To say we were shocked by the 2023 Toyota Prius is an understatement. Toyota transformed what was an oddball eco-special into something that was, well, fire. Prius was suddenly a car you wanted for the looks that just happened to get good fuel economy and not a car you bought for its economy despite the looks.
Toyota has just launched the second part of the Prius equation, the plug-in hybrid 2023 Toyota Prius Prime. With this model, we think Toyota has officially got its mojo back.
This is a company that built its name by building solid, reliable, well-engineered cars. Great ergonomics, satisfying build quality, and highly efficient. Yes, there were absolutely some great enthusiast cars over the years, but that was almost a byproduct of the things that made Toyota so popular.
Toyota’s vehicles were like good high-end appliances. A Miele or a Kitchen Aid, not a Smeg. Style was not important, functionality was key.
In the last couple of decades, Toyota seemed to have lost sight of what made it the automotive juggernaut it had become. The cars were still as well-built and reliable as ever, but the simple designs became increasingly complex (inside and out) and the experience suffered.
When Toyota announced back in 2018 that it had decided it was time to go after enthusiasts, it was hard to believe. They certainly accomplished it, bringing a new GR 86 to market, and the Supra and TRD Camry to dealers. Of course there’s the GR Corolla, too.
But it wasn’t hard-core performance that made cars like the 1996-2006 Camry and Corolla so ubiquitous. And gained them a cult-like status with many of my fellow journalists.
It was that they were just so damn good at being cars.
The 2023 Toyota Prius hit the spike on the head, but this Prius Prime drove it all the way home. Toyota has brought back what made it so great in the first place. Even better, great styling and driving enjoyment have come along for the ride as part of that new push.
At its heart, the 2024 Toyota Prius Prime is the same car as the standard Prius. The big difference is that large battery hidden underneath.
The pack is much bigger, too, at least as far as energy is concerned. 13.6 kWh instead of 8.1, though the actual physical volume is largely the same. That battery has been reshuffled so that Toyota doesn’t lose cargo space in the transition from Prius to Prime.
The bigger battery feeds a more powerful motor. The old motor produced snores, the new one 161 hp. Pair that with the same 2.0L four as the standard hybrid and you get 220 hp in total.
On electric power, the 2023 Prime can do up to 72 km; 64 km for XSE and XSE Premium, because 19-inch wheels look great but suck down range. It can hit 135 km/h on electric power, and it still has plenty of acceleration even at highway speeds.
Strangely, there is no throttle-pedal kickdown to put you from electric into gas when you’re in EV mode. Good for economy, but you’ll need a button press to get max power.
When the gas engine is on, you’re probably moving at speed. So the engine doesn’t add much to the low levels of cabin noise. The four-cylinder and its eCVT have been tweaked so that there’s no engine drone the way you might expect in a previous Toyota hybrid.
Prius Prime does give up one perk to the Prius, and that’s all-wheel drive. The smaller battery of the standard car leaves room for a motor on the rear axle and Toyota has made AWD standard on that car.
Prime doesn’t have the space. If you want an AWD plug-in from Toyota, it will have to be the RAV4.
Run down the battery and the Prius Prime should give you 4.5 L/100 km. That’s for the SE, the larger wheels of XSE hurt that figure too, taking it up to 4.9 combined. The figure neatly splits the standard Prius which gets 4.8.
On the road the Prius Prime feels slightly heftier than the non-Prime, but unless you drive the two back to back it’s unlikely you’ll notice. Or care.
The Prime rides smoothly and drives reassuringly. It’s not a sports car, no matter how much Toyota wants you to think its new vehicles are, but it is predictable. A car that does exactly what you want it to with a minimum of fuss, be it a relaxing Sunday drive or a bumper-to-bumper highway grind. Yet another sign that Toyota is back in its groove. Get in, go, and you’ve suddenly just arrived with a minimum of stress.
Inside, the Prius Prime is nearly identical to the standard Prius. It has the same high-mount dash display that sits nicely just below your sightlines. It also has the same 8.0 and 12.3-inch available multimedia screens.
