When the 2023 Toyota Prius was first unveiled, pretty much the entire universe was taken aback by its all-new, and honestly striking, styling. The whole design really works well to create a cohesive, futuristic look for a car that has never really been known as a style icon. Toyota says this departure from the Prius’s past is the company’s way of making the hybrid more appealing to younger buyers. I sat down with Satoki Oya, chief engineer on the new fifth-generation Prius, to learn more.
“We wanted to make a good looking car that drove and performed well, and so when design first brought me the initial sketch, I thought it was really good,” Oya told me through a translator. “So, the whole development team said, ‘we want to build this.’ What you see is actually the end result of that.”
During our conversation, Oya also slyly ribbed the Prius that’s currently on the market, saying that the Prius has always been a good-looking vehicle... “putting the fourth generation aside.”
I asked Oya to name his favorite part of the new vehicle’s design. Coincidentally, it’s the exact same part I find most interesting: the side profile.
To Oya and myself, the real focal point of the new Prius is the roofline. The apex of the roof has been pushed fairly far back, cresting behind the b-pillar. It’s a unique touch that really sets the car apart — not just from other hybrids, but from most passenger cars in general.
In a very un-Toyota move, this styling comes at the expense of practicality. Headroom up front isn’t really an issue, but in the rear, the sloping roofline means there’s very little room if you have a head. It also takes away some cargo space, and on top of all that, the shape slightly reduces the aerodynamic efficiency of the vehicle. Toyota says the new Prius has a coefficient of drag of 0.27, whereas the old car managed a slightly more slippery 0.25.
The style-for-style’s-sake moves continue along the side of the car. There’s an enormous character line that climbs up the driver’s doors, helping to visually thin out the bulk of the lower body. And on the topic of doors, the new Prius has electronic rear door handles hidden in the C-pillar.
To me, the rear three-quarter angle is the best view of the new car. It really shows how far this Prius has come from prior generations.
Part of the car’s newfound long and sleek look comes from Toyota pushing the 17-inch (or optional 19-inch) wheels further toward the corners of the car. That means smaller front and rear overhangs as well as a wheelbase that’s now 50mm (just under 2 inches) longer than before. On top of that, the new Prius is one inch longer and one inch wider than the outgoing model, with a roofline that’s two inches lower.
A big Prius design feature that went missing on this model is the old split rear window, gone away in favor of a more traditional liftback design. This does hurt rearward visibility a bit, but with an excellent back-up camera, it’s a small price to pay in the name of fashion.
The styling at the front and rear of the new Prius is a bit more conventional, pushing forward Toyota’s new design language in a way that all works together nicely. Simple lines and shapes give the hybrid a minimalist look. Of course, the latest lighting trends are here: Narrow, angled DRLs that look like headlights, while the actual low- and high-beam elements are almost completely hidden in a darkened recess of the headlight unit. A full-width light bar at the rear lets you know this is a thoroughly modern car.
So while the new Prius may sacrifice a little practicality, it does so on the way to being the new styling standard for Toyota. The automaker finally seems to be letting its hair down a bit. Most of the time, I’d say a trade-off like this is a mistake on an everyday car. But the fifth-generation Prius looks so good, I’m willing to let it slide.