It’s normal to expect a new car to become better than its predecessor. That’s progress after all, right? But what if a new generation of a car was so objectively and subjectively better in nearly every way? What if what once was a car I loathed for being slow, boring, ugly, and obsolete, suddenly transformed itself to become something completely different? I spent a week with the new 2023 Toyota Prius Prime and my world has changed. This car has reinvented itself in the modern automotive landscape. And the results are pretty wonderful.
Let’s get the technical specs out of the way. The 2023 Prius Prime is a plug-in hybrid vehicle that combines a 2.0L 4-cylinder (150-hp) gas engine with an electric motor (160-hp) that creates a total system output of 220-hp. No word on total system torque but based on how unexpectedly this car hauls ass from a dead stop it is safe to say that figure starts with a two as well. The car weighs approximately 3,500 lbs and is built on the Toyota TNGA-C chassis architecture. The battery is a 13.6-kWh unit, however, a full charge from 0% indicated 11.6 kW of power added, which would indicate the usable battery capacity is somewhere under 12 kWh. The car can charge up to 3.5kW on a Level II charger which takes approximately 4 hours for a full charge from 0%, or roughly 12 hours plugged into a standard 120v outlet in your garage.
Did you know someone who used to get bullied in high school but grew up and when you see them again a decade later they became uncomfortably attractive? Well, that’s the story with the new Prius. It stole the headlight design from a Ferrari SF90. Its windshield is raked as steeply as an LC500’s. The design is smooth, uncluttered and is about the most attractive egg-shaped car I’ve ever seen in modern memory.
Luckily the car doesn’t just look good, it drives great too. I was surprised at just how well the car was not only damped daily driving but also how well the body roll was controlled. Steering isn’t communicative, but it is well-weighted with a good ratio that lets you turn to where you need to go precisely without much drama. The chassis feels solid, which lets the dampers and suspension sort out any bumps. It’s comfortable, and confidence-inspiring. I am dumb, so I took this car up to some canyon roads that I typically take sports cars to, and not surprisingly the 195-width all-season, low-rolling resistance tires don’t provide much grip. But the car didn’t fall flat on its face either. There’s a competent handling car, in there.
Odds are you aren’t buying a Prius for handling, though, so you’re focused on finding an efficient daily driver and the new Prius Prime is the king of efficient cars that still carry a gasoline engine under the hood. In pure hybrid driving, I saw an average of 45-50mpg for most of my driving. However, I did take the time to charge the car up each night and sometimes out around the city when level II chargers were available. As such, I averaged 80mpg over my time with the car. I used 10.4 gallons over 831 miles. With $56.88 spent on gas and $16 spent on 64kw of power taken from ChargePoint chargers taken throughout the city, that comes out to $0.08 per mile. That’s cheap. Mind you, I did take this car on a few longer road trips with two days of my week with the car driving over 200 miles in a day. These longer travel days dropped my fuel consumption average quite a bit as on the other days I barely used the gas motor at all.
I treated this car like an EV with training wheels. In the XSE Premium trim that I drove, the range is advertised at 39 miles with the 19” wheels, while the lower SE trim with lighter and smaller 17” wheels is advertised at 44 miles of EV range. During my drive, I averaged over 4 mi / kW, one day seeing as high as 5 mi / kW (though that was nearly all downhill). I found achieving 45 miles of EV range to be easy, even in the XSE Premium trim. On one occasion during a 44-mile trip from Ontario, CA to Pasadena, CA I made the trip with an indicated 14 miles of EV range left after I arrived which would indicate a total of 58 miles of EV range on that particular trip. That’s a wildly optimistic scenario with a 1000ft of elevation drop, but just goes to show the EV range on this car will easily get you above the advertised range and more than the average US daily commute of 41 miles total.
One very cool option available on the XSE Premium trim is the 850w solar panel roof for $650. At first, it seems like a gimmick. But I’m happy to report it might be useful to some. I found the solar panel on several days during my week with the car added nearly 1kW of power over the course of 6-8 hours while being outside on a beautiful sunny day. That’s 3-4 miles of range added each day. Completely free, doing absolutely nothing. While I wouldn’t say that’s exactly Earth-shattering if you can add several hundred miles of pure EV range that easily every year, that starts to add up. It may take over 6 years or more to break even on the money you spent on the option, but the added range from doing absolutely nothing is just some nice peace of mind. Think of it this way: In a post-apocalyptic world, this might be one of the few cars that can get you around assuming the tires are still working.
What good is all this solar charging and driving dynamics if the interior isn’t any good? I am happy to report the interior is for the most part fantastic for the price point with a few small caveats. Let’s start with what’s great: It is luxurious for the segment and filled with great tech. The new Prius is adorned with an assortment of soft-touch materials, great design, and in the XSE Premium, lots of leather too. The heated and cooled seats are comfortable, there is plenty of storage (a pair of sunglasses can fit in the #hiddencompartment), and despite the steeply raked A-pillars, visibility is great out front. While it might appear that rear visibility isn’t optimal, the digital rearview mirror available on upper trim levels is fantastic for situational awareness. The new 12.3” infotainment screen is snappy and effective. The only flaws that would prevent me from calling it “perfect” is the desire for a dedicated home screen and the placement of the volume knob over on the passenger side. The JBL sound system lacks bass but has a lot of clarity and great sound even with the volume turned up all the way with little distortion. The cabin is quiet, too. The experience makes it feel less like a Prius successor, and more like a new Lexus CT200h.
