2003 Toyota Prius Sedan Review | Edmunds.com

2003 Toyota Prius Sedan

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Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) is a category of used car. Often late-model vehicles, they have been inspected, refurbished, if necessary, and are under warranty by the manufacturer.
Toyota Prius Features and Specs

Features & Specs

  • Engine 1.5 L Inline 4-cylinder
  • Drivetrain Front Wheel Drive
  • Transmission CVT Automatic
  • Horse Power 114 hp @ 4500 rpm
  • Fuel Economy 42/41 mpg
  • Bluetooth No
  • Navigation No
  • Heated Seats No

Review of the 2003 Toyota Prius

  • One of the most interesting pieces of automotive hardware currently sold, the 2003 Toyota Prius is worth a look if you're shopping for a hybrid vehicle.

  • Safety
  • Pros

    Marathon fuel efficiency, roomy and comfortable interior.

  • Cons

    Quirky looks, no standard CD player, no fold-down rear seat, more expensive than most other frugal economy sedans.

  • What's New for 2003

    The 2003 Toyota Prius, a hybrid-electric vehicle, is unchanged.

Full 2003 Toyota Prius Review

What's New for 2003

The 2003 Toyota Prius, a hybrid-electric vehicle, is unchanged.


Due to increased pressure from governments, automakers have been looking for ways to meet increasingly stringent demands for cleaner tailpipe emissions and higher fuel mileage. In the '90s, electric cars like GM's EV1 were thought to be the answer, but they are limited by poor range and the fact that they have to be "plugged in" in order to be recharged. Hydrogen-fueled fuel cell cars will some day be the ultimate evolution of the automobile, as their exhaust by-product is essentially water vapor. But the technology for fuel cell cars is still young, and mass-produced fuel cell cars are a number of years away.

For today and the near future, the best hope is hybrid-electric vehicles. Hybrid cars combine a gasoline engine with an electric motor. And since hybrids are still fueled by gasoline, they don't have to be plugged in or recharged. In the case of the Toyota Prius, the result of hybrid technology is reduced emissions and improved fuel efficiency when compared to a normal gasoline-powered car. The only fear has been that a hybrid vehicle would never be useful as a real car that real people would want to buy. With the Prius, Toyota has largely quieted those fears.

While the Prius became available to the American consumer in 2001, Toyota has been selling them in Japan since December 1997. Compared to earlier Prius models, U.S. versions feature more horsepower, additional emissions equipment and a more powerful battery pack that is also smaller and lighter.

There are only three mainstream hybrid-electric vehicles for sale in the United States. There's the Prius, the Honda Insight and the Honda Civic Hybrid. Up until this year, we felt the Prius was the best choice, as it was more versatile than the two-seat Insight. But the Civic Hybrid is all-new for 2003, and in many ways this "second-generation" hybrid vehicle is superior to the Prius. The Civic would be our choice for a hybrid vehicle, though the 2003 Toyota Prius is still worth considering.

Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options

The 2003 Toyota Prius is available only as a four-door sedan with one trim level. With this, you get plenty of standard equipment, such as automatic climate control, air conditioning, power windows and locks, power steering, antilock brakes and keyless entry. The only factory options are cruise control, a DVD-based navigation system, side-impact airbags and daytime-running lights. A CD player isn't included, though you can get a six-disc CD changer as a dealer accessory.

Powertrains and Performance

Compared to most modern passenger sedans, Prius is a few fries short of an automotive power Happy Meal. Its aluminum 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine makes 70 horsepower and 82 pound-feet of torque. The electric drive motor is worth another 44 peak horsepower; Toyota says the hybrid system's net horsepower rating is 98. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is standard. Zero-to-60 mph takes 12.8 seconds, about three seconds slower than a comparable gasoline car.

But if all you are interested in is drag racing, big smoky burnouts and collecting John Force T-shirts, you're looking at the wrong car. What makes the Prius unique is that it is able to provide tolerable acceleration while also offering exceptional fuel mileage and squeaky-clean emissions. The EPA rates the Prius at 52 mpg in the city and 45 mpg on the highway, theoretically allowing over 600 miles between fill-ups. It also earns a Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV) rating, which means the Prius is considerably cleaner than vehicles with LEV or even ULEV ratings.


