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The 2023 Toyota Prius is a huge break from its past in terms of styling, interior design and ability to argue that hybrids are underappreciated. When the drape was pulled back, it also revealed how the world's largest carmaker thinks Tesla and other EV obsessives have it mostly wrong.
Toyota is enthusiastic about all major propulsion systems: hybrid, plug-in hybrid, fuel cell, internal combustion and pure battery electric. Just about the only system the company lacks is a solar car. This spread bet is based on Toyota's position as the largest mainstream automaker and one with the resources to credibly chase that many visions.
Propulsion technology aside, it sure helps if a green car looks good: They can't help the environment much if people avoid models because they're ugly. The first thing you notice about the 2023 Prius is that it arguably wears its first suit of desirable sheet metal.
Wow, that's a Prius?
The new car rides lower, has a longer wheelbase (the distance between front and rear wheels) and can accommodate 19-inch wheels for the first time. Its body curves are subtle and tend to flow from front to rear, all of which results in a vehicle that looks longer and more poised to move forward, not hunchbacked. Previous Prius styling seemed to be more about making a social statement, from celebrities who could afford Lambos and Bentleys but chose to arrive in something contrarian, to others who roll coal as their own when they pass a Prius.
Primacy under the hood
Powering the new Prius is a larger 2.0-liter combustion engine that uses a clean burn Atkinson Cycle design and, in spite of the engine's increased size, the overall efficiency grows to 57 miles per gallon, a tick higher than the most efficient outgoing car. It can be had in FWD or AWD versions that get to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds.
That expected 57 mpg rating and the discontinuation of the Hyundai Ioniq Blue hybrid, formerly the most efficient hybrid sold in the US, will re-establish the Prius as the highest mpg car you can buy. It's a good headline in a market where cars that use gas will dominate for some time.
A free electric car?
For the electric-curious the new Prius will continue to be available as a plug-in hybrid, which Toyota promises will have 50% more battery-only range -- about 37 miles without using gas. That's enough range to complete an entire day's driving for many owners, creating an argument that buying a Prius gives you the highest mpg car on the market with a free EV thrown in.
Goodbye golf cart
Inside the 2023 Prius lies another big change: a proper driver instrument panel. Previous generations confronted the driver with an expanse of blank dashboard, drawing the eye to a high mid-dash display that made the Prius feel more golf cart than driver's car.
The new LCD instrument panel helps cash the check that this car's exterior writes. There will be a center stack LCD, as is becoming de rigueur in modern vehicles. Other new touches include an optional panoramic glass roof and fashionable colors like yellow and milky gray that will probably look dated in a few years... but are on trend now and a far cry from the outgoing car's mostly stolid color choices.
Toyota says the new Prius is a car without compromise, but it makes a big one: It's not a utility, the kind of vehicle 80% of US car buyers want. While the new version won't likely make up much of the gap between it and the vastly better selling RAV4 hybrids, its major evolution remains important as an icon of the category. I could see owning one.