The plug-in Prius Prime is here. It's the best Prius ever. Also the most expensive.
2023 Toyota Prius Prime review with The Road Beat
Words and pictures by Mitchell Weitzman
You know something is not right in the world when the Toyota Prius is now considered, and quite collectively at that, one of the best cars in the world. No longer is this pioneering hybrid an ugly can of slow molasses, but instead an attractive and sleek family car with more than adequate performance. I thoroughly enjoyed the first Prius I tested at the beginning of summer, but now we enter the age of the Prime Prius, with plug-in charging capability that'll make you question the practical purpose of owning anything all-electric. This may be one of Toyota's best cars ever and equally important to the brand as the legendary MK IV Supra in its own way. Never thought I'd see the day where the Prius is actually cool.
With 220 combined horsepower from its 2-liter four-cylinder engine and pair of electric motors, this Prius Prime XSE rockets (relatively) to 60 MPH in just under seven seconds; Remember, the last generation of Priuses took over 10 seconds to reach 60. The better part of this hybrid equation is the seamless transparency and throttle response in normal and daily operation. Changes in throttle position are met near instantaneously thanks to no presence of laggy turbos and a CVT transmission that actually works like it should to keep engine speed right where you ask. Look, it's not suddenly fast all of a sudden, but the fact it's now quicker than most everyday competitors and has the ability to safely accelerate onto freeways is a huge win for everybody. New Prius drivers have zero excuse these days for holding up traffic in the left lane.
Onboard is a 10.9 kWh battery pack for this plug-in hybrid, and that can account for a fairly substantial 40 miles of range with a full charge while averaging a very respectable nearly 4 miles/kWh. If you decide to never charge it, the Prius prime will still average 40 MPG all day long. Yes, the old Prius did get better economy in the real world, but I would happily trade away a few miles per gallon in exchange for the newfound power that makes for a far more enjoyable experience. What's great about a plug-in system like this is the versatility offered. You can charge it as you wish for your daily commuting and other short journeys, or fill up the tank for any kind of road trip and never have to worry about charging. It's the best of both worlds, and frankly, I would easily consider this solution over any 200-mile EV in the $40k range, even Teslas cheapest Model 3, just out of convenience.
Steering is too light and numb for my own preferences, but accuracy is at least good and overall handling impresses with little understeer to show for. With decent grip for an economy car, this latest Prius not only is a lot faster going straight, but also through the bends with newfound poise and composure. The best way to approach corners is with aggression at the wheel, to chuck it in towards an apex and then get right back on the power. The front bites hard and true and there's also no torque steer despite being front-wheel drive. It's still no sports car, but a good driver in a new Prius can easily upset some naive first-timers in their Corvette.
Overall cabin quality is also considerably improved, but as it should considering this XSE costs $43,088 as-tested. It's a comfortable environment for the most part, though that sexy design does infringe upon headroom for passengers in the rear. In addition, the perhaps biggest flaw for me in the new Prius is the design of the gauge cluster, being overfilled with information and also not completely visible for me neither above nor below the steering wheel. As it's situated far away and above the normal placement, after I've adjusted my seat and wheel to my preferred positions, almost half of the digital cluster is blocked from view. Some drivers will not have any problem if they improperly place the wheel too low, but it comes across as a huge oversight to me. Equally odd, though you get used to it over time, are the long A-Pillars that outline the steeply raked windshield. It makes the car feel larger than it is and hinders forward visibility. Oh well, the price to pay for those sleek aesthetics.
Like most consumer transportation devices, this XSE-level Prius Prime has all the bells, whistles, and technology you could hope for, from entertainment connectivity to safety. However, I do find the collision warning to be too sensitive in traffic, or when even pulling away from a stoplight with a driver in front of you who's slow to react. Cruise control can also vary in speed too much up and down freeway hills, but that's likely not to be noticed or a concern for most.
What we still have is the best and most capable Prius ever. Not only is it the best Prius ever, but this might be one of the best cars on sale today considering its wide breadth of daily talents and amazing fuel economy. It also renders all entry-level full EVs kind of pointless when this car can do both and is easier to live with (and better looking). It is a shame the price is as high as it is now for this very well-equipped XSE tester, and you can easily save considerable thousands for a non-Prime model if you know you never want to deal with charging. The Prius Prime might not be the best Prius for everyone, but it's objectively the most flexible and accomplished one yet.
2023 Toyota Prius Prime XSE
Price as-tested: $43,088
Pros: Sexy looks, Improved performance; Electric range
Cons: Expensive; Gauge cluster
2023 Toyota Prius Prime review.