Hear Me Out: A Toyota GR Prius Prime Performance Hybrid

The 2023 Toyota Prius is a handsome hybrid that’s quicker than ever. If you look beneath the skin, you’ll also see it’s surprisingly close to being a performance car.

byJames Gilboy| PUBLISHED Nov 17, 2022 4:06 PM
Hear Me Out: A Toyota GR Prius Prime Performance Hybrid
Toyota Racing Development
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Nobody could have imagined that the main character of the car world this week would be the 2023 Toyota Prius. Once the bugbear of the enthusiast community, its place as an eco-icon was taken by electric vehicles, which relegated the Prius to the role of a niche economy car. But now that the new Prius is a looker, and the Prius Prime plug-in hybrid is quicker than some late-model sports cars, the time is ripe for Toyota to build a GR Prius Prime. And if you take a close look, you'll realize Toyota has done most of the work already.

I know that got a scoff from some of you, but hear me out. What we can all agree a GR Prius Prime would need includes: A tight chassis, a potent powertrain, and the looks to tie it all together. The thing is, Toyota's already about 80 percent there in all three areas, starting with the chassis.

The 2023 Prius is based on Toyota's GA-C platform, which you may recognize as the one used in the GR Corolla. (Elements are used in the GR Yaris too.) Toyota wouldn't tell us what type of suspension the new Prius uses, but if its geometry is up to scratch, then it may be a spring and shock tune away from uproariously good handling. That's probably the case if the chassis got any attention from Satoshi Ogiso, the Hino president known for his 800-horsepower Supra, passion for autocross, and role in making a Prius a success. That goes for the outgoing model, too, which he made sure got better suspension geometry than anyone asked for.

Whether or not he was involved, we already have evidence that Toyota still cares about the Prius's handling—it emphasized that weight distribution is optimized by cramming the new Prius Prime's enlarged lithium-ion battery under the rear seats.

Next on Toyota's agenda would be the powertrain, and there are two ways it could go about properly GR-ing the Prius. The first, and more fanciful way would be using the 1.6-liter turbo three-banger of the GR Corolla, which wouldn't be the trickiest adaption seeing as the two share a platform. It's not a hybrid drivetrain, though, so it doesn't fit the Prius' ethos.

An altogether more likely (and easier) solution would be to tune up the Prius Prime's existing powertrain, which combines a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter with electric motors to generate 220 horsepower. Toyota doesn't say what the gas-electric power split is, but with displacement jumping from 1.8 to 2.0 liters in the new model, napkin math suggests an ICE power jump from just under 100 hp to around 110. That's nowhere near the potential of a Prius' ICE, as we learned from a guy hot-rodding a Prius C's 1.5-liter to nearly double its power output, all without even opening up its exhaust.

And as much as we'd like Toyota to go that far and build a 9,000-rpm Prius, that's not even necessary for a GR Prius Prime. Even switching the engine from the thrifty Atkinson to the simpler, more powerful Otto cycle would pick up plenty of power. Add hot cams, improve the head, extract more out of the hybrid system, and total power could easily get into the mid-upper 200s. That doesn't sound like much, but the 220-hp 2023 Prius Prime can already do zero-to-60 in 6.6 seconds. That's as quick as the old 86/BRZ, and in the same neighborhood as the current, 271-hp Subaru WRX. I'd bet real money that a GR Prius Prime could pip the Subie's 6.1-second zero-to-60 time, as measured by Motortrend.

Granted, the WRX isn't the highest bar to clear these days, but a GR Prius Prime with similar performance would be a much more appealing car. It'd have better torque, better gas mileage, better reliability, and wouldn't make people think you vape. It'd look better, too, and Toyota could improve the Prius still with GR aero parts that it has already designed. That picture of a GR Prius up top? That's an official Toyota concept with a GR splitter, spoiler, wind deflectors, and maybe more—Toyota didn't detail what all it changed.

All this probably sounds like wishful thinking, as it's hard to imagine Toyota building a GR Prius. Well, guess what: It's already selling them in Japan, where it offers a GR Sport Prius V and Prime, with added chassis bracing and engine or suspension tuning. They're only GR Sport, not full GR cars, but they prove Toyota sees some interest in performance Prii. With the 2023 long bottoming and emphasizing performance like never before, now's time for Toyota to alchemize the Prius' image with a real GR model.

There's one big flaw with this idea, though, and that's that the Toyota GR86's chief engineer says there are no more GR models in the pipeline. That about puts the kibosh on any hope of a GR Prius Prime, never mind standalone sports cars like a new MR2. In all likelihood, the most exciting thing Toyota will do with the new Prius is a GR Sport trim. While welcome, it'd only be a shadow of what we know Toyota could do with the Prius—and a disappointing neglect of the GR brand that Toyota has worked so hard to build.

Got a tip or question for the author? You can reach them here: james@thedrive.com