As with many of Toyota's vehicles, the Prius (from the Latin "to go before") has become a standard-bearer in its segment. While many automakers' hybrid models are still in their nascent stages, Toyota's Prius is already well into its fourth generation. This four-door hatchback hybrid has become a hit with consumers because of its stellar fuel economy, spacious cabin, relatively uncompromised driving characteristics and reasonable price.
Due to its popularity and relatively long sales history, Toyota's original hybrid car is a strong candidate for a shopper interested in a used hybrid vehicle. Pleasingly, Toyota's solid reputation for reliability and durability is holding true for the Prius. However, potential buyers of a used Prius should take extra care during the research process. As the Toyota Prius is quite complex, future repairs and part replacements could be quite expensive.
Current Toyota Prius
There are six Prius trim levels: Two, Two Eco, Three, Three Touring, Four and Four Touring. Standard feature highlights for the Prius One and Two include 15-inch wheels, keyless ignition and entry, automatic climate control, adaptive cruise control, automatic LED headlights, a rearview camera, and a Bluetooth-compatible touchscreen stereo. Standard safety features include forward collision mitigation with automatic braking, lane departure warning and intervention, and automatic high beams. The Prius Two Eco adds low rolling resistance tires and a lighter battery and eliminates the spare tire (replaced with an inflation kit) and rear wiper.
The Prius Three builds on the Two with an upgraded stereo with navigation, satellite radio and the Toyota Entune app suite, as well as a wireless charging pad and upgraded interior trim. The Prius Four adds blind-spot monitoring, automatic wipers, imitation leather upholstery with contrasting white stitching, heated front seats, power adjustment for the driver seat, and a rear cargo cover. Both the Three and Four are available in Touring versions, which add 17-inch wheels, foglights, a unique rear bumper and imitation leather with blue stitching.
The Toyota Prius' hybrid powertrain consists of a 1.8-liter gasoline engine that's used in conjunction with two electric motors and a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Total system power is 121 horsepower; fuel economy rates an impressive 52 mpg combined, while the Two Eco is rated for a remarkable 56 mpg.
Under full acceleration, both gasoline and electric power sources work together to provide maximum propulsion. In stop-and-go traffic, the Prius usually runs on battery power alone, which maximizes fuel economy. Under deceleration, the electric motors switch to generator mode, recharging the car's batteries. As expected, performance is far from exciting, but adequate for passing and merging onto highways. The Prius' space-efficient hatchback body provides a roomy backseat and cargo area, making it a plausible replacement for a family sedan or compact SUV. Interior fittings and materials on the current Prius are of high quality, a sharp contrast from the third-generation vehicle.
Used Toyota Prius Models
The current Prius represents the fourth-generation model, which made its debut for 2016. This latest Prius' styling is controversial, but improvements to cargo space, cabin ambiance, refinement and fuel economy made it a very appealing hybrid.
Prior to this was the third-generation Toyota Prius offered from 2010 through 2015. Its general shape remained largely unchanged compared to the previous generation, though the sheet metal took on a more sculpted character. The interior received a more radical overhaul, with a more conventional center control stack and the hybrid system display relocated high on the dash. It was also a bit more comfortable for taller drivers, thanks to a height-adjustable seat and a telescoping steering wheel. Unfortunately, the interior materials were rather low rent.
The 2010-'15 Prius' hybrid powertrain produced 134 hp, and fuel economy rated an impressive 50 mpg combined. There were four Prius trim levels: Two, Three, Four and Five. Changes throughout the model run were minor; pre-2012 models lack a few features offered on later versions, such as power front seats and the Entune smartphone integration system, and a rearview camera was added to the standard equipment list in 2015. Overall, this Prius stood out for its high fuel economy, roomy rear seating and cargo area, and many available tech features. Downsides included slow acceleration, low-buck interior materials and elevated wind and road noise at highway speeds.
The second-generation Toyota Prius was produced for the 2004-'09 model years. It sat five people in a four-door hatchback body that provided extra versatility in terms of carrying items. This Prius' hybrid powertrain featured a smaller, 1.5-liter gasoline engine that produced 76 hp and 82 pound-feet of torque. With the electric motor spinning out power, peak net hp was 110.
Aside from its hybrid system upgrades, most buyers will find the interior to be the biggest area of difference between the second-generation model and the current Prius. The dashboard and controls were unconventional and futuristic, with stereo, climate, vehicle system and optional navigation controls residing in a touchscreen interface. There were steering wheel buttons for frequently used items, but ultimately, too much was put under the jurisdiction of the touchscreen (which could wash out in sunlight). The odd gear-selector action of today's Prius was carried over from this generation, but then it was mounted on the dash. Another important difference to note is the lack of a telescoping steering wheel and height adjustment, making for an even more awkward driving position for taller people.
During its successful tenure in Toyota's lineup, this second-generation Prius received minor changes. For 2006, a back-up camera, leather upholstery, leather-wrapped steering wheel and an auxiliary audio jack were added to the options list. A Prius Touring model was added the following year with a slightly firmer "sport" suspension, different 16-inch alloy wheels, a larger rear lip spoiler and several optional items. Side and side curtain airbags also became standard across the board. A "standard" trim level, which lacks cruise control and heated mirrors but in exchange had a significantly lower base price, was added for 2008.
In reviews of the Toyota Prius, our editors have cited outstanding mileage, ultralow emissions, hatchback utility and a reasonable price as the car's greatest strengths. Downsides include soft handling characteristics at highway speeds and, compared to regular midsize sedans, unimpressive maximum acceleration. Most Prius owners say their cars typically achieve real-world mpg ratings in the mid-40s.
The original Prius debuted in the North American market for the 2001 model year. However, Toyota had been selling it in Japan since 1997. This model was the second hybrid vehicle available to U.S. consumers after the Honda Insight. In just about every aspect, the original Prius has been eclipsed by the second-generation car. The first-generation Toyota is slower, smaller and not as comfortable.
Though less advanced than those in the newer generations, the older Prius' powertrain still paired a gasoline engine with an electric motor. Its 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine made 70 hp at 4,500 rpm and 82 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm. The electric drive motor was worth another 44 peak hp.