2023 Toyota Prius review: Shockingly good (and sexy)
The new Prius is here, and nobody expected it to be this good
2023 Toyota Prius review with The Road Beat
Words and pictures by Mitchell Weitzman
I've never liked the Prius, until now that is. Always hideously ugly and slow beyond belief, no MPG bragging rights could have been worth the depressing thought and reality of owning one. Plus, in recent years, other hybrid cars (that weren't eyesores) have came perilously close to the benchmark efficiency set by the Prius; If a better looking and driving car got the same mileage, you'd have to be crazy to choose a Prius. However, that has changed; Toyota has shocked the world with a new sexy Prius nobody saw coming, and it's way faster. Not a fast car, but the improvement is astounding. If you want an efficient hybrid, or just any vehicle today for between $30,000 and $40,000, the Prius is a slam dunk and should be at the top of your consideration list.
There's little I dislike about the new Prius, but chief of which might be the knock the newfound performance has against its ultimate mission of peak gas mileage. After a week of driving the Prius on mostly freeways, I averaged 42 MPG, which is quite a bit less than what's quoted on the window sticker, and 8 MPG less than a FWD 2022 Corolla Hybrid. However, it is 2-3 MPG better than the last AWD 2023 Corolla Hybrid SE and Camry Hybrid SE I drove last year. Despite falling short of admittedly high expectations here, it's impressive in its own right and the sacrifice given for its extra punch is a tradeoff I and others should be willing to make. Any way you look at, you shouldn't complain about 42 MPG. In more city-oriented conditions, you should see higher numbers, too.
The other knock is against the design. Wait, what? I can hear you saying, "I thought you liked the shape. You called it sexy!." You're right; I did. However, this sleek shape has some drawbacks introduced. With such a raked windshield and roofline, rear headroom is impacted negatively so that 6' and taller passengers might not be too happy in the back seat. Further, the windshield stretches so far forward, not that unlike a Lotus Esprit, that the A-pillars seem weirdly close to your head, and the view out the front, with that long stretch to where the dash meets the bottom of the glass, makes the car feel bigger than it is, and almost cumbersome.
Once you get used to it on the road and you realize it's in fact not a big car, this doesn't really matter anymore, but it was strange upon first entry. And one more thing about the driving view is an instrument cluster that is 50% blocked by the steering wheel when set to my normal, optimal driving position. Like the bZ4X, this poses a safety issue not being able to see all your information at a quick glance. I ended up lowering the wheel more than I felt comfortable with in order to see everything, which limits operation of the wheel as your arms lose range of motion. How this made it off the drawing board is beyond me and is need of an immediate remedy. Also of note is a trunk that could be larger.
Negatives aside, the Prius is an easy recommendation to make and perhaps your frame and stature (I'm 5' 10" for reference) suit the odd steering wheel-to-gauge-cluster ratio. Now, let's talk performance: It's a common fact that the Prius has always been a dreadfully slow vehicle, and for most years of existence, it was in fact the slowest accelerating new passenger vehicle sold in America. Not anymore. With 194 horsepower from its combined output, literally a full 73 more ponies (a 60% increase), acceleration from naught to 60 MPH has been shaved from over 10 seconds to a relatively scant 7 seconds. This newfound grunt also completely leaves both the Camry and Corolla Hybrids in the sewer. It's still a noisy four-cylinder, making unpleasant sounds when your foot says "go," but this is a massive achievement for the Prius and modest hybrid cars in general. No longer do we have to deal with the Prius being a dismal, slow car, as now you can merge onto freeways with ease. There's also zero excuse to be holding up people in the passing lane going 65 MPH with a train of unhappy drivers behind you. Yes, we've all been there with the classic left-lane-camper Prius driver. With this extra power on tap, the Prius can outrun most passenger sedans in its price bracket from competing brands. I cannot stress enough how important this improvement is and what it means for all cars on the road.
Besides horsepower gains, the new Prius has a chassis that greets corners with enthusiasm rather than skepticism. Handling remains surprisingly neutral and has enough grip to surprise both yourself and whoever is following behind. I won't call it playful, but the ability to chuck it in and mash the throttle without the dooming understeer of Priuses past is an enlightenment worth celebrating. I will note that this is the FWD model, and I reckon the AWD version will be less fun and too tied-down. The dead steering itself is a bit wayward at first, with little resistance and lack of re-centering, but once you acclimate to it and experience the hidden talents beneath, you do gain a confidence behind the wheel. After my week with it, I seriously want to take a Prius to a trackday, as I can't imagine the frustration that cautious and tepid trackday first-timers, behind the wheel of their new Porsche or Corvette, will feel as a Prius (in the hands of an experienced driver) walks away from them in the corners. The reward will be so high.
The cabin on this Limited trim, the nicest available, is good, but maybe a little lacking for a near-$40,000 car. The overall quality is fine, and there are some soft materials to be found, but it could be just a little bit better in some areas to help get rid of a few flimsy controls and sharp edges on plastic bits. Most will find it perfectly habitable, but I would like to see another step up here. I will add that the two sunroofs are a nice touch for the inside environment and make the interior feel larger. And the seats are comfortable paired to a compliant ride quality.
Due to the evidence presented, the new Prius is a knockout. Nits and picks aside, this is basically a total package: It's sexy, it has enough performance, drives pretty well, and delivers over 40 MPG with ease. When shopping for a car under $40,000, the Prius should shoot straight up to the top of your list. I do prefer the fancier cabin and even more fun driving dynamics and engagement from Mazda's 6 Turbo models, or something like the new Acura Integra, but they average quite a bit under 30 MPG, which might be a serious concern to buyers. I like the new Prius and I think you will, too. And that's a phrase I never expected to hear myself saying.
2023 Toyota Prius Limited
As-tested price: $37,494
Pros: Exciting looks, improved power and dynamics
Cons: Cabin space hindered, can't see gauge cluster comfortably