As the first mass-produced hybrid vehicle, and the second such green machine to debut in America (behind the original Honda Insight), the Toyota Prius has gone through three different generations. For used car buyers in the United States, the first-generation Prius, which spanned from 1997 to 2000, is unavailable. This leaves two generation of Toyota Prius vehicles to choose from - 2nd generation (2001 to 2003) and 3rd generation (2004 to present).
Current Toyota Prius Generation
Updated for the 2004 model year, the 2004 Toyota Prius was redesigned to deliver more power and larger proportions. The exterior layout moved from a standard sedan styling to a more hatchback-influenced design. The result is significant improvement in rear passenger room, making the current Prius the better choice for those who like to spread out.
Under the hood, the present Toyota Prius matches a 1.5-liter gas engine with two electric motors. Though the same power plant as the one found in the previous generation, numerous technological advancements helped raise the combined power to 110 horsepower. Improved aerodynamics of the hatchback design and other new features bring EPA fuel estimates to 48 mpg in the city and 45 mpg on the highway. Real-world driving tends to come in around 45 mpg.
Overall, the latest generation Prius is more comfortable then the previous model. New features include xenon headlamps, remote keyless ignition, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. Year-to-year changes for the current Prius generation are as follows:
- 2005 Toyota Prius: Rear window wiper and washer moves from optional to standard equipment
- 2006 Toyota Prius: Styling is updated slightly. A rearview camera becomes an available option.
- 2007 Toyota Prius: A sport-inspired Touring model is introduced. The previously optional side and side curtain airbags become standard features.
- 2008 Toyota Prius: A base Standard model is added that lacks heated mirrors and cruise control. As a result, the entry price to the Prius is reduced.
Previous Toyota Prius Generation
The first Toyota Prius built for the American market remains popular on the used vehicle market. Despite a smaller interior, slower acceleration and less overall power, the 2001-2003 Toyota Prius is still one of the best options for those seeking an affordable hybrid vehicle. If you're looking to save a few bucks, it may be worth giving up a bit of the interior space and comfort found in the current Toyota Prius generation.
Keep in mind, however, that fuel efficiency is not quite as good on the older generation, with the EPA placing estimates at 42 mpg in the city and 41 mpg on the highway. Also, while the Prius retains Toyota's legendary reliability, repairs may be pricey due to the high-tech electric technology. Hopefully, some of the future repairs you may encounter will be covered by the vehicle's original 8-year/100,000 warranty.
Year-to-year changes for the 1st-generation American Prius are as follows:
- 2002 Toyota Prius: Front side airbags, cruise control and a GPS navigation system become new optional equipment.
- 2003 Toyota Prius: Received no changes over the 2002 model year.
Alternative Vehicle Options
If you are considering a used Toyota Prius, then you are likely in the market for a hybrid vehicle. The 2001 to 2003 Toyota Prius originally only had one such competitor - the Honda Insight. In 2003, the Honda Civic Hybrid was introduced. If you're more interested in the latest Prius generation, then the Honda Civic hybrid remains a strong competitor. Other recent hybrids that are worth looking into include the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Chevrolet Malibu.