Toyota Launches Longer-Range 2023 Prius Prime

The plug-in variant of Toyota’s 2023 Prius delivers 75% more electric-only driving range and shares the conventional hybrid’s svelte new sheetmetal.

Like Toyota’s conventional 2023 Prius hybrid, the new Prius Prime has substantially more power. (Toyota)

Toyota’s rollout of the 2023 Prius is a two-phase affair. Although the company didn’t say it outright, the launch seems targeted to address two distinct Prius customers. Those who just want a stylish hybrid got the fifth-generation 2023 Prius in all its sexy-new-sheetmetal, 60-percent-more-powerful glory. And for hardcore hybrid fans, phase two brings the Prime (e.g. plug-in) variant: big battery for serious electric-only driving range, same shocking new shape.

The 2023 Prius Prime upgrades to a 2.0L four-cylinder that generates 54 hp more than the previous 1.8L’s 96 hp. (Toyota)

The conventional 2023 Prius has serious newfound power. The plug-in hybrid Prime — starting at just over $33,000 in base SE trim — is about more EV driving range, namely a 75% boost to 44 miles (71 km) for the 17-inch-wheeled SE, 40 miles (64 km) for the XSE and XSE grades with 19-inch wheels. Power for the Prime’s 161-hp permanent-magnet AC synchronous motor that drives the front wheels and handles regenerative-braking duty, comes from a 13.6-kWh lithium-ion battery pack that has substantially greater capacity. The previous-generation Prius Prime’s 8.8-kWh pack enabled just an estimated 25 miles (40 km) of electric driving range.

The Prius Prime’s gauge cluster and steering wheel combine for what can seem an unconventional driving position, but the wide central screen available on the XSE and XSE Premium trims helps balance the cabin’s functionality. (Toyota)

The Prime’s pumped-up battery pack is situated a little more forward and under the rear seats than the previous model, where the pack sat mostly under the cargo floor, chief engineer Satoki Oya told SAE Media. That and the repositioned fuel tank and revised rear section that comes with the second-generation version of the Toyota New Generation Architecture mean that all-wheel drive — available for the non-plugged 2023 Prius — unfortunately can’t happen for the Prime, Oki conceded.

More battery per pound

The 2023 Prius Prime can travel up to 44 miles solely on battery power, versus 25 miles for the previous-generation Prime. (Toyota)

Even if the 2023 Prius Prime’s underside is too crowded for AWD, it seems Oki’s team nonetheless managed some magic with the lithium-ion batteries since the fourth-generation Prime’s pack was engineered. The outgoing Prime’s battery weighed a listed 265 lb (120.2 kg), while the new Prime’s pack has nearly 60% more energy capacity yet weighs just 19 lb (8.6 kg) more.

The power-dense battery matches the Prime’s overall muscled-up powertrain. As with the conventional Prius, the Prime uses a 2.0L Atkinson-cycle I-4 (up from 1.8L in the previous-gen Prius) that generates 150 hp versus the 1.8L’s 96 hp. Total engine and electric motor power for the new Prius Prime is 220 hp, compared with 121 hp for the 2022 Prius Prime. Even though there’s the inevitable curb-weight gain — the new Prime in top XSE Premium trim weighs 3571 lb (kg), a significant 196 lb (89 kg) more than the previous-generation Prime’s top trim 3375 lb — the new Prime can make the 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) run in a reasonably brisk 6.6s, according to Toyota.

A revised TNGA platform for the 2023 Prius Prime makes room for a larger battery and enables more cargo space but precludes the possibility of all-wheel drive. (Toyota)

There’s a price to be paid, though, for more power, more weight — and more electric driving range. Toyota’s specs say the most-efficient Prime SE trim is rated 53/51/52 city/highway/combined mpg and 127 mgp-e. The previous-gen Prime was good for 55/53/54 mpg and 133 mpg-e. What’s more, the 2022 Prime’s total driving range was estimated at 640 miles (1030 km), while the new 2023 Prime manages 600 miles (966 km). Even considering the new Prime’s 75% boost in EV-only driving range, its lower mpg and mpg-e ratings might suggest to some that the 2023 Prime isn’t a full step forward in the efficiency game.

Tech, features advance

There may be more weight for the 2023 Prius Prime, but the poundage does translate to increased levels of technology and feature content. All Primes have rain-sensing wipers and a heated steering wheel. The standard 7-in (178-mm) LCD “gauge” cluster is crisp and bright (even if many of its minor icons are excruciatingly small). The nifty Traffic Jam Assist system — operable at speeds up to 25 mph (40 km/h) — also is standard for all Prime trim levels. The SE trim’s 8-in (203-mm) central touchscreen is adequate for multimedia duty, but it makes an appealing case for the 12.3-in (312-mm) upgrade screen that comes with the middle XSE trim.

It’s generally agreed the new-generation Prius’ driving position is awkward in relation to the driver’s gauge cluster, but even the SE trim’s seats are supportive and helpful in isolating front-seat occupants from the Prime’s rather stiff ride on 19-in wheels. (Chief engineer Oki said the Prime’s suspension tuning is revised compared to the conventional Prius.) And although the gearshift is helpfully moved to the center console from its previous dash-mounted position, it still makes three-point turns a fuss.

Available at $640 only for the Prius Prime XSE Premium is a solar-charging sunroof that can generate up to 185 watts. Oki said the roof power goes to the traction battery if the Prime’s ignition is off. Whenever the ignition is on, power is channeled to the vehicle’s 12-volt battery. Heated rear seats also are optional for the XSE Premium grade, as is a digital rearview mirror.

Toyota executives said the Prime makes up about 30% of total Prius sales. The 2023 Prime is scheduled to arrive in U.S. showrooms sometime in May.