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Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.

2023 Toyota Prius Prime XSE review

2023 Toyota Prius Prime XSE right side and nose
Mark Savage
Savage On Wheels
2023 Toyota Prius Prime XSE right side and nose

Consider this, driving more than 200 miles in a week and only paying ten bucks, and change, for the privilege.

No, I wasn’t coasting down hills and there was no tornadic wind at my back. I was slipping through the air in a sleek new Toyota Prius Prime plug-in hybrid. People noticed, but that was due to its shape, not its stellar gas mileage that hung between 52 mpg and 67.4 mpg, the latter being aided by plug-in power in around town driving.

First, know this. Prius Prime is a slippery looking aerodynamic sedan that leaves the old stodgy lumpen Prius design a distant memory. This nose is as aero as anything on the market with lightning-bolt-style lights, a low roofline and rounded wedge profile. Heck, even the rear doors’ release handles are hidden in their windows uppermost trim.

Mine was a special Windchill Pearl (bright metallic white and $425 extra) pre-production model. But it might as well have been bright red or neon green for all the attention it garnered. There were thumbs up, gas station questions and one current Prius owner who powered down his window at a stoplight to sing his car’s, AND my car’s praises due to it looks. He also boasted of 60 mpg at 60 mph. Impressive!

And while Prius Prime’s styling NOW will get you to look at a Prius without scorn or disdain, it’s the car’s performance that will push the environmentally conscious, or simply oil company critics, to plunk down their cash.

That and the car’s value as even the Prius Prime’s purchase price may be surprising. A base Prime SE lists at $33,600, the tested XSE at $36,695, and the upscale XSE Premium at $40,265, all including delivery fees. With options, the test car was $37,855. All trims are plug-in hybrids with 39 miles of electric range when fully charged.

Considering the average new car price has eclipsed $45,000, these are bargains because you’ll continue saving gas money at every fill-up.

Currently plug-ins are the logical way for many buyers to go until electric charger infrastructure grows, and assuming you have a garage or other place to plug in overnight.

On a standard 120-volt outlet as in most of our garages a full recharge from zero takes 11 hours, while a 240-volt (think dryer outlet) will take just 4 hours. So, when running errands and to work each day one could mostly run as an EV. Take a longer trip as I did, and you can save the electric charge for city driving where it nets a better return. Or let the automatic hybrid system decide when the juice helps most. On a long highway run with a touch of city at either end, I managed 52 mpg.

Standard hybrid systems that don’t have the plug-in feature but just generate electrons for power when braking or coasting, can approach that figure too. So, it’s the plug-in that’s a major benefit for short city commutes.

Power is no problem with the Prius Prime because it has upped its oomph by combining a 2.0-liter I4 with the plug-in hybrid system, netting 220 horsepower, while torque remains a modest 139 pound-feet. That’s nearly 100 more horsepower than the previous Prius Prime and an increase of 14 miles of electrical range. Big jumps!

While acceleration still feels mild, there’s no trouble getting to highway speeds and the car doesn’t feel as pokey as in the past. In fact, Toyota claims a 0-60 mph run-up takes just 6.6 seconds. Competitive with other small sedans, hatchbacks, and crossovers.

Acceleration is smooth too via the electronically controlled CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) and naturally, Toyota offers four drive modes from Eco to Sport to let the driver control the car’s quickness. Sport does further firm the steering feel too.

This Prius does not feel sporty, but by golly it’ll zip around slowpokes on the interstate with ease, although there’s some engine groaning under heavy acceleration. Yet that’s short lived until cruising resumes.

More concerning is the roar of the low-profile, low-rolling resistance tires that Toyota puts on Prime to keep its mpg performance numbers up. They aren’t bad on asphalt, but oh my, once you roll on cement, especially bridges, there’s a roar that requires a big bump to the radio’s volume.

While Toyota doesn’t reveal how much these special tires aid gas mileage, I’d still opt for normal all-season tires for a more refined sound quality on highway drives. Note there likely would be an upcharge to swap out the tires.

