A prototype 4 kW solar thermochemical reactor for the continuous splitting of carbon dioxide via the isothermal ceria redox cycle is demonstrated. These first tests of the new reactor showcase both the innovation of continuous on-sun fuel production in a single reactor and remarkably effective heat recovery of the sensible heat of the reactant and product gases. The impact of selection of gas flow rates is explored with respect to reactor fuel productivity and external energy costs of gas separation and pumping. Thermal impacts of gas flow selection are explored by coupling measured temperatures with a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) model to calculate internal temperature distributions and estimate heat recovery. Optimized gas flows selected for operation provide a 75% increase in fuel productivity and reduction in parasitic energy costs by 10% with respect to the design case.