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The Prius gets a glow-up, but it’s still just a hybrid

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Image: Toyota

Toyota’s Prius has long been the ugly duckling of the eco-car market, but the automaker is finally delivering a version that’s easier on the eyes. The redesigned fifth-generation 2023 Prius was just revealed in Japan, with a sportier coupe-like look to hide that it’s still a four-door compact with hybrid and plug-in hybrid options.

It’s certainly prettier, no doubt — the 1997 Prius was the first mass-produced hybrid electric vehicle, but it wasn’t very visually appealing, nor were any of the successive iterations. Toyota says this new one follows the “monoform silhouette” design introduced in the second-generation Prius (2003-2009), and the development team started from scratch to create a “Hybrid Reborn” concept that heavily informs this new Prius.

The new Prius also uses the automaker’s second-generation TNGA platform that’s lighter and shares parts with other Toyota vehicles. Previously, the 2016 Prius was the first model to adopt the old TNGA.

But the Prius is still a Prius. It’s got 1.8 / 2.0-liter combustion engine options on the new hybrid-only system that can output 144kW of drivable power. The plug-in version comes with a 2.0-liter engine, has a power output of 166kW, and can achieve a 0–62 mph acceleration in 6.7 seconds, thanks to a bigger battery.

When driving all-electric, the new plug-in Prius achieves about 50 percent higher range than the previous model. In the US, the latest Prius Prime has about a 25-mile range, so the new Prius may achieve around 37.5 miles in all-electric mode. Toyota plans to release North American version details soon.

 Image: Toyota
 Image: Toyota

Toyota has had a tough time getting real fully electric vehicles off the ground, though. Last month, it said it’s going back to the drawing board on its e-TNGA flexible EV platform after releasing a mediocre at best bZ4X EV that became subject to a major recall to keep its wheels attached (the issue has been resolved). So while Toyota looks to sort all that out for next year, it decided to continue doing what it does best: make more hybrids.

Environmentalists are less than thrilled. “The sale of more hybrid vehicles, including the Prius, drags us further into the climate crisis,” said Greenpeace East Asia climate and energy campaigner Daniel Read in an emailed statement. “When the Prius was first released, it was on the cutting edge of low carbon transport. However, 25 years later, it is clear that hybrid vehicle technology is not sufficient to cap global heating at 1.5C.”

(Greenpeace recently knocked Toyota, as well as GM, Volkswagen, and Hyundai, for continuing to sell internal combustion engine vehicles at a rate that will make it impossible to rein in the worst effects of climate change.)

Beyond Toyota’s disappointing EV track record, the Prius is getting some interesting features. There are cameras at the front and rear of the car, a digital rear-view mirror, and a built-in recorder as well (though Toyota says it records to the internal computer and won’t have a removable SD card). And like Toyota’s bZ4X EV, there are solar panels present on the new Prius plug-in. It can charge the main drive battery while stationary and the accessory battery while in motion.

 Image: Toyota
Use your Prius like an portable battery pack, and keep out the elements out with this cover.

You can also use the Prius as a portable battery pack with 100-volt AC power plugs in the rear center console and in the cargo area. It can take a load of up to 1,500W solely on the battery, or you can switch it to hybrid to generate electricity using the gas engine. Toyota even supplies a window jam accessory that lets you run a power cord into the cabin and still keep the car secured from the elements.

The 2023 Prius, with its new looks and features, is an appealing hybrid that will certainly get plenty of attention. Toyota is reportedly considering hitting the reset button on its EV plans for investing $17.6 billion in battery tech, but it hasn’t publicly laid out a new path yet. It may be too late to successfully lobby the government to slow down EV adoption (again), but it’s never too late to build something new.

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