The functional difference is that little EV mode button on the centre console. There’s now a button to hold the charge for later if you’re on the highway and want to save some electrons for in town.
As far as cosmetic changes, Toyota is seeing red. The silver trim and blue LED light bar (it flashes warnings at you too!) that frame the separation between the upper and lower tiers of the dash are now both red. There are red accents on the Softex seats, too.
Like the standard Prius, there’s not much flashy in this cabin. There aren’t any materials or details trying to convince you it is a luxury car. Instead, its dependable feeling and looking plastics arranged in a way that is practical and easy to use. The high-end appliance comparison sticks.
The cosmetic changes on the outside of the Prime are even less noticeable. The hatch gets a Prime badge in a neat vintage-style script and the opening in the nose has silver trim. The trim is almost impossible to spot on a silver car, and since most of them likely will be silver (and not the wonderful optional Maximum Yellow), it makes spotting a Prime even tougher.
Prius Prime suffers from the same confined cabin as the standard car. Headroom, especially in the rear, is much lower than the previous generation. This is going to be a problem for your Uber or Lyft driver (or you as the passenger) and approximately zero other people.
Cargo space didn’t change when Toyota added the bigger battery. 574 L of space with the seats up and 756 with them folded. No, folding the seats doesn’t really make for much more room. The space with the seats up is also short in height, more like a sedan that you open from above than a hatchback.
Canada gets two grades of Prius Prime, SE ($37,990) and XSE. SE has the smaller screen and wheels, but it still has heated front seats and a heated wheel, six USB-C ports, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and Toyota Safety Sense 3.0.
XSE ($42,990) adds a fixed glass roof, Softex faux leather, smart key, wireless phone charging, and the bigger 12.3-inch screen. Buyers can also add a Premium package to XSE to get ventilated front seats, heated rears, driver seat memory, parking assist, and JBL audio. The Premium package also lets you use your phone as your key and comes with a camera display in the rear view mirror.
Toyota’s latest infotainment system has been around for a couple of years now and it remains one of the best around. Smooth and intuitive voice control functions, responsive screens, and crisp graphics all make for an excellent package.
Prius Prime comes standard with Toyota Safety Sense 3.0. Toyota’s latest version has a pre-collision system, full-speed adaptive cruise, lane tracing, road sign assist, and countless other acronyms designed to make driving less stressful. It also comes standard with blind spot monitoring, one handy bit of kit Toyota has previously held back for only the top trims.
Toyota has enhanced TSS 3.0 as well. The Prime adds an emergency driving stop system that can monitor driver inputs. If it thinks you’re not responsive, it can bring the vehicle to a safe stop.
It also offers Traffic Jam Assist which can drive hands-free in heavy traffic under 40 km/h. This one requires a subscription service, though there is a free three-year trial on XSE and higher.
If you want telematics, Prius Prime has Service Connect with personalised maintenance updates for up to 10 years, as well as Safety Connect with emergency assistance and automatic collision notification. That one too is free for up to 10 years and a fee after. Lastly, Remote Connect which includes smart services like remote start through your phone comes with a three-year trial.
The 2023 Toyota Prius Prime is good at just about everything, and, frankly, tough to find fault with. That’s the Toyota that we used to know. The Toyota that built a car you could drive home and then largely ignore until you woke up one morning and decided you wanted a new one. Not because there was a problem, but because it was finally time for a change.
Prius Prime sips fuel, has excellent ergonomics and build quality. It‚Äôs even good to look at. The biggest problem for anyone looking to buy one is probably going to be finding one. Toyota has spent the last two years unable to meet demand for its vehicles even as plants are running all-out to try and keep up.
The 2023 Toyota Prius Prime is going to be the next hot ticket, and that could mean long lines. If you’re already a Toyota customer, though, you probably won’t mind the wait. Your current kitchen is working perfectly, you’re just ready for one that’s newer and more efficient.
The writer attended this media drive as a guest of the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.