2003 Toyota Prius Review

Pros & Cons

  • Marathon fuel efficiency, roomy and comfortable interior.
  • Quirky looks, no standard CD player, no fold-down rear seat, more expensive than most other frugal economy sedans.
List Price Estimate
$1,533 - $3,468

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Edmunds' Expert Review

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.

Vehicle overview

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.

2003 Toyota Prius models

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.

2003 Highlights

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

Performance & mpg

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.

Safety

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.

Driving

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.

Interior

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.


Consumer reviews

Read what other owners think about the Used 2003 Toyota Prius.

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Most helpful consumer reviews

Drive a Prius
RLG,03/22/2009
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.
Love the Prius! still going.............
Tone,08/30/2002
4dr Sedan (1.5L 4cyl gas/electric hybrid CVT)
To my surprise,the Prius is a great hybrid car. The Prius has very arrowdynamic exterior styling,especially in the front. If you want a hybrid car,this is a great choice.I have about 500 miles on my new 2003 prius. 507 to be exact and I'm stil on my first tank of gas!!!!!!! LOVE the gas mileage! This car is huge on the inside:).It seems almost like you are sitting in a Camry. Not the best looking car I've ever seen, but it is definitely great value for the dollar. All Toyotas are.:)
Glad I bought mine when I did
jack,11/12/2006
4dr Sedan (1.5L 4cyl gas/electric hybrid CVT)
Very comfortable driver's seat.
The best car I've ever bought
diesel power,03/21/2004
4dr Sedan (1.5L 4cyl gas/electric hybrid CVT)
I purchased my 03 after test driving the 04 model. I bought the 03 as 6ft tall adults can fit in the back, something not possible in the new model. I now have 16k miles on my car, and I've had 0 warranty issues with this car. Lifetime fuel economy so far is 46.8 mpg. This number keeps climbing. Toyota has brought us the future of automobiles. The rest of the industry needs to take notice, or risk being left to oblivion. I routinely drive over 35k miles annually. I've driven this car on a 3200 mile round trip from Dallas TX, to Haliburton, Ontario, and back. It's performance was nothing less than stellar.

Safety

NHTSA Overall Rating

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration offers independent analysis.
  • Frontal Barrier Crash Rating
    OverallNot Rated
    Driver3 / 5
    Passenger4 / 5
  • Side Crash Rating
    OverallNot Rated
  • Side Barrier Rating
    OverallNot Rated
    Driver3 / 5
    Passenger3 / 5
  • Combined Side Barrier & Pole Ratings
    Front SeatNot Rated
    Back SeatNot Rated
  • Rollover
    Rollover4 / 5
    Dynamic Test ResultNo Tip
    Risk Of RolloverNot Rated

More about the 2003 Toyota Prius

Used 2003 Toyota Prius Overview

The Used 2003 Toyota Prius is offered in the following submodels: Prius Sedan. Available styles include 4dr Sedan (1.5L 4cyl gas/electric hybrid CVT). The Used 2003 Toyota Prius comes with front wheel drive. Available transmissions include: continuously variable-speed automatic. The Used 2003 Toyota Prius comes with a 3 yr./ 36000 mi. basic warranty, a 3 yr./ 36000 mi. roadside warranty, and a 5 yr./ 60000 mi. powertrain warranty.

What's a good price on a Used 2003 Toyota Prius?

Shop with Edmunds for perks and special offers on used cars, trucks, and SUVs near Ashburn, VA. Doing so could save you hundreds or thousands of dollars. Edmunds also provides consumer-driven dealership sales and service reviews to help you make informed decisions about what cars to buy and where to buy them.

Which used 2003 Toyota Priuses are available in my area?

Shop Edmunds' car, SUV, and truck listings of over 6 million vehicles to find a cheap new, used, or certified pre-owned (CPO) 2003 Toyota Prius for sale near. Simply research the type of car you're interested in and then select a used car from our massive database to find cheap prew-owned vehicles for sale near you. Once you have identified a used vehicle you're interested in, check the AutoCheck vehicle history reports, read dealer reviews, and find out what other owners paid for the Used 2003 Toyota Prius.

Can't find a used 2003 Toyota Priuss you want in your area? Consider a broader search.

Find a used Toyota Prius for sale - 12 great deals out of 23 listings starting at $16,053.

Find a used Toyota for sale - 11 great deals out of 22 listings starting at $16,393.

Find a used certified pre-owned Toyota Prius for sale - 10 great deals out of 18 listings starting at $16,612.

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Should I lease or buy a 2003 Toyota Prius?

Is it better to lease or buy a car? Ask most people and they'll probably tell you that car buying is the way to go. And from a financial perspective, it's true, provided you're willing to make higher monthly payments, pay off the loan in full and keep the car for a few years. Leasing, on the other hand, can be a less expensive option on a month-to-month basis. It's also good if you're someone who likes to drive a new car every three years or so.

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