Prius Prime showcases why PHEV technology is great

Toyota delivers its best-looking version.

Can a Toyota Prius actually be cool? Sure, if you’re into fuel economy and being “green” the Prius is as cool as they come, I suppose. But for decades, the Prius has been one of the least “cool” cars on the road. And that reputation is fair. But for 2023 Prius is hitting the prime of its life, so to speak.

The 2023 Toyota Prius Prime actually hits on the cool scale for me. Beyond the 50-plus miles per gallon fuel economy and the 40-plus miles of gas-free driving you get, the Prius Prime is redesigned this year and actually looks sharp.

I’ll go as far as to say this is the best-looking Prius ever.

This plug-in-hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) looks sleek and modern. Tron-like headlights and a beaky grille give the Prius attractive looks. The back end is still “Prius-like” but toned down some with a much smaller C-pillar, giving it a sleeker roofline and much smaller back end. The taillights match the shape of the headlights, which tie it all together. All in all, the 2023 Toyota Prius Prime has an updated, completed look.

Before discussing the powertrain, I felt it was necessary to explain the Prime version of the hybridized Prius. Prime is a PHEV, so it can be plugged in and run on only electric. Toyota has several PHEV brands tagged as Prime too. I asked Toyota PR rep Jennifer Greenfelder to explain Prime.

She said: “A plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV) is similar to common hybrid vehicles, but has an all-electric driving range, larger battery and more powerful electric motors for greater horsepower than common hybrid vehicles. A PHEV, like the Prius Prime, uses a series parallel hybrid system, which means it can drive the wheels using both electric motors and/or its gas engine. If the battery is fully charged, Prius Prime runs on the electric motors only. When the battery runs out, it operates like Prius, using both the gas engine and electric motors to drive the car as they are needed and available. While it is not necessary to plug in and charge the vehicle to drive it, it is generally advantageous to keep it charged. The more often Prius Prime is fully charged (at home, work or anywhere with a public charging station), the greater gasoline fuel savings will be.”

The Prius Prime has a 2.0-liter four-cylinder (gasoline) engine with two electric motors powered by a 13.6 kWh lithium-ion battery. The total horsepower output combined between the engine and motors is 220 hp and 139 pound-feet of torque. This still looks like it’s underpowered but in this configuration the Prius Prime performs better. I’ve driven many iterations of the Prius, and I can say this way it is most impressive.

It’s still not going to blast off the line, but it is capable and confident on the highway at most speeds and doesn’t feel poky. Even the continuously variable transmission (CVT) holds its own and is not bad (for a CVT).

The EPA rates the Prius Prime at 127 mpgE in combined city/highway (with the EV range factored in). Switching over to just a straight hybrid (no EV range), it still gets an incredible rating of 52 mpg combined. Toyota claims the Prius Prime has an EV range of 44 miles. Using a level 2 home charging station will attain full charge in about four hours. So, a plug in overnight gets you around 40 some miles of gas-free driving.

That’s the charm of the Toyota Prius Prime for sure.

The interior remains simple and basic. It has some harder touchpoints, but the seats are comfortable, and it has room for five passengers. With the hatchback styling it has 20.3 cubic feet of cargo room, which is adequate for a PHEV, but is less than the previous model year, which benefited from the bulkier back end.

There are three trims for the Prius Prime: SE, XSE and XSE Premium. The SE trim starts around $32,000 while the top trim XSE Premium has an MSRP of $39,170. My tester was the middle tier XSE with an MSRP of $35,600.

Is the Toyota Prius in the Prime of life? If the new PHEV version is any indication, the answer to that question is yes!

Jimmy Dinsmore is a freelance automotive journalist. Email him at Follow him on Twitter @driversside

2023 Toyota Prius Prime XSE

Price/As tested price................................................ $35,600/$35,600

Mileage.......................................... 52 mpg/combined/127 mpgE (combined)

Engine............................................. 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with two electric motors

Horsepower................................. 220 hp/139 lbs./ft.

Transmission................................. CVT

Drive Wheels................ Front-wheel drive

Final Assembly Point................ Aichi, Japan

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