2023 Toyota Prius

Now, you don't need a paper bag over your head to drive a Toyota Prius!
Now, you don't need a paper bag over your head to drive a Toyota Prius!

by Nick Tragianis | August 14, 2023


If you told me a decade ago that in 10 years, Toyota would be making some of the most interesting and desirable new cars on the market, I’d have laughed in your face. Yet here we are today: the GR Corolla, second-gen 86, and the manual Supra — not to mention the handful of rear-wheel-drive Lexus cars you can get with a brawny V8 — are some of the most hyped-up cars out there. And now, completely out of left field, we can add the 2023 Toyota Prius to that list. Wait, what?

Automotive glow-ups don’t come around often, but when they do, few are as drastic as this latest, fifth-generation Prius. Since its launch in 1997, the Prius has been the butt of many jokes and the genesis of countless stereotypes throughout most of its life. I’m guilty of this. I’m ashamed to admit I’ve played a not-insignificant role in spreading the wise-cracks and gobbledygook.

But a funny thing happened when I drove a (now previous-gen) Prime last year: I made my peace with it. And now, with the introduction of the all-new, fifth-generation car, Toyota has taken it a step further. Now, the Prius is actually a looker. Now, you don’t need to wear a paper bag over your head to drive a Prius! OK, that was mean, but I had to get in one last dig.

Obviously, the big news with the new-for-2023 Prius is the styling. Every preceding generation favoured function over form; there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, and to be fair, some of the aerodynamic tricks baked into the previous-gen Prius in particular were clever. But this focus on slicing through the air generally came at the expense of, you know, looking good.

That’s not the case. Yes, the new Prius has a slightly higher drag coefficient — 0.27, versus 0.24 for the old one — and yes, styling is subjective. But the new Prius stands out and turns heads in a good way, with its wider stance, distinctive front and rear lighting, swooping silhouette and cohesive lines, and refreshingly bright colour palette. Our particular tester was finished in a shade Toyota (appropriately) calls Maximum Yellow; I’d say the body panels tasted like a lemon lollipop, but I didn’t lick them, so I wouldn’t know. But I do know that after I parked and walked away, I’d look back at the Prius every time.

Under the skin, the fifth-gen Prius rides atop an evolved version of Toyota’s TNGA-C platform, but more importantly, boasts a significantly more powerful hybrid powertrain without sacrificing fuel economy. It starts with a 2.0-litre normally aspirated four-cylinder gas engine running on the Atkinson cycle, teamed to two AC motors and a 0.9 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Net output is 196 horsepower; Toyota is once again seemingly too modest to dish a combined torque figure, but that’s a massive 75 extra horses over the old one. It’s paired exclusively to a CVT, and all Canadian-spec cars are now all-wheel-drive.

On the road, you definitely feel that 75-hp bump. No, it still isn’t a powerhouse, but the new Prius is actually punchy off the line. Even on the highway, where you needed the entire lane to merge or plan your passes well in advance with the old Prius, the new one has more than enough oomph to stomp-and-go. The proof is in the numbers: most buff books quote a zero-to-100 km/h run in the low seven-second range for the new Prius, versus 10-plus for the old one. It certainly feels as quick, although it runs out of breath the more you rev it out.

When you’re not burning rubber (and hydrocarbons) in the new Prius, it’s well-behaved. Wind and road noise are well-controlled, the suspension and chassis soak up bumps and rough pavement commendably despite the standard 19-inch wheels, and steering is predictably light but accurate. It’s also unexpectedly tossable; carry a bit of extra speed into a tight on-ramp and the new Prius stays composed with surprising levels of grip and minimal body roll.

Most impressively, the new Prius manages to be quicker and more fun to drive without impacting fuel economy. Officially, it’s rated at 4.8 L/100 km in the city, 4.7 on the highway, and 4.8 combined. I squeezed 5.0 L/100 km out of it; that figure likely would’ve been lower with more urban driving, not to mention a lighter right foot.

For all the new Prius’ significant improvements, it loses the plot just a wee bit inside. That sleek, coupe-like roofline compromises rear visibility and headroom; there’s about an inch and a half less headroom up front, and about an inch less out back. Moreover, cargo space takes a hit — you have 566 litres at your disposal with the rear seats up and 2,577 with them stowed in the new Prius, versus 775 and 2,633 seats-up and stowed, respectively, for the old one. That said, the Prius retains its practical liftgate, and the revised platform results in more rear-seat legroom.

Aside from the pinched headroom and cargo capacity, the rest of the new Prius’ interior impresses with good fit-and-finish, comfortable seats, plenty of storage pockets and cubbies, and most importantly, a far more logical layout. The digital instrument cluster now sits in front of you, and infotainment is handled by either an eight- or 12.3-inch touchscreen depending on the trim, further augmented by physical switchgear.

Also, is it just me, or is that trim piece running across the dash oddly reminiscent of a new 911?

Price-wise, the fifth-gen Prius kicks off at $36,490 for the base XLE AWD trim and topping out at $42,990 as-tested for our top-spec Limited AWD tester. Yes, that’s a lot more coin than the 2022 Prius, but considering the enhancements and laundry list of standard bells and whistles — such as wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, all-wheel-drive, Toyota’s full suite of active driving assists, and the vastly improved powertrain — the price bump is justified to the right person.

Toyota pulled off a rare feat with its newest, fifth-gen Prius. Yes, it’s still comfortable as ever and remarkably efficient, but it goes where no Prius has gone before: it’s now legitimately attractive and surprisingly fun to drive, to boot. It’s quite the glow up, and considering it used to be a rolling punchline, the 2023 Toyota Prius now gets the last laugh.

See Also

2022 Toyota RAV4 Prime

2023 Toyota Corolla LE Hybrid AWD

2023 Kia Niro Hybrid SX

Vehicle Specs
Compact hybrid hatchback
Engine Size
2.0L inline-four, two AC electric motors, 0.9 kWh battery pack
Horsepower (at RPM)
196 net hp
Torque (lb-ft.)
Fuel Efficiency (L/100km, City/Highway/Combined)
Observed Fuel Efficiency (L/100km)
Cargo Capacity (in L)
Base Price (CAD)
As-Tested Price (CAD)
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About Nick Tragianis

Managing Editor

Nick has more than a decade of experience shooting and writing about cars, and as a journalism grad, he's a staunch believer of the Oxford Comma despite what the Canadian Press says. He’s a passionate photographer and loves exploring the open road in anything he gets his hands on.

Current Toys: '90 MX-5 Miata, '00 M5, '16 GTI Autobahn