DEL MAR, CA — It’s hard to believe it’s been 22 years since the Prius first went on sale in the US. Shows Wards Intelligence data.
The Prius was so successful that Toyota even toyed with the idea of creating a Prius sub-brand.
But sales started to drop in 2016, and this year it’s only stuck at 22,098. The quirky design of the fourth-generation model, the introduction of the more techy Tesla Model 3 and Model Y full-battery electric vehicles, and Toyota’s own hybrid RAV4 CUV were likely to blame.
So how does Toyota plan to get the Prius back on track? By making it look good.
The fifth-generation Prius has a sleek (can we say sexy?) face on a lower, longer and wider body than its predecessor.
The signature split rear window is gone, replaced by a one-piece window. Wheels are pushed into corners and A-pillars are tilted back so much that it can be like sipping a Mai Tai. The thin but wide upper grille and sloping headlights are, in a good way, reminiscent of a sleepy oasis. The beltline slopes upward from the nose to the long deck hatch. The seamless pinstripe LED taillight is placed in the middle of a large black piece of plastic that runs across the width of the vehicle, somewhat reminiscent of the UFO-like, first-generation Oldsmobile Aurora.
Other than its looks, the other big news about the ’23 Prius is fuel economy, which despite the huge increase in power is still great. It maintains roughly the same estimated mpg, 57 mpg (4.1 L/100 km) from the ’22 model for the new LE base class.
Prius still uses 4 cylinders. The Atkinson cycle gas engine, however, switches from the 96 hp 1.8L to the new 150 hp 2.0L, plus gets a more powerful engine-generator that drives the front wheels. Net system horsepower increased 60%, from 121 hp on the ’22 Prius to 194 hp in the ’23 Prius front-wheel drive classes and 196 hp on all-wheel drive models. The car’s front engine generator produces 111 hp versus 71 hp on the fourth-generation Prius. The increase in motor output is due to a new electromagnetic steel plate and magnet, the number of magnets embedded in the rotor increases from three to six per pole.
The car’s lithium-ion battery pack is also 14% more powerful and 14% lighter than before. (No class has a nickel-metal-hydride package anymore.)
A smaller rear engine (7 hp to 40 hp increased from fourth to fifth generation) activates optional electronic AWD on models equipped in this way. The e-AWD works at all speeds and is already the same system on Toyota’s Corolla, Highlander and RAV4 hybrid models.
The newly designed MacPherson front strut and multi-link rear suspension are tuned for a flat, stable ride, while the rear and front coil springs use high-strength material to reduce weight.
The lower ride height and wider body significantly improve handling compared to the outgoing fourth-generation Prius. The new, wider Prius has flatter corners and less body curvature than the taller ’22 model.
Electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is nicely weighted in the new car, lighter at low speeds, heavier at high speeds, but not light enough to feel like an early hybrid toy car.
Truth be told, we don’t push our ’23 test cars as hard as some of our colleagues do in their pursuit of superiority in fuel economy. Fuel economy averaged 49.5 mpg, 56.4 mpg and 62.2 mpg (4.8, 4.2 and 3.8 L/100 km) of the three ’23 Prius models here, an XLE and two Limited classes, when driven separately. . The second figure is often obtained without trying, as we make use of a largely straight route.
As for the interior of the new Prius, it’s a design improvement but a material regression due to the harder plastic cladding. Like the exterior, the interior is more elegant and less tidy than the fourth-generation model. No middle stack, just a medium or large touchscreen (8 inch. [20 cm] In LE and XLE, 12.3 inches. [31 cm] Limited and optional on XLE), with integrated vents and HVAC controls in the center of the dash. A blue light pipe is a beautiful line design, as are the contrasting colors on the upper seats.
The fourth-generation car’s central, large multi-information display, located above the instrument cluster, has been left behind and replaced by a more typical steering wheel display. MID was big and busy with lots of graphics. However, the new cluster screen is also presented with smaller fonts and icons, although it also has a lot of information. Attracting younger car buyers to the ’23 Prius may be inevitable as an older driver here said he couldn’t see the trip reading, as Toyota expected.
Toyota’s infotainment system has fast response time to touch inputs, but has erratic performance with voice commands. Twice SiriusXM gives surprising responses to channel requests, but eventually surrenders.
The infotainment system is well organized and uncluttered with logical menu structures. One minor complaint: Toyota still categorizes SiriusXM stations, ie from pop to rock to rap, etc. If you want a more personalized infotainment experience, you don’t have to bother with the local system.
Comfort is generally good on our limited testers, with generous lumbar support for the driver’s seat and reasonable legroom in the rear. Only one pocket in the rear seat backrest bothered us, but we found solace with two USB-C ports for backseat passengers – two of the six USB-C ports standard across all classes. (There are two more at the front and two more in the center console. There’s also a Qi wireless phone charger at the front, standard on the XLE and Limited grades.)
We occasionally test Toyota’s Safety Sense 3.0 advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) package, which is standard across all classes. It includes full speed range dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure warning with steering assist and blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, among other technologies.
Like almost every ADAS on the market, its performance is wildly different, in one instance gently stopping us behind a left-turning car, and then five minutes later dragging us into the back of a truck that almost stopped at a red light. Lane line detection is smudged by faded paint as well as shadows on the roads. As we always say, these are just help systems. There is no such thing as a self-driving car on the market today. When ADAS is on, drivers should always be aware and ready to take control.
One school of thought says hybrids are gone and this vehicle should no longer exist, or at least should be just a plug-in hybrid, as it would in Europe. We could not agree. While it would be great to get every American in a battery electric vehicle, it’s unrealistic right now for many reasons. Hybrids are still needed to bridge the gap. And while the new Prius isn’t perfect, it’s pretty good, especially for the price. We’d love to see Toyota get more aggressive on BEVs, but hybrid vehicles are still necessary if for no other reason than cost.
A well-equipped, spacious LE base note starts at $27,450. Unfortunately, this Prius isn’t as cheap as it used to be, but neither car is. There’s still a lot to do when considering fuel economy, eye-catching design, performance features, specs, and interior passenger and cargo space. That’s also a price almost no BEV can touch except the Chevy Bolt. Even the Prius XLE and Limited classes, which start at $30,895 and $34,465 respectively, are good deals considering most BEVs available in the US today are over $50,000.
Assembled in Tsutsumi, Japan, the ’23 Prius goes on sale in the US in January, and the yet-to-be-tested Prius Prime PHEV will arrive in the spring.