The Prius comes standard with antilock brakes. Front side airbags, should you want them, are optional. In the NHTSA's frontal crash tests, the 2003 Toyota Prius earned three stars (out of possible five) for driver safety and four stars for passenger safety.

Interior Design and Special Features

Accommodations are surprisingly good for a small car, with upright seating positions and good outward visibility. Two adults will fit in the backseat without too much complaint, and the trunk holds 11.8 cubic feet of cargo, a capacity that is similar to other small cars. The rear seat does not fold down, however.

Driving Impressions

At low speeds and during light throttle applications, the 2003 Toyota Prius relies completely on the electric motor for acceleration. This means that when the car is accelerating gently from a stop or driving around a parking lot, it might be doing it with 100 percent electrical power. The engine, meanwhile, is completely inert. In all other respects, the Prius pretty much drives like a regular car. Since it has a continuously variable transmission, there are no actual gears to select. The choices are simply park, reverse, neutral, drive or brake. Handling ability, as you might expect, is on the light side, but the Prius fairs well enough for its intended purpose.

What Others Are Saying

Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

Drive a prius

by on
Vehicle: 2003 Toyota Prius 4dr Sedan (1.5L 4cyl gas/electric hybrid CVT)

Our vehicle mileage just went over 100,000 miles. This car is amazing. We have averaged about 50 mpg for almost eight years. It's so quiet.

Will never buy a gas

by on
Vehicle: 2003 Toyota Prius 4dr Sedan (1.5L 4cyl gas/electric hybrid CVT)

I bought my 2003 model Prius in late 2002. At the time only two hybrids were available in the market, the other was Honda civic. I chose the Prius because it was roomier. I had a major engine problem a year ago but thankfully was covered under warranty: The fuel injectors were replaced. Otherwise the only other problem has been the tires wearing out fast. Make sure you get a warranty on tires.

Great car... wave to the

by on
Vehicle: 2003 Toyota Prius 4dr Sedan (1.5L 4cyl gas/electric hybrid CVT)

Outstanding car overall, Great gas mileage (46 avg.). Very reliable car. Better acceleration than most small cars and it handles very well. Much roomier than I expected.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

Glad i bought mine when

by on
Vehicle: 2003 Toyota Prius 4dr Sedan (1.5L 4cyl gas/electric hybrid CVT)

Very comfortable driver's seat.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

Toyota hybrid is a winner

by on
Vehicle: 2003 Toyota Prius 4dr Sedan (1.5L 4cyl gas/electric hybrid CVT)

After 4 years of driving I have found the 2003 Toyota Prius an excellent auto in every category except for comfort. The newer models are 5 inches longer which should improve the comfort. My average highway mileage is over 50 mpg regardless of speed. In town mileage is closer to 45 (Toyota claims you get better mileage in town but its not true). It has plenty of power to go up mountains and can keep up with the best of cars and trucks on the Interstate. I have had only one minor glitch during the 4 years of my ownership and that was a minor computer that was replaced free by Toyota. Maintenance has been comparable to a regular gasoline car, except for the $700 cost of the 60,000 maintenance.

A little bit disappointed

by on
Vehicle: 2003 Toyota Prius 4dr Sedan (1.5L 4cyl gas/electric hybrid CVT)

We were so excited to own this car. It is our first new car and I share it with my wife. We drive it more then average drivers ~18-19000 per year. We average 40 miles per gallon and that is when we do not use the air conditioning. We have asked our Toyota dealership about it and they have not been able to answer except by saying it must be because we always accelerate too fast, which is untrue. We also recently had to replace the "transmission knob sensor" at a cost of $750 and it was no longer under warranty. we have also had some other quality problems with the car. It also goes through tires faster then other cars.

Talk About The 2003 Prius

2003 Toyota Prius Discussions See all Started By

My Sister has a 2003 Toyota Prius and when she goes to start the engine will roll over, but it won't start. My brother says it's the fuel pump, or something. Does anyone have any idea what it could ...

I bouught a used 2003 prius in sept, 2007. Monday I had the oil changed by toyota. Since then it has run harder and louder. Yesterday it stalled and gave me three warning lights: Power Steering, Hybri...

Anyway, this same person was looking on the toyota webside and tell me everything I wanted to know about the Prius .....2003! He even shown me the picture of the 2003 that he thought the prius 2004! ...

Gas Mileage


  • 42
  • cty
  • 41
  • highway
Calculate Yearly Fuel Costs
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