2023 Toyota Prius

  • August 2, 2023

If there really is a “climate crisis” – as opposed to climate hysteria – you’d think people would be encouraged to buy hybrids like the Toyota Prius.

Unlike electric vehicles, the Prius is a car almost anyone can afford – and more people driving a Prius rather than a relative handful of affluent people driving $50,000-plus EVs would be better in terms of reducing overall “emissions” of the dread gas carbon dioxide.

The Prius is also not an energy hog; it doesn’t tout the gratuitous consumption of energy (and of natural resources such as lithium) to deliver “ludicrous speed.” Instead it delivers almost 60 miles-per-gallon on average – and a range approaching 700 miles in between fill-ups that take less than five minutes.

So why isn’t the Prius being praised nearly as much as EVs are being pushed?

Probably because the Prius makes EVs and those who push them look stupid.

What It Is

The Prius is the eponymous hybrid – the first one and the one that started it all, more than 25 years ago. There have been many emulators.

There is only one original.

In addition to being a hybrid, it’s also a hatchback sedan – which gives it the cargo-carrying capacity of a small crossover, without being yet another crossover. But like most crossovers, the Prius is available with all-wheel-drive, which has long been a crossover “sell.”

It also averages 57 miles-per gallon. In italics to emphasis that this figure isn’t highway miles per gallon. It is city and highway miles-per-gallon. Most non-hybrid cars don’t approach their highway mileage in city driving. And prior hybrids tended to use noticeably more gas on the highway than in the city.

There’s also no EV that even approaches the 644 miles of city driving range the Prius offers – and none can recover all of that range in just a few minutes, either.

Prices start at $27,450 for the base LE trim, which is front-wheel-drive. Equipped with the optional AWD system, the MSRP is $28,850.

A top-of-the-line Limited with AWD lists for $35,865.

What’s New For 2023

The Prius has been given a major makeover. It is much sleeker-looking now and it lives up to those looks. The New Prius is the most powerful and quickest Prius yet – and the most fuel-efficient.

If you thought you couldn’t have your cake and eat it, too – well, you can.

There is one catch, however.

The improved performance (and economy) cost more this year. The all-new ’23’s base price is $2,375 higher than the $25,075 base price of last year’s Prius.

What’s Good

An electric car – without any of the disadvantages.

The practicality of a small crossover – that isn’t another crossover.

A hybrid car – without the usual disadvantages.

What’s Not So Good

Price uptick means it’ll take a little longer to recoup what you spent on the car via what you don’t spend on gas.

If it weighed less, it’d go even farther.

Sleek, low roofline cuts down on cargo space vs. the outgoing Prius.

Under The Hood

Here’s an irony: Practically every new car – and truck – on the market comes with a smaller engine than it used to come with.

But the new Prius comes standard with a larger (2.0 liter) engine than the smaller (1.8 liter) engine that powered the prior Prius.

Isn’t that contrary to efficiency, the thing a Prius is supposed to be all about?

Somehow, it isn’t.

The ’23’s 2.0 liter engine is not only larger, it is much stronger – offering up 194 horsepower (total, with the additional scoot produced by the hybrid-electric side of the drivetrain) vs. the 1.8 liter’s 121. That’s a 73 horsepower uptick. The kind of uptick you’d expect to read about a new performance car offering. And the much-more-powerful Prius is a performer. It can get to 60 in about 7 seconds – vs. more than 10 seconds previously. That’s a better-than-three-second improvement.

But what does this cost in terms of the car’s efficiency? Surely, it uses more gas than it did?

Somehow, it doesn’t.

In fact, it uses less.

The ’23 Prius gets 57 miles-per-gallon in city driving and 56 on the highway – vs. 58 in the city and 53 on the highway for the old model. Overall, the new Prius delivers about 2 miles-per-gallon better mileage than the older – and much slower – Prius.

You can also go farther faster in the new vs. the old: 632 miles on the highway vs. 598 on the highway for last year’s Prius. The old model did go a little farther in the stop-and-go (655 miles in city driving vs. 644 for the ’23). But the point here is the new Prius is a much better all-arounder. It has the power to be a highway car without sacrificing anything meaningful as an efficient car.

It is also a long-haul car, much more so than an electric car – because its battery is certain to last longer. In a hybrid like the Prius, the battery never runs out of charge because the system – the engine – is constantly replenishing its charge. There is also the fact that the engine is responsible for most of the propulsion; the battery (and electric motors) provide supplementary propulsion and (as regards the battery) provides power for the accessories when the engine isn’t running.

The practical result is that a hybrid’s battery leads a much easier life – and that is why hybrid batteries have long lives. It is why the Prius is very popular as a taxi – a type of vehicle that routinely racks up 200,000-plus miles in just a handful of years. And when the hybrid’s battery does eventually reach the end of its useful life, the cost to replace isn’t so high (relative to the value of the car) that it’s not worth replacing the battery.

With EVs, when the battery goes, it’s time for the car to go.

So, there you go.

