2023 Toyota Prius Review: The Hero Hybrid We Need Right Now

You’ve seen the ads: “2023 Toyota Prius. It’s (insert mildly interesting adjective) now.” And, credit where credit’s due: the all-new, fifth-generation Prius is incredibly stylish. But here’s the thing: I’m not sure modern-day Prius buyers care very much about being chic. The early adopters have already bought EVs—or will soon—and the rest of us are sitting on the sidelines, waiting to see what happens next. That leaves hybrids as the choice for pragmatists who want to go further on a gallon of gas without changing their lifestyles. In the electrification landscape of 2023, the Prius is a compromiser’s car—and there’s nothing sexy about compromise, at least in theory.

The Prius’ value is, now more than ever, in its practical attributes, and those attributes had better be damn good. So, rather than focusing on its newfound curb appeal, I set out to answer the more important questions: Is it better at the things a Prius should be good at? Is it a more useful and frugal daily driver? And, yes, is it something a self-avowed car enthusiast wouldn’t mind living with? After driving a 2023 Prius Limited for a week and nearly 700 miles, I’ll spare you the suspense: it’s still the hybrid GOAT, and its unique mix of value, style, and competence means it’ll appeal to a broader swath of people than ever before.

Maddox Kay
2023 Toyota Prius Specs
Base Price (Limited as tested)$34,465 ($37,494)
Powertrain2.0-liter inline-four with a permanent magnet AC synchronous motor | 222-volt lithium-ion battery | continuously variable automatic transmission | front-wheel drive
Horsepower194 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque139 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
Curb Weight3,164 pounds
Seating Capacity5
Cargo Volume20.3 cubic feet
EPA Fuel Economy52 mpg city | 52 highway | 52 combined
Quick TakeWith hybrids this good, it’s hard to justify buying an EV just yet.
Score9/10

The Basics

The 2023 Prius takes Toyota’s OG hybrid formula into its fifth generation, and in Toyota’s current lineup, it fits between the cheaper Corolla Hybrid and larger Camry Hybrid models. It wears entirely new sheetmetal over the existing TNGA-C platform that also underpins the Corolla and Corolla Cross, as well as the Lexus UX and the outgoing Prius. As a sedan in an SUV world, the Prius indirectly competes with its siblings, the Corolla Cross Hybrid and RAV4 Hybrid, but Toyota sought to differentiate it from those cars with a unique look.

Maddox Kay

OK, I said I wouldn’t talk about how this thing looks, but I lied. It’s stunning; somehow distinct from every other vehicle in the company’s lineup while also being recognizable as a Toyota. There isn’t a bad angle here, but I particularly like the way its lower door character crease and rear tail light extension lines create a sense of motion from the rear three-quarter view. The slope of the windshield is aggressive, and everything just works, especially in the Reservoir Blue of this tester. 19-inch alloys standard on the XLE and Limited models are sharp enough to draw compliments, but they come with an 8% fuel economy penalty—more on that later.

Inside, the Prius’ vibe is more conventional Toyota. The dash is centered around a 12.3-inch multimedia display with wireless Apple CarPlay, while the driver gets their own seven-inch digital cluster. Leather seats are pleasantly supportive and even reasonably bolstered, and there’s plenty of storage for smaller items in the center console and door pockets. The funky four-gate Prius shifter is back, although some effort has been made to dress it up in leather. Next to it is a six-by-two-inch slot that staff writer Peter Nelson called “the single best phone holder-slash-charging pad that’s ever been conceived,” a title I’m inclined to agree with.

Rear legroom is spacious for two people, but three is a pinch. The sloping roofline—great for looks and aerodynamics—is less great for cargo room. A long weekend’s luggage for two fit just fine, but three suitcases was pushing it. The Prius’ duties under my care also included schlepping some of The Drive’s office junk around, and I found the low roof problematic there, too. In case you were wondering: an Aeron chair will fit in a Prius, but only if you load it through the rear door and not through the hatch. As much as it pains me to admit it, in our wagon-deprived world, I get why people who haul a lot of gear around buy SUVs.

The Prius is powered by a 2.0-liter naturally-aspirated four-cylinder engine and a permanent magnet AC synchronous electric motor, working together through a continuously variable transmission and Toyota’s patented Hybrid Synergy Drive. Its combined output of 194 horsepower is up 73 over the previous model while maintaining similar mpg figures—an impressive accomplishment.

Driving the Toyota Prius

“Competent” is the word I’d use to describe the new Prius’ performance and driving dynamics. Acceleration is adequate if not enthusiastic, steering is accurate, and you can now actually tell what the front wheels and chassis are doing in a corner. Its battery-fed torque won’t leave you flat-footed on a highway merge or red-light dash. Once you’re on the interstate, the ride is well-controlled, and Toyota’s standard assisted driving systems do a decent job of minding the road. 

