The Prius is reborn. But does it matter?
Twenty-five years after the nameplate made its debut, “just in time for the 21st Century”, and six years since the introduction of its astonishing looking predecessor, Toyota have revealed a new generation of their hybrid trailblazer. Billed as the “Hybrid Reborn” by its maker, the 2023 Toyota Prius is set to arrive upon European shores in the Spring.
Now in its fifth generation, this evolution marks the most striking change to the model-line’s silhouette since the second-generation model largely codified its appearance in 2003. Since then, it has been a case of iterative steps; even allowing for the 2016 model’s unorthodox detail design, which was applique really. But no mention of musicians, entertainers or indeed pop-cultural references of any stripe this time around however, for although the 2023 car carries a noticeable resemblance to prior Priuses, this one is considerably sleeker in form.
Clearly aerodynamic performance remains paramount for Toyota’s designers, so it is no surprise that the new for ’23 Prius appears so clean-lined. Most notable however is the pronounced rake of the front screen, the cleanliness of the nose treatment and flanks, and the pronounced wheel arch flair at the rear, which lends the car a distinct musculature – a first for the model line and one underlined by larger diameter (19″) wheels.
In a landscape where Tesla has latterly taken some of the Prius’ mantle, it is perhaps not altogether surprising that the new model carries some faint reflections of the Model 3, both in the shape of its daylight openings and more non-specifically in its pared back visuals. Shades too perhaps of the current Mazda 3 (if one squints hard enough). Quite what such a pronounced screen rake is likely to do for visibility or reflected sunlight remains open to speculation, although for now, in the absence of any reliable reportage, this will have to remain within the realm of the speculative.
Technically speaking, the fifth-generation Prius is based around an evolved version of Toyota’s TNGA modular platform, employing a double wishbone rear suspension layout at the rear and a MacPherson strut set up at the front. The 2.0 litre engine as fitted to the plug-in hybrid model is capable (Toyota say) of developing a maximum of 223 PS and 0-100 km/h in 6.7 seconds. Toyota also assert that with the PHEV’s batteries now mounted under the rear floor pan (rather than beneath the boot floor as of yore), the car’s centre of gravity has been lowered, while boot space has also been improved. Battery capacity has also been improved.
While a series hybrid model will also be offered in select markets, Toyota maintain that for Europe, only the 2.0 litre, PHEV model will be exported – this being where the bulk of new hybrid car sales currently reside.
Over its quarter century on the market, the Prius has suffered from something of an image problem, often being characterised as the chariot of the virtuous (or virtue signaller perhaps), while in the UK, it has largely become the preserve of the private hire trade. A lot of this ambivalence was a function of the car’s disciplined and rather self-effacing appearance (until the 2016 edition at least), meaning that for the private buyer, there was not a lot to hang one’s hat upon.
But for Toyota, the big question regarding Prius 5 has to be one of timing. There is no doubt that Toyota have succeeded in creating a far more visually attractive automobile, but will its arrival coincide with a decisive shift in the market as full EVs become the default choice. It will probably depend on the numbers.
What shall go to the ball? The Prius represented the future once, but the future now looks somewhat different. What remains unclear is how the market will view the fifth-generation Prius, and whether the latest iteration can sufficiently tilt perception in Toyota’s favour. Who shall go to the ball? Perhaps for the first time in 25 years, the Prius appears to be a genuinely attractive design. But is it timely or simply too late?
 Total cumulative sales of the Prius worldwide have reached approximately 5 million units, accounting Toyota say, for a reduction, equivalent to around 82 million tons of CO2 emissions as of March 2022.
 The outgoing Prius’ design was said by its designer to have been inspired by the stage costumes of popular songstress, Lady Gaga.
 The fully electric driving range for the PHEV is about 50% greater than the outgoing model.