The 2023 Toyota Prius Prime is very possibly the best commuter car ever.
Efficient, spacious, and comfortable, this redesigned plug-in hybrid (PHEV) even offers good value. And to top it all off, it’s genuinely stylish, too.
The 2023 Prius Prime – as well as the conventional hybrid it’s based on – is sexy. The car that’s long been the automotive equivalent of taping your glasses or wearing a pocket protector has been transformed into a real looker, with a rakish nose accented by aggressively angular and swept lighting, and a hoodline that carries on the same angle up to the windshield and into the roof before arcing down to the tail again. It ain’t a bad tushy, either, with Prius wordmark scripted boldly across the expanse of the liftback below the full-width light bar. This XSE tester was finished in a fetching blue paint, while the 19-inch wheels filled out the wheel arches in a decidedly sporty way.
The cockpit is appropriately contemporary with multiple screens, but it hasn’t gone full-on weird like a spacecraft from The Jetsons. It’s a Toyota, after all, which means there’s a lot of function that’s prioritized over form, even if the raspberry-red swath across the dash is an unexpected sassy touch for a Prius.
The first thing most observers will notice about the Prius’s interior is the instrument screen lifted up by an angular structure in front of the driver. Having first experienced this layout in the bZ4X electric vehicle (EV) and now the Prius lineup, we can assure you it’s a great design that works as it’s supposed to. Key driver information is presented much closer to the driver’s sightline without the need for a head-up display (HUD). With the steering wheel positioned properly, only the bottom centre of the screen is ever obscured, which contains no information anyway.
The cup holders will wrap around a pair of big beverages, the gear selector takes very little time to grow accustomed to, and the steering wheel controls are also logically laid out. If there’s a nit to pick, it’s the reach for the tiny volume knob. Kudos to Toyota for the simple, practical buttons for climate and seat heater controls, and the vertically-situated wireless phone charger that prevents devices from sliding around the cabin, too.
The vast windshield thrusts up almost to the driver’s forehead, ensuring stoplights are always visible, but the steep angle of the A-pillars that frame it create small blind spots in the front corners that take a bit of getting used to. Rear visibility is also reduced by the radically sloped hatchback, but not so much that it’s a real concern.
The driver is well-situated within the cabin to reach all controls, and the front seats are very comfortable – a necessity for any good commuter car. While offering plenty of support, they’re also supple enough to feel a bit luxurious, even if the covering is vegan-friendly faux leather and not the real stuff. And while the seats were heated but not ventilated in this mid-trim tester, the perforation helps prevent sweaty backs during humid summer days.
Rear seat space is OK if not overly capacious. That sleek styling hinders headroom especially, and when compared with a Kia Niro PHEV (arguably the Prius Prime’s closest competitor), it reveals the Toyota’s shortcomings as a carpool commuter.
The ride is smooth, with body motions well-managed while absorbing all but the worst Southern Ontario’s roads can throw at it. Both wind and road noise are impressively quelled, too.
As a commuter, the tidy dimensions work well for zipping through holes in traffic and fitting in overstuffed urban parking lots, but while there are seat belts for five, it’s a tight squeeze for a full carload. Similarly, the liftback design is handy, as is the Prime’s 575 L of cargo room with the rear seat up; but the area only expands to 756 L when it’s folded, which is roughly half the Niro’s maximum capacity.
The Prius Prime is only available in front-wheel-drive, which may put off some potential buyers convinced they need all-wheel drive. In reality, with a good set of winter tires, the Prime should have no issue with all but the worst winter conditions.
The drivetrain is consistent across all three Prius Prime trims, meaning a buyer need only consider what features are a necessity when ordering. Goodies like heated seats, a heated steering wheel, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard in each trim.
The mid-grade XSE gains 19-inch wheels, a two-panel fixed-glass sunroof, Toyota’s latest 12.3-inch touch screen infotainment system, and wireless smartphone charging. Stepping up to the XSE Premium adds surround-view cameras and an advanced parking system, plus an eight-speaker stereo, and a few other niceties.