I did notice that the car’s Lane Tracing Assist ping-pongs against lane markings more than I’ve noticed with Hyundai’s system, for example. Radar-guided adaptive cruise control also refused to engage on a couple occasions, with no explanation given—but retrying minutes later solved the issue. These are minor nitpicks in an otherwise excellent highway cruiser and around-town commuter, especially one with a price tag in the low $30,000s. While I still wouldn’t call it exciting, driving a Prius is no longer a sacrifice.

The Highs and Lows

The Prius slips into your life rather than the other way around. It does pretty much all the things most people need a car to do and asks very little in return. Before long, you barely notice it’s there, and I mean that as a high compliment.

You’ll barely notice the fuel bills, that’s for sure. I picked up the Prius with a full tank, added 650-ish miles, and returned it half full (or half empty if you’re a pessimist). In between, I added 30 bucks of 87 octane. I didn’t think once about whether I’d make it to my destination, or where I’d charge when I got there. I just sat down, put my phone in the wireless charging slot, and went. The infotainment system in the Prius Limited is intuitive, and the interior materials are of above-average quality. Highway road noise is present but not excessive, I didn’t observe any squeaks or rattles, and the JBL sound system indeed bumps. It was the lowest-stress driving experience I’ve had in a very long time.

The gasoline engine’s integration at low speeds is slightly less seamless. The first time it wheezed to life I was startled by its volume and agricultural sound, especially in contrast to the car’s otherwise silent operation. A button-selectable EV mode allows for cruising on battery power alone when driving around town, but it automatically switches off any time you exceed 26 mph.

Toyota Prius Features, Options, and Competition

The 2023 Toyota Prius starts at $28,545 including destination for the base LE trim, which includes an eight-inch touchscreen and Apple CarPlay. There are three main trim levels: LE, XLE, and Limited, with front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive variants of each. The Limited AWD model starts at $36,960 including destination, and my Limited FWD tester’s sticker price was $37,494, with parking assist with 360-degree cameras, a digital rearview mirror, and heated rear seats selected as options.

Maddox Kay

The Prius has few direct competitors, with the Hyundai Elantra Hybrid and Kia Niro Hybrid representing the most apples-to-apples comparison. They offer similar efficiency at a slightly lower price but lack the Prius’ proven track record. The Honda Insight is dead for 2023, and the Civic Hybrid will arrive with the larger Accord Hybrid’s powertrain for the 2024 model year. Given the 11th-gen Civic’s excellent platform, that’ll be one to watch for. 

The Prius’ biggest competition might come from its plug-in sibling, the Prius Prime. It’s about a $5,000 upcharge, but the Prime boasts a 40-mile all-electric range, meaning if your commute is short enough and you have somewhere to plug in at home or work, you might rarely use gas at all.

Fuel Economy

EPA

The Prius has always defined itself—literally, its previous odd shapes and proportions were born in a wind tunnel—by its fuel economy. It’s still the best in its segment. The 2023 Toyota Prius in front-wheel drive LE trim gets 57 mpg in the city and 56 on the highway, per the EPA’s official tests. Those figures drop to 54/53 for the LE AWD variant, and 52/52 for the front-wheel drive XLE and Limited models with 19-inch wheels. It seems silly to compromise the Prius’ standout attribute for aesthetics or a slight gain in traction, but at least Toyota gives buyers the option. I’d be fine with the base wheels, front-drive, and a set of snow tires, but it’s a shame that the higher trims force an upgrade to less-efficient rolling stock.

I managed an impressive 50.4 mpg over about 650 miles of mixed highway, urban, and back road driving. That’s in heavy traffic conditions and with the AC blasting. I remember my dad being thrilled to get 43 mpg in his 2005 Prius—a car that took over 10 seconds to accelerate from zero to 60 mph and felt like a tin can filled with plastic screws. It’s hard to complain about that.

Maddox Kay

Value and Verdict

In today’s market, the 2023 Toyota Prius represents a solid value. For a price in the $30,000s, you’re getting a well-made, pleasant car that gives a lot in terms of features and asks very little in return. It’ll save you money on fuel while hedging bets on electrification for another 10 years. Toyota’s track record of reliability and the Prius’ resale value on the used market should only inspire confidence that it’s a solid investment.

The Prius is also still a car you buy for its fuel economy. But it’s no longer a symbol of austerity—of what you’re giving up in the name of efficiency. Instead, it’s a practical reminder that smart can be sexy and compromise can be cool. In the face of blunt EV extremism (both for and against), the Prius is a nuanced, tactful argument for why we should all probably be driving hybrids. Unlike Bruce Wayne, it’s the hero Gotham needs right now.

Maddox Kay

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