It ain’t an ugly duckling no more!
Special Correspondent to THE AUTO CHANNEL
In my wildest dreams I never thought I would be singing the praises of the Toyota Prius. To be sure, this model has long appealed to a legion of fans who love Prius for its economical green virtue. But from the first generation (2001-03) through seven subsequent Prius iterations, this pioneer hybrid from Toyota carried the stigma of ugly compounded by the stink of slow. After attending the introduction of the third generation (2010-2015), I thought, "Who would buy a car that looks like an insect and has an interior patterned after a latrine?" But in retrospect, even that Prius looked decent compared to the recently departed Prius Prime (2017-2022), a truly hideous design good for the gag reflex.
So it was not without significant trepidation that I greeted Toyota's latest take on their loved/hated pioneer hybrid. Right from the get-go, this beauty scored a solid 10 in the appearance department. In Limited form, with its Op Art alloys and ultra short sidewall 19-inch rubber (195/50R19 Toyo Extensa A/L), the new Limited is stunning. Finished in "Cutting Edge" silver, the Prius Limited that landed in my driveway is a sure sales winner. None of the great Italian design houses (Ghia, Pininfarina, Bertone) could have surpassed the refined beauty of this show-worthy product from Toyota. Study the sweep of the side sculpting, or examine how elegantly the rear door handles have been blended into the C pillars. Not a line is amiss. Even when you partially lower the windows, the outline of the lowered glass perfectly matches the contours of the upper and lower body side character lines. Blissfully simplified front and rear valances transform what once was the mongrel of the Toyota fleet into a stylistic purebred.
The elation continues once you climb into the comfortable, logical, and simplified cockpit. In Limited trim, the supportive front and rear seats are all heated, as is the steering wheel rim. The Limited boosts the standard Prius' 9-inch Multi-Media panel to 12.3 inches. Toyota situates an additional 7-inch Multi-Information Display panel directly in front of the driver, displaced nearly a foot forward of the steering wheel. This positioning puts it more clearly in your line of sight than a normal instrument binnacle's location. It's like having a head-up display without the fuzziness of window refraction.
We quickly got to terms with the performance potential of the Prius after our first tromp of the accelerator pedal. This one accelerated like no previous Prius we have ever tested, posting a 0-60 time of 7.1 seconds, and a standing start quarter-mile run of 15.5 seconds at 92mph. That proved more than quick enough to dive in and out of passing situations on two-lane roads. Even better than the 194hp zip provided by the hybrid powertrain is the precise handling of this package. The revised Prius Limited takes maximum advantage of its surprisingly sticky Toyo rubber (TW300) to cut apexes like no Prius has ever done. Although this new model is available with AWD, our test example powered only its front wheels. Because there's not enough horsepower to occasion torque-steer, the 194hp version handles with complete neutrality: no steering wheel snatch, no front end washout, no handling drama whatsoever. This one just goes where you point it with great dispatch, no complaints and minimal engine noise.
We particularly enjoyed running it up Highway 101 for an extended cruise during which we were able to assess its freeway attributes. The slinky shape of the fuselage means no wind noise, while the cruise control worked flawlessly in conjunction with lane keeping assist and lane tracing to provide a stress-free driving experience. We locked the cruise control speed at 70mph, adjusted the gap distance to its shortest setting of one car length, settled back and let the marvels of AI take over. Only once did the system kick-off for no apparent reason with a warning that "Lane Tracing Is Unavailable" and "Manual Steering Is Required." The rest of the trip we kept our hands loosely on the leather rim of the wheel, while the Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 system took care of the course and speed corrections. It was the best performance I have ever experienced from such automation.
One week in this Prius has made me do a complete rethink about the car skeptics once called the Pius. Toyota is currently running a brilliant ad campaign for the newcomer with the tagline: "Prius. It's Rebellious Now." The graphics show a black Prius making hay through fields of grazing white sheep. In addition to all its other virtues, this Toyota returned 52MPG in both city and highway driving. After driving it everywhere all week, our fuel range, which started at 430 miles, still showed 131 miles left to go. Even the initial outlay for the Limited is economical, with a base price of $34,465, and a bottom line of $37,494. A plug-in version, the Prius Prime, is available, with an EV-only range of 37 miles. It carries a base price of $33,445 for the SE and $40,265 for the top line XSE Premium. Although the Prime gains 26hp over the Limited, it also gains 351 pounds of curb weight. Since acceleration times of both models are virtually identical, we'd opt for the cheaper and lighter model we tested.
2023 TOYOTA PRIUS LIMITED
ENGINE: 2.0 liter inline-4, DOHC, 16-valve plus 2 AC motors, 0.09kWh lithium-ion battery
HORSEPOWER: 194hp (combined)
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 52 MPG City & Highway
PRICE AS TESTED: $37,494
HYPES: Divine Styling, Great Handling
GRIPES: No Rear Wiper, Goofy Shift Pattern
STAR RATING: 10 Stars out of 10
©2023 David E Colman