Braking is good, handling is light and breezy, and ride is surprisingly good. Credit a 2-inch stretch to the wheelbase for the latter. The car also is an inch longer and wider than its predecessor, although cargo space is about 6 cubic feet shorter as passenger space grew. Four average size adults can ride comfortably.

AWD is not offered on the Prius Prime and no plans have been announced to add it.

Yet Toyota loads the hybrid up with its Safety Sense 3.0 system with all the safety doodads one expects these days, so lane departure alert and assist, automatic high beams, a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, smart cruise control, road sign assist and something it calls Proactive Driving Assist. This PDA watches ahead for objects when the vehicle is turning and adjusts steering to help avoid something in the road.

There’s also blind-spot warning, front and rear parking sensors, and safe exit assist so the driver doesn’t throw open a door into traffic.

2023 Toyota Prius Prime XSE dashboard
Mark Savage
Savage On Wheels
2023 Toyota Prius Prime XSE dashboard

Inside, the white test car featured a black interior with gray headliner. Seats are a fake leather called SofTex and include red inserts near the top of the seat backs, plus red stitching to perk up the interior. The leather-wrapped steering wheel also includes red stitching.

More color comes from a darker red metallic, almost burgundy, trim on the dash with a red pinstripe at the rear edge that’s lighted. Sharp at night.

Seats are comfortable and the driver’s is 8-way powered with a lumbar support. Front seats and the steering wheel also are heated.

Toyota adds a 12.3-inch multimedia display for $735 that’s easy to read and mostly adjust. The volume knob for the radio though is on the passenger’s side while a volume toggle is also on the steering wheel hub.

Climate and heated seat buttons are large and below the center air vents, although the top trim above those ducts somewhat limits how high one can adjust the airflow toward faces. A bin below the center stack will hold a phone and there are two cupholders. A wireless charger is in a convenient console slot next to the small gearshift knob and a few buttons. Two of those control whether the car is automatically using electric power as needed or holding it in abeyance for future use.

2023 Toyota Prius Prime XSE interior
Mark Savage
Savage On Wheels
2023 Toyota Prius Prime XSE interior

A few other notes, the cargo area is rather shallow in height with the cargo cover in place. That must be unhooked to allow taller bags or boxes.

Also, there’s an electric whine that most hybrids and electrics feature. This one was slightly louder than most. It didn’t bug me, but my wife said it was too loud for her ear comfort. And I’d add that the driver alertness warning is awfully touchy. Looking to the side, while approaching an intersection or spot you may want to turn, the warning will chime that the driver is not being alert. Ugh!

On a happier note, an 8-speaker JBL sound system is standard, but remember with the high-pitched tire noise you’ll need to crank it a bit for clarity.

For comfort, efficiency, value and looks, the new Prius Prime is a primo plug-in hybrid with no sedan competitors. Its main competition is Kia’s Niro, a small crossover.

Fast Stats: 2023 Toyota Prius Prime XSE

Hits: Sexy new aero look, smooth acceleration, stellar MPG, easy handling, comfy sedan for four. Good standard safety features, fine info screen, heated seats and steering wheel, smart cruise, comfy seats, wireless charger.

Misses: No AWD available, road noise on non-asphalt roads, noisy engine under heavy acceleration, touchy driver alert device.

Made in: Aichi, Japan

Engine: 2.0-liter I4, plug-in hybrid, 220 hp/139 torque

Electric range: 39 miles

Transmission: eCVT automatic

Weight: 3,461 lbs.

Wheelbase: 108.3 in.

Length: 181.1 in.

Cargo: 20.3 cu.ft.

MPG: 50/47

MPG: 52-67.4 (tested)

Base Price: $36,695 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $35,271

Major Options:

Windchill Pearl paint, $425

12.3-inch multimedia display, $735

Test vehicle: $37,855

Sources: Toyota, www.kbb.com

Mark Savage writes the auto review column, Savage On Wheels, for WUWM (formerly for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) and Savageonwheels.com. He is the former executive editor of American Snowmobiler magazine and FineScale Modeler magazine, both part of Kalmbach Media in Waukesha.
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