Commendably, Toyota includes its safety suite across the board. This includes automatic high-beam control, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and keeping assistance, and pre-collision detection.
This XSE also has traffic jam assist that will enable hands-free driving up to 40 km/h in stop-and go scenarios on selected highways. It’s based on a subscription service and comes with a three-year trial program at no charge. Meanwhile, top-tier XSE Premium cars gain the ability to park themselves, and a washer for the rear camera that’s mandatory on all new vehicles in Canada.
Expanding the four-cylinder engine’s displacement from 1.8L to 2.0L in the new car has gained a base horsepower increase from 95 to 150. Add to that a spicier electric motor to augment the engine, and overall power goes up nearly 100 hp to a combined 220 hp output (24 hp more than the non plug-in Prius, too). It doesn’t make the Prius Prime a full-on sport compact, but it’s enough to be useful when commuting, keeping up with traffic around town, and giving it a suitable punch for passing.
There’s still an automatic continuously-variable transmission (CVT) directing the power to the front wheels that gives a bit of elastic-band sensation when the throttle is jabbed; and when called upon, there’s some gruffness to the engine. But it’s isolated well enough to never be bothersome.
Fuel Economy: 9.5/10
Like the engine and electric motor, the battery has also been notably improved, with capacity boosted from 8.8 kWh to 13.6, which stretches the Prime’s theoretical all-electric range to 64 km for cars like the tester with 19-inch wheels. (Base-trim buyers rolling on 17-inch wheels may see a full 72 km of pure electric range.)
Our Prime was subjected to more highway and back-road driving than is optimal for an electrified commuter car, and yet despite forgetting to plug in the car one night, the Toyota showed an astonishing overall average around 3.0 L/100 km for the week of driving. Had this tester been used for a typical commute to the office and back each day, it would’ve consumed no fuel all week with its easily attainable electric range. And yet when travelling greater distances, there’s no need for the range anxiety that comes with a proper EV, especially with an overall cruising distance that should easily surpass 1,000 km between fill-ups.
Driving Feel: 7.5/10
The new Prius Prime was expected to be jaw-droppingly efficient, but what is more surprising is how satisfying the new car’s driving feel is. The suspension calibration is more sophisticated than that of the old car, and despite its very agreeable ride quality, the Prime is decently rewarding to toss into corners. Steering feel is expectedly overboosted and offers little actual road feel, but the car keeps its composure when hustled through curves.
The Prime can be adjusted for varying levels of regenerative braking. We utilized the maximum setting most of the time, which not only serves to reclaim kinetic energy for the battery but does a decent job of slowing the car at a smooth, linear rate when serious braking isn’t called for. The Prius Prime isn’t a sport sedan, but it’s a darn-good daily driver that doesn’t feel like a penance for wanting to drive efficiently.
It’s rare to come across a new vehicle these days that doesn’t elicit at least a small gasp of sticker shock. Vehicles have gotten expensive, and while the Prius Prime SE’s starting price of $37,990 isn’t chump change, it’s not bad. Step up to the value-leading XSE trim of our tester at $42,990, or $46,990 for all the bells and whistles in the XSE Premium, and then deduct the current federal rebate of $5,000 and suddenly the Prius Prime is looking like a seriously good deal.
The redesigned 2023 Toyota Prius Prime offers impressive real-world efficiency without the common worries associated with full EV ownership. It’s easy to live with, easy to drive, and even easy on the eyes, yet it’s sensibly priced, too. Altogether, it makes the Prius Prime not only the best commuter car out there, but one of the smartest new car purchases available today.
Engine Displacement 2.0L
Engine Cylinders I4 plug-in hybrid
Peak Horsepower 220 hp
Peak Torque 139 lb-ft
Fuel Economy 4.7 / 5.0 / 4.9 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb (4.5 L/100 km combined with 17″ wheels); 2.1 Le/100 km, 64 km est. range (EV mode)
Cargo Space 575 / 756 L seats up / down
Model Tested 2023 Toyota Prius Prime XSE
Base Price $42,990
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,860
Price as Tested $44,950
Optional Equipment None
This article was originally published on AutoTrader.ca