota logo on the horn pad points to your chin, not your sternum.
The impact of the wheel on the instruments is new territory for the Prius, as it is now (finally) dead in front of the driver, and doesn’t swing to the right. It’s a clear display, too, and controls on the steering wheel spoke make it easy to see the screen. The familiar Prius shifter remains, but it somehow seems more logical and intuitive now that it protrudes straight up from the console within easy reach rather than protruding from the dashboard at arm’s length.
The center touchscreen is an 8.0-inch screen on the LE, but a large 12.3-inch unit is optional on the XLE and standard on the Limited. Wireless mirroring of smartphones is standard. Just below the screen, the physical HVAC dials and buttons work with perfect logic, and there’s a phone charging slot next to the shifter, with a clever mounting action that securely holds your phone. There’s a second phone tray in front of the shifter, and six USB-C sockets are spread throughout the cabin.
The completely redesigned Prius will go on sale next January. The base price is higher because the base L Eco model no longer exists, but the front-wheel-drive LE’s starting figure of $28,545 is only about $1,100 more than last year. The XLE is priced at $31,990, and the Limited model requires $35,560. Add $1,400 to any of the above if you want all-wheel drive. From where we sit, the small extra outlay for a new car is worth it, because you get all the fuel economy from before without having to sacrifice good looks, reasonable performance, a little driving pleasure, or your dignity.
Toyota Prius 2023 Limited
Vehicle Type: Front-engined, front-engined, front-wheel drive, 5-passenger, 4-door hatchback
Base/as tested: $35,560/$35,560
DOHC 16-valve 2.0L Atkinson cycle inline-4, 150 hp, 139 lb-ft + 2 DC motor (combined output: 194 hp; 0.9 kWh lithium-ion battery pack)
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic
Suspension, F/R: Multi-link/struts
Brakes, F/R: 11.1-inch vented disc/11.0-inch disc
Tires: Michelin priority all season
195/50R-19 88H M+S
Wheelbase: 108.3 inches
Height: 181.1 inches
Width: 70.2 inches
Height: 56.3 inches
Passenger volume: 91 ft3
Load size: 20 feet3
Net Weight: 3199 lbs
grandfather Test results
60 mph: 7.1 seconds
1/4 mile: 15.5 seconds at 92 mph
100 mph: 18.8 seconds
The above results remove a 1-foot subtraction for 0.3 seconds.
Rolling start, 5-60 mph: 8.1 seconds
Top Gear, 30-50 mph: 4.0 seconds
Top Gear, 50-70 mph: 5.0 seconds
Top speed (gov ltd): 115 mph
Braking, 70-0 mph: 171 ft
Road Grip, 300′ Ski Pad: 0.87 g
grandfather Fuel economy
Note: 45 mpg
EPA fuel economy.
Combined/City/Highway: 52/52/52 mpg
grandfather Test explained
Dan Edmunds was born into cars, but not as you might think. His father was a retired racing driver who opened Autoresearch, a race car building shop, where Dan gained extensive metal fabrication experience. Engineering school followed, then SCCA Showroom Stock racing, a combination that landed him suspension development jobs at two different automakers. His writing career began when Edmunds.com (no relation) selected him to build their quiz section.