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Up Close With the 2023 Toyota Prius and Prius Prime: Function Finally Meets Form

When you think of the Toyota Prius, what do you think of? Until recently, “fuel-efficient” and a variety of synonyms probably topped your list. With the fifth-generation 2023 Prius and the second iteration of the Prius Prime unveiled here at the 2022 Los Angeles Auto Show, however, Toyota has made the Prius … sexy? All-new styling and a new platform join significant powertrain upgrades to make the Prius hybrid and Prius Prime plug-in hybrid genuinely compelling — not just as fuel-efficient choices, but actually fun compact cars.

Related: More 2022 L.A. Auto Show Coverage

Looks are subjective, certainly, and some will still find issues with the Prius’ design, but it’s very difficult to argue that it doesn’t look a lot better than prior generations. The swooping, aerodynamic design retains the Prius’ distinctive roofline, but nearly everything else is new. The wheels are bigger, with 19-inchers standard on higher trims; the rear is more stylish and wider than prior generations, and the rear quarters actually look muscular. The least flattering angle is probably from head on, but even then, the Prius in person still looks … good. I promise it’s just as weird to write that as it is to read it.

The interior is also improved, though there are more drawbacks. Rather than the unusual center-mounted instrument panel, the Prius and Prius Prime have an instrument panel directly ahead of the driver. Like the bZ4X EV, however, it’s perched awkwardly above the steering wheel, which still feels too low for my tastes. The available 12.3-inch touchscreen display and thoughtfully organized physical climate and audio controls are welcome, however, and are also likely familiar to Toyota fans.

The backseat, however, is cramped. Toyota lowered the roof of the Prius 2 inches, but it doesn’t feel as though the rear seats were lowered in response. Legroom is adequate, but headroom is terrible — my head was firmly planted into the headliner when I hopped in the back.

Toyota promises significant performance improvements for both the Prius and Prius Prime. Not only are both supposed to be significantly quicker, but Toyota says the Prius is the most fuel-efficient Prius yet and the Prius Prime has significantly more all-electric range. Additionally, Toyota says both will have improved ride and handling characteristics. If Toyota can deliver on those promises — we’ll have to wait until we drive it to be sure — the 2023 Prius and Prius Prime will both look and act the part of fun, fuel-efficient cars.

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