I’ve been as enamored with the new 2023 Toyota Prius Prime’s looks as everyone else. Its glow-up from dorky little shuttlecraft to sleek space chariot was one of the best car body style evolutions we’ve seen in a minute. I don’t think our dogs cared about that too much, but they certainly enjoyed zooming around in near-silence.
Welcome to Will It Dog, The Drive's car review series for canine owners. Here we'll look at what a new Prius is like to live with if you have dogs and point out any specific aspects that help or hurt its case as a dog taxi. We'll focus on the car's physical attributes when it comes to carrying animals rather than driving dynamics but provide insights there too.
Our main test dogs Bramble and Indi are littermates; half Golden Retriever (dad) and half Australian Shepherd (mom). Bramble's the smallest at 40-odd pounds while her brother is about 60 pounds. Levi is a leviathan of a lab with a head like a wrecking ball and the temperament of a tree.
2023 Prius Prime Specs for Dog Owners
Interior Materials and Layout
The Prius is a mediumish-sized (by American standards—Euros might call it huge) hatchback. The interior layout is pretty standard with two seats up front separated by a busy center console, a bench rear seat, and a cargo bay area behind. Even though the Prius looks low, Toyota’s people did a nice job of making it feel airy in the cabin and getting a lot out of the trunk space. Folding down the back seats unlocks loads of flat space for a large-breed animal in or out of a kennel.
The plastics and soft surfaces all seemed so much nicer than the Prii I normally encounter—in Ubers or taxis with a quarter-million miles of hard use on them. But I also think this car’s interior stands on its own as nicely appointed. The arrangement of the shifter, climate controls, and infotainment screen is very traditional and user-friendly.
But a clean digital gauge cluster and nicely shaped dashboard keep the vehicle looking contemporary. The steering wheel has quite a few big buttons on it, it almost reminds me of an oversized TV remote for old people (anybody else buy those as a joke?). That’s the only place I think this new-gen Prius hung onto any Poindexter energy it might have had in previous iterations.
The seats are good, maybe not exceptional, but certainly acceptable. As far as your dog’s concerned, the main layout aspect that matters is how low the rear seats and footwell are, and how easy it is to get paws on the center console. Bramble the 45-pound Aussie Shep-Retriever was quick to try and stand between the front two seats. Of course, this is mitigated if your dog rides with a belt, but still.
Climbing In and Out
Ingress and egress to the back seat are exceptionally easy with this car. Even the smallest-breed healthy dogs should be able to hop up over that door sill. But if your furry friend needs a boost, you’ll be OK even if they’re on the porky side because you won’t have to get them very high.
The rear hatch is also a lot lower than it is on pretty much any SUV. Many dogs would be able to hop into the cargo bay from the ground, and again, if you had to lift one it wouldn’t be much of an issue. The top of the hatch is quite tall when it’s open and it closes with the touch of a button. Indi, another Aussie Shep-Retriever, was in the cargo area for our door-closing test. Despite the rrrr-sound the mechanism made and its steady downward speed, the dog wasn’t bothered by it and calmly let the hatch close around it. And don’t worry—of course, we measure the window-to-dog-head gap before shutting the door.
Reactive animals might have more trouble, but our test dogs didn’t mind the automated hatch-closing mechanism at all.
Driving With the Dog
The new Prius may look sporty and while it’s certainly not unpleasant to drive, it’s not exactly titillating the way a GR86, Supra, or stick-shift Corolla can be. That being the case, I was inclined to spend most of my time with this car loping around looking for maximum fuel economy rather than tire-slaying. Bramble appreciated that because there’s no real bucket area for dogs to nestle into with this car. She’s got an exceptional sense of balance and “surfs” in the middle of a bench seat very well, but other pups might have a harder time staying in place through turns.
The fully retracting back seat windows were popular with the pooches, though. They had no trouble getting their snoots out the windows for some sniffs at low speed.
There were a few instances where Bramble tried to climb across the console into the cockpit, which you do have to watch out for with this car, but for the most part, she stayed on the back seat.
Driving in General
The Prius Prime is not slow—you probably won’t feel a primal urge to drive when you swing it around, but the stomp to 60 mph feels brisk and more than just keeps up with traffic. My colleague Maddox Kay wrote a whole review on the new Prius driving experience, so check him out to go deeper on driving dynamics. I’m going to get back to dogs.
I’m not sure if it was the heat, or that day’s kibble wasn’t cooked right, or what, but the dogs were a little tough to contain in this car. Bramble, her brother Indi, and guest Levi (a big lab) were all on top of each other in the back seat and fought over who would get to stand on the center console.
Moving one of the animals to the cargo bay (which Indi didn’t mind, as I mentioned) made things a lot easier. Multiple broad animals is a tough proposition in any car, so I’m here to tell you it’s possible to put four big dogs onboard but it could get pretty chaotic. One or two fit just fine, though.
The rear cargo area didn’t quite have the space for our medium-sized kennel in assembled (habitable) mode, but the back seat did. The company that sells these kennels, Diggs, gave us this Enventur unit to demo and I’m glad it did—the fact that it’s inflatable lets us fit it in far more cars more easily than would be with a solid hard kennel because I can deflate it partially, push it through the door, and re-inflate when it’s inside. As you can see, it does in fact work in the back seat of the Prius because of this.
A kennel like this would offer much better crash protection for your dog than nothing. However, it also takes up a sizable portion of cargo space. Sometimes they’re simply not practical.
The only way you could fit a solid medium-sized kennel in this vehicle would be with all the seats folded down. And even then, the low roofline would prevent bigger ones from going in without being broken down.
Toyota Prius Prime Dog-Friendliness Verdict
I concur with pretty much all the praise that’s been heaped on the new Prius Prime already in terms of design and execution. As an efficient, simple, good-looking getaround machine, it rocks. As a dog taxi, it’s solid. Better than decent, not amazing, not terrible. Small to medium-sized dogs will be the most compatible with it, but you could even squeeze a Newfie or a Great Dane if you could allocate the entire area aft of the driver’s seat to the pup.
If you’re sniffing around buying a Prius Prime and you’re wondering if your dog will be OK with it, broadly speaking, I think it will be. Hopefully, some of the sections above helped answer more detailed questions, but if not, drop a comment and I’ll try to fill in the gaps.
Featured Dog Car Gear and Travel Accessories
Harness: Säker Ascension Extended ($99.95 at sakercanine.com)
Leash: Säker Sentiero 2.0 ($33.95 at sakercanine.com)
Seat Cover: Dickie’s Repreve ($29.88 at Walmart)
Portable Kennel: Enventur Travel Kennel (starts at $425.00 at Diggs.pet)
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