2023 Toyota Prius Prime First Drive Review: Best Prius Ever

Offering more power and a nice increase in overall range, the latest Prius Prime is the best it’s ever been.

byPeter Nelson|
Toyota Reviews photo
Peter Nelson

After the new 2023 Toyota Prius debuted late last year, one of the top questions I've been asked is some form of "What about the Prime?" This is indeed an important question. Considering that the new generation of Prius is already faster, better-appointed, and overall more fun to drive over any previous model, the addition of a Prime badge presumably means an even further improved experience.

That's because behind this badge is a plug-in hybrid powertrain that gives the compact Toyota a nice boost in power and range, as well as some pleasant overall upgrades here and there, particularly to its exterior and interior styling. Prime-ization has had a heck of an impact on other badges in the past, just look at the RAV4 Prime's markups, if you can even find one in the first place.

After spending some time with the new Prius Prime on similar roads to where I drove the standard Prius: rest assured, it's an excellent upgrade—and for not a whole lot more money.

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2023 Toyota Prius Prime Specs

  • Base price (XSE as tested): $33,445 ($38,215)
  • Powertrain: 2.0-liter inline-four with a permanent magnet AC synchronous electric motor | continuously variable automatic transmission | front-wheel drive
  • Horsepower: 220
  • Torque: gas engine: 139 lb-ft | electric motor: 153 lb-ft
  • Seating capacity: 5
  • Curb weight: 3,461 to 3,571 pounds
  • Cargo volume: 20.3 cubic feet with seats up | 26.7 cubic feet with seats down
  • 0-60 mph: 6.6 seconds
  • EPA fuel economy: 50 mpg city | 47 highway | 48 combined 
  • Quick take: The latest plug-in Prius is the best Prius, ever.
  • Score: 9/10

The Basics

Kicking it off with one of the Prime's top qualities, its plug-in power sourcing, charging from zero to full takes four hours on a Level 2 charger, whereas Level 1 takes 11. Regenerative braking helps preserve juice and can be turned up to provide very noticeable resistance, but full one-pedal driving is not possible. 

The biggest aesthetic difference between the standard Prius and the Prime lies in the wheels: the Prime gets sportier-looking 19-inch wheels on its XSE and XSE Premium trims. Other than that, there isn't much to discern between the two besides badging. It's a sleek, sporty-looking hatch with trim bodywork, and a very neat-looking, LED-headlight-adorned front end.

Fun fact: consumers who choose the XSE Premium have the option of adding on a 185-watt solar roof that helps charge the drive battery while parked and assists with providing juice to other auxiliary functions like lighting and infotainment while rolling down the road.

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Inside, the Prime's main upgrades over the standard Prius include some red accents here and there, including the sporty bits added to the Softex faux-leather front seats on XSE and XSE Premium. Another major Prime signifier is the red plastic trim that stretches across the majority of the dashboard with added LED accent lighting.  It's a very roomy and comfortable place to be for front-seat passengers, with good overall visibility that's lacking just a tad for the driver over their right shoulder. I'm still infatuated with the instrument cluster that's far above the steering wheel—I really dig the ability to bring the wheel as far down and back as it will go as it makes for a very comfortable, several-hours-in-the-saddle-worthy driving position for tall folks.

Like the standard model, the Prime lacks space in the back seat, making it not as good of a candidate for taxi and rideshare duty as the previous generation. Plus, it has a slightly awkward door opening for ingress and egress. Though, this sort of duty could easily change hands to a different, higher-riding hybrid model in Toyota's lineup.

Driving Experience

Like the non-PHEV Prius, the Prime has an excellent overall ride quality. Its damping soaks up bumps and jolts quite well yet maintains confidence and never feels too soft or disconnected. Steering is easy and light when you want it to be and gains nice weight in sport mode, and the brake pedal has a reassuring confidence to its feel and travel. The Prime may only come as front-wheel drive, but even while driving around San Diego County in the pouring rain, I never felt like it had noticeably less grip than the all-wheel-drive Prius I drove late last year. The sporty hybrid was still quite planted during quick maneuvers and more spirited cornering speeds.

I asked Toyota representatives if any GR accessories are planned to make the Prime even more fun, however, sadly nothing is planned at the moment. 

The real difference between the two Prii is the Prime's PHEV powertrain, which when combined with its internal combustion pal, pushes power output to 220 horses—a whole 26 more hp than the standard front-wheel-drive model and nearly 100 more hp than the previous Prius Prime. The electric motor makes up to 161 hp and the engine produces 150. However, the combined system output never exceeds 220 hp.

