Since launching the fourth-generation Prius a few years back, demand for the iconic hybrid hatchback has hit a wall — leading some inside Toyota to question whether the nameplate had run its course — or if it needed to undergo a radical redesign.
The latter course is the one the Japanese giant chose, as it revealed ahead of the Los Angeles Auto Show. Known for its quirky design, as much as for its industry-leading fuel economy, the Toyota Prius revolutionized the automotive market 2 decades ago and, at one point, became the bestselling car in California.
But, with sales down by nearly two-thirds since demand peaked in 2012, Toyota has needed to either give the Prius a complete makeover or send it into retirement.
It turns out the automaker is giving it one more try to see if it can resuscitate the Prius badge, pulling the wraps off the fifth-generation hybrid ahead of its official public debut at this week’s Los Angeles Auto Show.
2023 Toyota Prius
The 2023 Prius adopts a less Jetsons-style design, addressing one of the biggest criticisms leveled at the current model. It also aims to surprise skeptics by upping the hybrid’s performance.
A new gas-electric drivetrain can now launch from 0-100 kph (0-62 mph) in just 6.7 seconds. The current model needs around 10 seconds to get there.
Depending upon which version you buy, meanwhile, the 2023 Prius will boost horsepower by as much as 77%. At the same time, it is still expected to yield benchmark fuel economy.
“We wanted to show we could maintain the efficiency and see a jump in performance,” Toyota Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada told trade publication Automotive News.
The existing model produces an anemic 121 horsepower using a 1.8L gas engine paired with two electric motors. That jumps a whopping 60% to 193 in the new hybrid, with the powertrain now pairing a 2.0L gas engine with larger electric motors.
While optional all-wheel drive will be available on the Prius, it will not be an option on the Prius+ PHEV.
2023 Prius+ PHEV
The big jump, however, comes with the plug-in version, the Prius+. It currently delivers a maximum 134 horsepower, but now will churn out a full 220 ponies.
The Prius+, of course, requires owners to plug in to run in all-electric mode. But they now will be able to add optional solar panels on the roof. Toyota didn’t say how much energy they will provide but, based on what some other vehicles are getting, that could add up to at least a few miles a day when the PHEV version is parked in bright sunlight.
Still a Fuel Sipper
Toyota has not yet revealed some key specs, including final EPA-rated fuel economy numbers. Toyota VP and General Manager David Christ did say the 2023 Prius will get “up to 57 mpg,” depending on the trim, which should satisfy mileage-minded buyers.
The new Prius+, however, will see its EV-only range increase by about 50% from the current 24 miles per charge. Based on industry and government data, that would allow a sizable share of commuters to make their daily runs without burning much, if any fuel.
While Toyota has made some significant changes under the hood, it didn’t stop there. If anything, it has put a lot of work into addressing what may have been the single biggest problem with the outgoing fourth-generation Prius: a design that has been lambasted by critics — and abandoned by many once-loyal owners.
The new model retains its focus on maximizing aerodynamics. But it does so in a much more stylish way. The overall shape is more sporty and aggressive, with a flatter windshield flowing into a lower fastback-style roof that leads into a less clunky hatchback.
The taillights that seemed almost an afterthought on the old version have now been smoothly integrated into the rear end. The lamps pick up on the design of the Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle.
Inside, the cabin clearly lifts some of its design cues from Toyota’s first long-range battery-electric vehicle, the bZ4X. That includes a distinctive digital gauge cluster and a large infotainment screen. The hybrid retains some key manual controls, unlike many other new, battery-based vehicles.
New tech features in the 2023 Prius include the Toyota Saftey Sense 3.0 suite and Toyota Voice Assistant.
The new platform (TNGA) underpinning the 2023 Prius also allows the battery pack and gas tank to be lower in the car. Combined with a wider rear track width and lower roofline the car should have a much lower center of gravity, which in turn should improve handling.
More to Come: 2023 Prius
The 2023 Prius will be the first vehicle to wear “Beyond Zero” badging, which will be affixed to all future electrified Toyotas.
Speaking of EVs, Toyota is already taking some heat for releasing a new Prius without offering a fully electrified version — a BEV. Toyota’s response is to point out that they are committed to offering a full line of options to its customers. And, that they offer 20 different hybrid models that they’ve sold over 20 million examples of so far globally. There are plenty of Toyota BEV vehicles coming soon as well.
Check out the 2023 Toyota Prius for yourself at Toyota.com.