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2023 Toyota Prius Review: Impressive Economy, Performance, and Good Looks

2023 Toyota Prius(Photo/Paul Eisenstein)
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Impressively, the 2023 Toyota Prius gets even better fuel economy than the outgoing model. But, it also delivers substantially better performance in a much more attractive package.

There are few vehicles that have had more impact on the automotive market than the original Toyota Prius. Initially launched in Japan in 1998, it was the first mass-production, gas-electric hybrid, and it delivered the sort of fuel economy that few then could imagine.

When the car landed in the United States a few years later, it was an instant success. At one point it even became the bestselling automotive nameplate in the massive California market.

But things haven’t gone nearly as well for the little hybrid hatchback in recent years. Sales have plunged, leading some industry watchers to question whether Toyota might simply pull the plug on the gas-electric model, shifting focus to the rest of its expanding hybrid lineup.

As it turns out, the Japanese giant isn’t ready to write off the Prius badge. It’s making that clear with the launch of an all-new version just rolling into U.S. showrooms. And while Toyota officials acknowledge the new version likely won’t come near to the sales peaks seen in years past, there’s a good reason to expect the fifth-generation Prius to not only hold onto current buyers but win over new ones.

2023 Toyota Prius

In short: Millions of motorists have bought a Toyota Prius since its debut. Now, there are even more good reasons to consider the fifth-generation hybrid, not least of which is for its new looks. If mileage, performance, and handling are all important to you, the 2023 Toyota Prius hybrid delivers like it never has before.

2023 Toyota Prius Review

2023 Toyota Prius

Mileage Not Even in Top 3 Considerations

A Prius simply wouldn’t be a Prius if it didn’t deliver stellar fuel economy. And the 2023 hybrid doesn’t disappoint, delivering as much as 57 mpg, depending upon the trim package.

Yet, when I had the chance to talk with the program’s chief engineer, Satoki Oya, I learned that mileage wasn’t even in the top three goals for the 2023 makeover. Instead, Oya and his team focused on the hybrid’s weakest points: design and performance.

What they accomplished will clearly surprise those who thought they knew what a Prius looked like and how it behaved on the road. The new version is surprisingly stylish. It also delivers significantly better performance and on-road manners.

The 2023 Prius “builds on its legendary status,” David Christ, the U.S. general manager of the Toyota brand, said in an interview following the 2023 model’s debut in Los Angeles last month. “It continues to evolve and advance, and continues to make a major impact.”

During a day of driving the 2023 Toyota Prius, I discovered he wasn’t kidding.

A Good-Looking Prius, Finally

The 2023 Prius abandons the geeky, Jetsons-style design in favor of a look that’s decidedly more clean and sporty. It boasts a gentle, coupe-like slope to the front end, windshield, and roofline while retaining its five-passenger hatchback layout.

2023 Toyota Prius
(Photo/Paul Eisenstein)

Boomerang headlamps continue to give the Prius a high-tech look, without appearing awkward. That’s all the more apparent around back. The old hybrid’s jug-eared taillamps have been replaced by a crossbar mirroring the front headlights. It’s looking much like what Toyota developed for its Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle.

2023 Toyota Prius
(Photo/Paul Eisenstein)

A Sleeker, More High-Tech Cabin

Like the current Prius, the 2023 remake retains a relatively uncluttered interior but gets a more refined finish. Here, you’ll see fewer clunky plastic parts and panels that gave the old model a cheap feel.

2023 Toyota Prius

The new hatchback retains more conventional controls for some vehicle functions, such as climate settings. But, as with Toyota’s new battery-electric bZ4X, the updated Prius features a high-mounted 7-inch digital gauge cluster. Alongside this is a large touchscreen infotainment system mounted at the top of the center console.

Not everyone is going to like the twin-screen layout — in particular, the high-mounted digital gauge cluster. It worked fine for me. But my drive partner found it difficult to adjust the steering wheel to a comfortable position without cutting off part of the screen.

2023 Toyota Prius

There are two infotainment screens available: an 8-inch display on the base LE and a 12.3-inch touchscreen. That’s optional on the midlevel XLE and standard on the two fully loaded Limited models we spent the day in.

The display is easy to read and it’s paired with Toyota’s latest voice control system, similar to the Amazon Alexa voice assistant. It readily handles an array of vehicle functions using plain English commands.