Plug-in Hybrids seem like a weird compromise between pure electric cars and a regular hybrid. For today’s current infrastructure, however, it has perks from the best of both. Here in California, you can get HOV exemption stickers for EVs that allow you to drive in the carpool lane even if you’re driving alone and this car qualifies for that. At many shopping centers and places of interest, EV charging stations are more commonly located in optimal spots close to the entrances. It’s like VIP parking. Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) may be cutting edge but the state of the charging network in 2023 is still not up to par with the convenience offered by gas stations. Ask anyone how their experience has been with Electrify America chargers on a road trip, and I am willing to bet money they roll their eyes. The Tesla Supercharging network is still the standard to beat when it comes to fast charging a BEV, but despite how expansive the network has become, some stations are now frequently experiencing longer waits to gain access to a charger for 15-30 mins on a road trip.
What is so great about a Prius Prime? On a road trip, you can get in and just start driving without a second thought. No worries about route planning or dealing with charging stations that are still a deliberate thought for EV owners. Using almost exclusively electricity for daily driving but providing no hassle road trips make this a very versatile mode of personal transportation. Is gas $7.00 a gallon again when you’re trying to get to work? Just charge up, and you might still only see a gas station once every few months depending on how you drive. Regardless of what fuel is moving you down the road, the Prius Prime allows you to efficiently get you to where you need to go no matter what is cheaper or more convenient. You can make six Prius Primes for every average BEV when it comes to lithium usage and you’re burning about one-fifth the gas of an average car if you charge up enough. I would say this makes it a better car for the environment than a certain 9,000-lb EV with a 212-kWh battery.
As much as I have loved to talk about all of the reasons I fell in love with the Prius Prime, it wasn’t perfect and there were a few things about it where it really fell short. My biggest gripe with the car was the 3.5 kW charging speed. It’s slow, even by today’s standards when other PHEVs can accept 6-11 kW Level II AC charging speeds. At that standard, a simple trip to run errands or get dinner can turn into something that lends you enough EV range to cover a daily commute. This also helps free up charging stations if the car can top off in an hour rather than four. It would greatly expand the use of the EV mode on the car. As of now if you don’t have a charger installed in your garage, the case for the Prime over the regular Prius (that is nearly $4,000 cheaper) goes down significantly. My other big gripe with the car is interior space and packaging. Sure, it’s luxurious… but only for those under 6 feet tall and if you don’t have to carry much with you. I couldn’t even fit two checked bags in the trunk without first removing the cargo cover and then crushing one bag. If you’re an Uber driver, the deeper trunk of the regular Prius might fit the bill but I really don’t see where Toyota got the 19 cu-ft of trunk space that was quoted, it’s a shallow cargo space.
This car does have some stiff competition, too. For about the same price as a fully loaded XSE Premium, you can get a Tesla Model 3 as they are currently cratering in price and if you are willing to dip into getting a full EV and don’t mind the build quality of a dollar store toy or the reliability of a 737 Max, it will ultimately be a better buy once you factor in dollar per mile cost. If all you care about is cost and efficiency, you can get a fully loaded Corolla Hybrid for about $6,000 less than a base Prius Prime XE. The difference in fuel economy would probably take you nearly a decade to recover the difference in fuel-saving costs. With higher interest rates in 2023, the more you spend on a car has a bigger impact on your payment and for some, it might not be worth it. The last hurdle to me recommending this car to you: Dealer markups. Only 10,000 Prius Primes will make it to the US this year. I have already asked a few local southern California dealerships and you can expect to pay several thousand dollars over MSRP to buy some of the first few examples. If you pay a dealership over sticker price for a car that was designed to save you money at the pump, you are doing it wrong.
So, should you buy a 2023 Prius Prime? That depends. Do you commute under 40 miles a day? Do you have access to a Level II AC charger at home or at work every day? Do you hate traffic and want a nice comfortable commuter car? Do you hate frequent gas station visits but don’t want to worry about EV charging potentially making you late for work or ruining a road trip? Do you want to make a Civic SI owner feel insecure at a stoplight? Yes, buy the Prius Prime. It’s awesome for making your life easy and doing it in style. Hell, I’d even say the car is fun.
Should you lease a 2023 Prius Prime? Even better than buying. The new EV tax credits have a strange leasing loophole. Let me explain. There are a lot of new requirements for an EV to get the $7,500 tax credit many used to get, one being that it must be made in America. While this doesn’t meet that requirement (The final assembly is in Japan), any EV fleet vehicle will still receive this credit. It just so happens that leased vehicles fall under this fleet vehicle category. The $7,500 discount can be applied to your lease payment which may in fact make it closer to that of say, a Corolla lease payment. Factor in being able to buy the car at the end of your lease, and suddenly this becomes the deal of the decade. However, there is a time limit on this current credit as it stands and that could change in the near future.
Ultimately, I really loved this car. It merges the best of the EV and gas car world and gives you the best of both worlds to make a car that is truly right for the needs of most people in 2023. This is a Lexus PHEV gaslighting as a relatively affordable Toyota. It’s overbuilt and shares sports car-like qualities with a car that gets world-class efficiency. It’s a fun driver’s car that can also take all the stress out of traffic. Accelerating from a stop light will put a smile on your face. If you want to dip your toes into the EV experience, I would highly recommend this car. There are few cars that come to mind that bring about such a low dollar-per-mile cost while providing such a comfortable, fun, and luxurious driving experience. I wouldn’t just say it’s a great value, this car represents what one hundred years of innovation and progress in the auto industry can provide to you that you’ll be happy to own for decades to come.
The Prius is cool now. Automotive glow-up of the decade.
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