Expert Insights

Road Testing Toyota's Fifth Gen Prius

Dave Nichols
July 9, 2023
The car that introduced most of us to the word “hybrid” in connection to an automobile is now in it’s Fifth Generation with all new forward-thinking design, vastly improved looks, even more fuel economy, and a new word for the Prius… “Performance.”
2023 toyota prius driving on a road into a tunnel

The Fifth Gen Toyota Prius is Here

An all-new 2023 fifth generation Toyota Prius is hitting showrooms and it’s a big change from the humble hybrid of the past. It’s a much better-looking car, is quite a bit faster, brakes quicker, and adds more fuel economy with an EPA-estimated combined 57 miles per gallon.

The world’s first mass produced hybrid appeared as a four-door sedan in 1997 but soon morphed into the famous liftback people mover that set the world on fire back in 2003. Toyota had sold one million of these by 2008, two million by 2010, and three million by 2013. Today, the Prius is the world’s top selling hybrid with over five million sold.

2023 fifth generation prius parked in front of cafe

A Brand New Toyota Hybrid Hatchback

The new Prius has transformed the traditional Prius look from a dumpy bar of soap into a sleek and sporty hatchback sedan that offers more than ever before. To begin with, all three trim levels of the hybrid use the same 194 horsepower, 2-liter inline four gasoline engine married to an electric motor and continuously variable transmission. It is the same package used in the successful Corolla Cross hybrid.

The new Prius brings drivers the most horses ever offered, comes in a front-wheel drive base model but kicks up to 196 hp in its all-wheel drive variants thanks to a larger magnet in the rear motor. It is totally new inside and out with a cleaner interior, larger touchscreen, and heated seats front and back in the upper trim levels. However, those sexy looks make the cabin a tad smaller. The fifth gen car has a lower roofline and seating position by two inches over last year’s model.

There’s also a sporty plug-in hybrid Prius Prime version that will take you an EPA-estimated 40 miles on electric power alone and boasts 220 horsepower, almost 100 horses more than the previous generation. Like the regular Prius, the PHEV is based on Toyota’s TNGA-C platform, which is more rigid, weighs less, and offers a lower center of gravity than previous models.

This 2023 Prius redesign is 1.1 inches longer, 1.6 inches lower, and about an inch wider than previous version and the overall wheelbase is 2.0 inches longer. The base LE model comes with 17-inch wheels while the XLE and Limited versions have 19-inch wheels. All come with taller Michelin All-Season tires.

Dashboard and steering wheel of a Prius

Looking Under the Hood of The Toyota Prius

While the outside of the new Prius looks a lot faster than any hybrid before it, it’s what under the hood that makes the biggest difference. The old Prius had a 1.8-liter engine that made 96 horses. This new 2.0-liter unit pumps up the power to almost 150 hp. Then add the permanent magnet synchronous traction electric motor with its six magnets per pole and you get a combined 194 horsepower instead of the older version’s 121 horses. That’s a 60 percent gain in the “oomph” department.

All-wheel drive variants cost $1,400 more and the additional rear electric motor adds more power to the table for a total of 196 hp. The bigger hybrid combo in the fifth gen car means this is the fastest Prius ever with zero to 60 mph happening in an estimated 7.1 seconds. Last year’s hatchback took 10.5 seconds to accomplish the same task. That is seriously quicker! New bigger brakes also means that this Prius stops faster than ever. While older models would come to a stop from 70 mph in 194 feet, the new model comes to a complete stop in just 171 feet.

When it comes to overall fuel economy, Toyota tells us that the new Prius is capable of 57 miles per gallon in combined highway and city driving in base front-wheel drive trim with 17-inch wheels, according to EPA estimates. That’s a five mpg improvement over the old model.

Prius interior

What's In the Cabin?

The sleeker redesign of the Prius has meant that the very spacious interior of former generations has taken a bit of a hit. While the inside has a traditional cockpit, the roof is about 1.4 inches lower than in the past and that means headroom up front has been reduced but you don’t notice it because the seating position is lower than in former models, giving you more legroom and you still have 24 cubic feet of usable cargo space.

The digital gauges are now centered right over the nicely positioned steering wheel and the shifter knob has been moved down to the console where it belongs, not positioned to the left of the radio in the dash panel as before. Overall, the seating position is more ergonomic than before and more comfortable. You’ll get an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen in the base LE model, but it bumps up to a big 12.3-inch screen as an option in the XLE, coming standard in the top-of-the-line Limited Edition. Voice assistant also comes as a standard feature.

Air conditioning control buttons now exist below the touchscreen, no longer part of the onscreen software. There’s a phone charger next to the shifter that holds your phone securely and Bluetooth connectivity is standard. You’ll also find six USB ports positioned throughout the cabin. Available onboard Wi-Fi connects you to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and the intuitive screen is easy to maneuver with Toyota’s Safety Sense 3.0 system. Standard driver assist features include automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning and lane keep assist, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.

aerial view of prius driving

Heading Down the Road In This Classic Hybrid

This all-new Prius is truly a horse of a different color on the road. It is no longer a stodgy, boring ride that humbly manages to get you where you’re going. It feels more sporty in every way possible, from the suspension to the braking, to the much peppier acceleration. Toyota’s TNGA-C platform offers a more rigid and wider, road-hugging stance that we like quite a bit. It’s now quicker than many of its rivals.

The Prius is also smoother than ever on the highways. It switches seamlessly from electric to gasoline power and back with no effort on your part. It just glides along for mile after gas-saving mile. When you want to pass a car, the added horsepower makes this an entirely new driving experience over the Prius of old. Comparatively, pushing down on the accelerator to pass slow traffic, say, going from 50- to 70 mph takes five seconds instead of seven.

The upright driving position of every Prius before this one made you feel like you were sitting up high, like pedaling a bicycle. The experience with the new fifth gen Prius is more like you are sitting down in the vehicle, a part of it. This is not simply a matter of a lower seating position but involves the newly designed, more performance-oriented suspension and chassis tuning. The multilink suspension now includes excellent KYB dampers for less body lean in corners. Likewise, the Michelin All Season tires offer plenty of grip for better performance.

Yellow Prius PHEV

Final Thoughts on the Fifth Gen Toyota Prius

In years past, the Prius was only known for its ability to save you money at the gas pump. Now it has become and much more complete vehicle that is better looking, better to drive, and even offers something akin to actual road performance. All this plus it gets better mileage than ever before. For those interested in quarter mile times, the new Prius trims 2.3 seconds off its old time and does it 13 miles per hour faster than before taking the quarter mile in 15.5-seconds. No Prius has ever done that before.

Another thing to consider is that you get more of everything with this car including better performance and better gas mileage for only $1,100 more than last year’s model. Manufacturer suggested retail price, or MSRP, of the base LE model is $28,545 and all-wheel drive can be had for just $1,400 more. We think the all-new fifth generation Prius was well worth the wait. Other 2023 Prius models like the XLE and Limited hold MSRPs of $31,990 and $35,560 respectively.