As before, a continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmission is standard and you can go with either the standard front-wheel-drive set-up or the optionally available AWD set-up. If you choose the latter, you’ll lose a few miles-per-gallon as a result of carrying around the extra 243 lbs. for the rear electric motor, which bumps up the curb weigh from 3,097 for the FWD LE to 3,340 lbs. for the AWD-equipped Limited.

On The Road

“Prius” has been the punchline of jokes about slow cars for the past 20 years. It was the price you paid to drive a car that could take you 20 miles farther down the road on a gallon of gas than almost any other car (the exception being VW’s TDI diesel-powered cars, which could travel nearly as far before they were forced off the market by the government for “cheating” on government emissions certification tests; this being like “cheating” the IRS out of your money).

The old Prius wasn’t even that slow.

In fact, it was about as quick (in terms of 0-60) as most family-type cars were until rather recently. Well, until the early 2000s, anyhow – when power/performance took an unprecedented Great Leap Forward such that modern family cars like the current Toyota Camry with its available V6 are quicker (and faster) than most V8 powered muscle cars were in the ’60s and ’70s.

And now the Prius is nearly as quick as many of the V8 muscle cars of the ’60s and ’70s. Most of these took 6-7 seconds to get to 60. The Prius does it in seven – while quadrupling how far you can go on a gallon of gas vs. the muscle cars of the ’60s and ’70s.

Of course, it doesn’t sound as quick as the muscle cars of the past – but it will run with them.

And that’s just amazing.

It also runs with much less apparent effort. The old Prius had just enough power to get going. It didn’t have much left to get going quickly when you were in a hurry. As when trying to merge with fast-moving traffic or pass slow-moving traffic. It could be done, but the car would let you know – per Scotty from Star Trek – that she was givin’ er all she’s got cap’n!

The engine would rev to near redline and the CVT would hold it there – until you backed-off the accelerator. But that was hard to do when you needed acceleration. The new car has about 40 percent more power – which means it has power in reserve. You don’t have to floor the accelerator to get acceleration.

This Prius is now a pleasant car; not just an extremely economical one.

At The Curb

This is the most radical Prius since the original – which looked radically unlike other cars because Toyota wanted it to look as radical (at the time) as it was. At that time, hybrids were not just new.

There weren’t any.

The 1997 Prius was the first of its kind – and looked it. There was no mistaking it for a normal car. This set it apart – as well as those who owned one. Everyone knew what it was they were driving. This became a kind of badge of honor but – in time – also became something else. There were a lot of people who liked the idea of owning a hybrid but didn’t want to make a big deal about owning one. The late ’90s and early 2000s were the era of the Hummer – and people who drove a Prius were sometimes made to feel like geeks for driving the anti-Hummer.

This Prius sheds the Mrs. Doubtfire image for one more in the line of her sexy daughter. If you didn’t know it was a hybrid you’d probably never guess. It looks like a new sport hatchback, something along the lines of a Civic – only sportier. The idea being to broaden this car’s appeal to encompass, well, everyone.

Because what’s not to like?

It looks good. It goes good. And it goes far.

There is a small price to be paid for this goodness, though. The sleeker/lower silhouette has reduced the available cargo space to 23.8 cubic feet from 33.4 previously. Even so, the hatchback layout greatly increases the usability of the space available because you can make use of most of the car’s interior to cart around items much too long to fit in the trunk of a sedan.

Like Toyotas generally, the “ergos” – i.e., the controls – are sensibly laid out. There is a touchscreen but you don’t have to tap/swipe to change channels or adjust the volume of the stereo. And there’s still a 12V power point readily accessible, so it’s easy to plug in accessories that use them, such as radar detectors.

Which you might want to use when driving this Prius.

The Rest

The Prius is a superb piece of engineering; any car that can almost hit 60 MPG on averge and still do 0-60 in about seven seconds is brilliant. But it could be even more so – if it were lighter than it is.

Relative to other new cars, the Prius isn’t heavy. But relative to the small cars of the past, it’s a porker. Even the LE – the lightest Prius – weighs almost twice as much as a ’70s VW Beetle. Much of the reason for all this weight can be laid at the feet of the government – which insists on “safety” as well as “efficiency.” The latter is easy enough to define. A car either is – or isn’t.

The Prius is.

But “safety” isn’t as easy to define. Was the ’70s Beetle “unsafe”? No, of course it wasn’t. If it had been the tens of millions of people who drove them would have been hurt driving them. Most weren’t. That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t get hurt if they wrecked their Beetle. But that is not the same thing as saying the Beetle was prone to wrecking; i.e., that it was unsafe.

Rather, it was less crashworthy. A different thing.

The Prius is very crashworthy – which is why it is very heavy. Lots of structural steel – and a bevy of air bags. But none of that matters if you don’t ever wreck – which you probably won’t.

Meanwhile, every time you drive, you use more gas than you would if this car weighed 500 or 1,000 pounds less. A 2,000 pound Prius would probably be capable of 75 miles-per-gallon.

Lots of people would probably prefer that over “crashworthiness.” But the government has decided that “crashworthiness” is more important than efficiency.

The Bottom Line

It might have been even better – but it’s pretty damned good, even so.

. . .

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