There are a number of other useful tech features, depending on the trim package and options. These include wireless smartphone charging, a Wi-Fi hotspot, and Toyota’s Digital Key system. This allows you to rely on a smartphone app to not only get into your Prius but to run it, leaving the key fob at home.

Of course, the 2023 Toyota Prius also has the latest suite of advanced driver assistance technologies as well.

Enough Room

2023 Toyota Prius
(Photo/Paul Eisenstein)

As with the outgoing Prius, there’s room for five inside, though the lower and sportier roofline does sacrifice a bit of headroom and cargo space.

While the hatch has a huge piece of glass, its steep rake limits rear visibility compared to the old model.

Were I in the market, the 2023 hybrid’s striking looks would more than offset any of these marginal complaints. And that’s before you even look at how Toyota addressed the other big complaint about Priuses from the past.

Prius Powertrain Upgrades and Options

2023 Toyota Prius

Like the outgoing model, there will be two versions of the 2023 Prius. Starting with a conventional hybrid that replaces the old 1.8L gas engine with a new 2.0L inline-four.

It remains paired to twin electric motors, though they also have been beefed up. Combined output jumps 60%, from 121 to 193 horsepower. At the same time, fuel economy will reach as much as 57 mpg — up to a 1 mpg improvement, depending on the trim package.

As with the fourth-generation Prius, the 2023 makeover will be available in both front- and all-wheel-drive configurations. We switched back and forth between the two options and found little difference on dry pavement. That said, Toyota expects about 30% of buyers will opt for AWD, primarily in snowier climes.

2023 Toyota Prius+ PHEV

The Prius+ plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) won’t reach showrooms until early 2023, and none were available to test drive.

But it’s impressive on its specs, getting a full 77% increase, from 134 to 220 horsepower. That is expected to yield 0-60 in under 6.7 seconds, Toyota said. That’s almost 4 seconds faster than with the 2022 Prius.

The “Plus” will not only yield improvements in fuel efficiency but also get a 50% increase in its range in all-electric mode, to as much as 24 miles.

“We wanted to show we could maintain the efficiency and see a jump in performance,” said Toyota’s chairman, Takeshi Uchiyamada, in the trade publication Automotive News during a Prius preview in Japan last month.

2023 Prius: Driving Impressions

The added pony power on its own makes a big difference. The outgoing hybrid went beyond sluggish. It always seemed resistant to accelerating, almost as if it were scolding you for having a lead foot.

Not so for the 2023 Prius. But don’t let me get carried away; it’s not a sports car, but it is definitely a sportier drive. The throttle now readily responds to inputs from your right foot.

There’s also another reason to be pleased: The new model’s center of gravity has been lowered. Its suspension has received a noticeable upgrade as well.

It all came together during a few hours of flogging the 2023 Toyota Prius through the winding foothills east of San Diego. This makes me want to use a phrase I’d never associated with the Japanese hybrid before. It was downright “fun to drive,” easily slaloming through S-curves with only a modicum of body roll.

I’m now all the more anxious to get behind the wheel of the Prius+ when it debuts next year.

Again, the 2023 Toyota Prius is not a sports car. It’s not likely to get drivers to trade in a Volkswagen GTI if performance matters most. But for those who place a premium on fuel economy — or at the very least, want to find a balance between mileage, performance, handling, and looks — the new hybrid delivers.

2023 Toyota Prius

2023 Toyota Prius: Pricing

A lot has changed since the much-lambasted gen-four Prius came to market. There are now an assortment of gas-electric alternatives from manufacturers as diverse as Ford, Mitsubishi, and Hyundai. Toyota itself has launched hybrid options for nearly its entire lineup. And one can get into a Corolla version for as little as $22,800.

The 2023 Toyota Prius LE starts at $27,450 in front-wheel-drive trim. The XLE goes for $30,895 and the Limited package starts at $34,465. Add $1,400 for all-wheel drive and $1,095 in delivery fees.

With all the competition — never mind the fast-growing supply of all-electric vehicles — even Toyota planners acknowledge Prius will never regain its former sales glory. But the 2023 makeover transforms a gawky, one-note hatchback into a sporty, stylish, and highly fuel-efficient package that is clearly worth checking out.

Virtually build out your own 2023 Toyota Prius and/or find a dealer near you here.

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