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But that's still plenty of get-up-and-go. I was already impressed by how quick the non-Prime felt, but the Prime was even better, which helps drive home my previously-made point that Prius owners truly no longer have any excuses for merging onto the highway at dangerously low speeds. Zero to 60 mph reportedly arrives in 6.6 seconds, but it feels quicker than that thanks to the volt-sourced part of the equation, which isn't bad for a car that weighs between 3,461 and 3,571 pounds.

It's even quick around town in EV mode, with a nice, progressive power delivery and a Toyota-claimed, electric-only range of up to 44 miles. That's a 76% jump over the previous-generation Prime. The XSE and XSE Premium manage 39 electric-only miles due to their bigger wheels. Then, when both powerplants worked in unison, especially in sport mode (still can't get over the fact that the Prius has a sport mode), their combined forces felt like a single responsive, fast-revving, naturally aspirated four-cylinder. Mid- and upper-powerband passes on faster roads felt more spirited than expected.

In other drive modes, though, the Prime's acceleration felt nerfed, especially in Eco. When I'd cruise along using only the electric motor, putting my foot down to kick on the engine for additional power came with a noticeable delay; this might not be fast enough for some split-second, emergency decision-making.

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While the Prime has an awful lot of buttons on its steering wheel, driver assistance features such as lane departure and tracing assist, steering assist, and radar cruise control are easy to toggle and operate in a very smooth and intuitive fashion. Especially the brand's new Traffic Jam Assist, which takes care of steering, handling, and braking in sub-25-mph conditions on the highway. Based on my quick interaction with this system, it's as good as BMW's Driving Assistance Professional—in a sub-$40,000 subcompact. Though, TJA is a subscription-only feature.

I didn't get a chance to put in too many miles, but Toyota reports that the Prius Prime SE sees 53 mpg in the city, 51 on the highway, and 52 combined, whereas the XSE and XSE Premium hit 50, 47, and 48, in those same respective conditions. Range is good for a whopping 600 miles in the SE and 550 in the XSE.

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Toyota Prius Prime Features, Options, and Competition

To hop in, press the start button, and do a burnout into plug-in hybrid EV ownership, the 2023 Prius Prime starts at $33,445 for the SE, $36,695 for the XSE, and $40,265 for the XSE Premium, all including a $1,095 delivery fee.

The SE is very well equipped and the option I'd go for. You're missing the optional glass roof, have to settle for cloth over Softex faux leather seats, and will have an eight-inch infotainment screen instead of a 12.3-inch, but that's really it. You're also bound to 17-inch wheels, but I prefer these as they generally look good, could mean lower maintenance costs in the future, and ensure the best mileage and range possible. It's a great place to be and packed with value for less than $35,000.

All Prime models come equipped with LED headlights and almost all of Toyota's advanced driver assistance tech, though its latest Traffic Jam Assist is subscription-based. The only other features that are optional are front and rear parking assist with automatic braking, but considering the Prius' blessedly small size and maneuverability, that really shouldn’t be too big of an issue.

When it comes to rivals, the Prius Prime is generally in a class of its own, meaning there aren't really other properly small plug-in hybrid EVs on the market at the moment. The Kia Niro PHEV isn't in the same class but is probably the closest thing out there. Niro starts at a few grand more, produces 40 less hp, and travels 11 fewer EV-only miles.

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Value and Verdict

Even though the average new car sale price of $50,000 is a bit skewed by record truck and luxury sales, Prime's low-$30K starting price is more than reasonable for everything you get. After all, it's around what consumers paid for the original Prius adjusted for inflation. It's come a long way since both the hybrid’s inception in 2000 and its first stab at plug-in hybridization back in 2011 when its EV-only range was a scant 14 miles.

I didn't have any significant qualms with the standard Prius when I drove it late last year. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. It packs refinement, respectably fun driving dynamics, excellent mileage and range, and great interior amenities for its price. 

Simply put, the Prime is even better. It's a tad more stylish, better appointed, and noticeably quicker than the standard model. Its plug-in hybrid powertrain also means it gets better fuel economy and range over the standard model and for not a whole lot more money. Like, less than $1,500 more comparing absolute base to absolute base.

In short, the 2023 Toyota Prius Prime represents the absolute pinnacle of the Prius badge.

Got a tip or question for the author about the Prius Prime? You can reach them here: peter.nelson@thedrive.com