Toyota has gone through a couple of generations of its tremendously popular Prius at this point. I owned one myself for many years back when my kids were smaller, and generally really liked it. The Prius was also one of the vehicles that convinced car owners that “hybrid” technology was actually a great step forward from traditional internal combustion engines. It was the first Continuously Variable Transmission I’d driven, a distinctly different drive experience than either a manual or automatic multi-gear transmission.
No surprise, when I had the chance to spend a week driving the 2023 Toyota Prius Limited, I was eager to check out the latest iteration of this venerable best seller for the most popular car company in the world. When the delivery service driver pulled up with the vehicle I immediately marveled at the sleek, sexy lines and incredibly streamlined appearance. All good, until I tried to get into the vehicle…
This is in a color called Cutting Edge that I would call grey, but whatever you call it, it’s got curb appeal. The main problem I had with the Prius is that the designers lowered the roof to attain this look, and with the B Pillar (between the front and back door) being too far forward, it proved darn awkward to enter and exit the vehicle. I admit, I’m 6′ 3″ tall and heavier than some folk, but I had a couple of other people get into the driver’s seat and they also complained of the same clumsiness. Worse was when I got into the backseat to try out the legroom: I had to plan how to clamber out!
Once in the car, however, the Prius is still a great, fun drive with crazy good mpg and a reasonable amount of zip for a fuel-efficient sedan. I averaged about 50mpg (it’s rated for 52mpg, but I must be too aggressive to attain that level of efficiency). With its small wheel, narrow steering wheel space, and recessed display, it also felt like I was in a racecar:
Powered by a modest 2.0L DOHC 16V VVT-i 4-Cylinder engine and that CVT transmission, it never blew me away from a stop but it had enough get up and go to feel safe in all driving conditions. The hybrid helps you go from a start, but then after you’ve attained 10-15mph there’s not a lot of power to keep accelerating at the same pace. This is not a Tesla Plaid edition by any means.
The dash layout is smart and sleek too, continuing the racing lines of the exterior. Notice the thin blue highlight illumination on the dash too. The infotainment system was a typical Toyota layout, easy to use, and featured wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on its bright 12.3″ display. The 8 JBL speakers helped deliver a very nice audio experience while driving too, though I admit that I mostly listen to audiobooks, not music.
The main gauge offered up quite a bit of information, muchly because it eschewed a tachometer (does that even matter in a hybrid?) and a speedometer (I just want to know the number, I don’t need a full dial):
It’s a pretty information dense display, no question. Notice that the left side of the outer line shows hybrid status: Charge / Eco / Power. Very useful if you want to teach yourself to drive with the best possible fuel efficiency. There’s also an additional display you can bring up on the infotainment screen that shows a lot more about the energy and hybrid status too.
But as we contemplate an autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicle future, it’s worth noting that even this 2023 had a hard time with the snow on the ground, showing me this error time and time again:
One of the challenges of sensor placement for smarter vehicles is that we tend to drive in inclement weather, not just on sunny, beautiful afternoons. Would you stop and wipe the snow off the sensors to fix this problem? Probably not. Best to make sure you know how to park and drive at high speeds if the cruise control can’t do its automatic sensing magic, for sure.
The climate controls, speaking of bad weather, were very well designed and easy to use even on a bumpy road:
There’s a feature that’s missing from this rather symmetric climate control area, however: The steering wheel heater button. As with so many cars, it’s an afterthought tucked behind the steering wheel on the left side, near the driver’s left knee. Since it’s such a common interface oddity I remain rather baffled that designers haven’t come up with better alternatives. One car I drove recently moved the steering wheel heater button onto the actual steering wheel control bar. A great solution.
Notice the all-USB-C connectivity and charging options. It also had a wireless charging slot, as you can see in the below photo, but I never had that work with my iPhone 15 Pro for more than a few seconds at a time. Even when I was stopped. Why is this feature so hard to get working properly in cars??
A nice center console design with a number of important and reasonably well placed switches and controls. The gear shift could have doubled as one for a manual vehicle too, with its complex motions required to change gears. I liked it!
And speaking of the steering wheel controls, there were a lot of controls on the 2023 Toyota Prius:
This is where balance is important; convenient access to controls is great, but when there are too many, the driver inevitably takes their attention off the road to figure out which knob to pull, button to push, or control to utilize. Yes, Toyota includes a remarkable array of safety features in its vehicles, but doesn’t this seem like a pretty busy steering wheel?
I already mentioned the challenge of getting out of the back seat. You wouldn’t think so by viewing the decent legroom (if the driver isn’t tall enough to push their seat all the way back, that is):
Stepping out of the car, one of my favorite features is the almost hidden rear door handles. Can you spot ’em?
It’s curious to have the front doors have traditional handles and the back doors have these sleek hidden handles, but it helps add a smooth line to the car and, once you figure it out, they’re fun.
The cargo space is good, though since the overall vehicle roof is so low, there’s not very much vertical space:
I wasn’t surprised to find a lot about the 2023 Toyota Prius Limited that I really liked. The drive experience was smooth and competent, the vehicle handled well in traffic and in the mountains, the seats and interior were comfortable (once you maneuvered yourself into your seat), and there was sufficient space for my day-to-day adventures. It’s hard to completely gloss over the awkwardness of the B Pillar placement and the vehicle’s low roof and how that impacts getting in or out of the car, however.
This is definitely one to check out if you have a small family or don’t need much cargo space, particularly if that 50+ mpg is appealing, but try getting in and out of the vehicle a few times before you make a final purchase decision. You tall readers will thank me. Also, look at the difference in front and rear door handle design in the photo above!
2023 Toyota Prius Limited, powered by a 2.0L DOHC 16V VVT 4-cylinder Engine. BASE PRICE: $34,465. Options included: Digital Rearview Mirror, Limited Premium Package, Heated Rear Seats, Carpet Floor Mats & Cargo Mat. AS DRIVEN: $37,494.
Disclosure: Toyota loaned me the Prius for a week in return for this candid write-up. Thanks, Toyota!