Table of Contents
First Generation (2000 – 2003)
Back in 2000, when the Prius came to the United States, it looked like a regular four-door sedan. But under the hood was the real magic; a hybrid drive train that competitors could not match for several years.
The Prius was powered by a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that was coupled to a synchronous electric motor. All this fancy technology made the car heavier, and it did not turn out very well in terms of performance. But come to think of it, performance was very low on the charts for the designers; their main focus was fuel economy.
The first-generation Prius did not disappoint in its core objective. Achieving 52 miles per gallon in the city and 45 miles per gallon on highways, the Prius turned out to be revolutionary. It could carry five passengers and had ample room in the back for luggage or groceries with that mileage.
The good fuel efficiency and low emissions landed the Prius in the Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicle, or ULEV, category. For owning a Prius, you could get a $2,000 tax deduction for being a “green” citizen.
Since it has been over twenty years, it is hard to find a first-generation Prius these days. Only 65,000 were sold in the three years it remained in production.
There were two common faults in the first generation: A defective sensor would often lead to an oil leak. The faulty Electronic Power Steering (EPS) motor often gave in, making the steering wheel extremely heavy to turn.
If you want to buy the first-generation Prius, you will have difficulty finding one because few are remaining. They will cost around $5.000 and have an odometer starting from 100,000 and going beyond 200,000 miles.
Second Generation (2003 – 2009)
With the success of the first-generation Prius, Toyota was putting it all in to make the second generation an even bigger success. Launched in 2003, the second-generation Prius is bigger than a Corolla but smaller than a Camry. This model offered more legroom and luggage space as compared to its predecessor.
When you hear the word Prius, you get an image in your mind.The chances are that the image is of this generation. This model was produced for six years, and during its tenure, Toyota sold over 500,000 units. During this time, almost everyone recognized the Prius as soon as they saw it on the road.
There were many innovations made over the first Prius in this model. One of the features that stood out was an all-electric AC compressor. With the compressor being powered by the electric motor, it helped save on fuel consumption.
The car was redesigned from a sedan to the now-famous liftback to improve aerodynamics. Although the fuel efficiency dropped from the previous generation, this model offered many more benefits:
- The car was longer and provided more space for passengers and luggage
- The dashboard layout hosted a 7-inch screen combined with steering wheel buttons, cruise control, and a digital gauge cluster
- Side-mounted driver and passenger airbags
- Security Alarm
- HID headlamps
The second-generation Prius won many awards like:
- The North American Car of the Year for 2004
- Motor Trend’s Car of the Year for 2004
- It was also featured in Car and Drivers’ Ten Bests
Since several hundred thousand were sold, we can still find a second-generation Prius in the used cars market. A 2007 model with 70,000 miles on it is available for around $8.000. But most models we find have between 100,000 and 200,000 miles on the odometer.
Third Generation (2010 – 2015)
The third-generation Prius was a face-lift and an updated version of the prior models. More aerodynamic bumpers accompanied with stylish mirrors and lights, and most importantly, a rear diffuser was added. Numerous safety features like rear disc brakes, electronic brake assist and even overhead airbags were standard on the new Prius.
Under the hood, the engine capacity was increased to 1.8 liters, and the Toyota Hybrid System III was installed. The new system, THS, consisted of a lithium-ion battery, which offered much better life and performance.
With a bigger engine and improved hybrid system, this Prius was better in all aspects, including performance. The car was able to shell out 51 miles per gallon in the city and 48 on highways. It was the most fuel-efficient gasoline-powered car you could buy.
For the tech-savvy, there were optional technologies in the Prius, hardly any other car offered. These included:
- The Navigation Package with a voice-activated touchscreen and an eight-speaker surround system
- The Solar Roof Package offered a ventilation system that kept the car cool when it was parked in sunlight
- The Advanced Technology Package offered a dynamic radar cruise control, anti-collision system, lane assist, and one of its kind, Heads up Display
The advanced system allowed the driver to use the car in three modes; fully electric, hybrid and fully gas. The fully electric, or EV mode, could only be used at low speeds. It would help save a lot of fuel in traffic jams. The hybrid or eco mode could be used for day-to-day city driving, and the fully gas, or power mode, was to increase the performance.
The third generation Prius can still cost over $10,000 for a decent car with all these technologies incorporated. Although it might sound a little steep, it can be a good bargain as the newer models are more than double the price.
Third Generation - Prime (2012 – Present)
As many competitors were jumping into the hybrid market, the Prius began to look like a run-of-the-mill hybrid. Toyota decided to add more innovation to its already advanced car. Flaunting a different look, housing a larger battery, the Prius Prime came with a Plug-in charging slot.
The Prime was more or less designed around the third generation, focusing greatly on the electric mode. The car was able to achieve 15 miles on electric mode, which increased in later models.
In terms of sales, the car did well, but not well enough to meet Toyota’s expectations. Only 75,000 Primes were sold over four years.
The second generation of the Prime was released in 2016. The exterior boasted an angular shape and fancy tail light that ran around the hatch. The new front design made the car stand out from the older Priuses. The electric range was increased to 25 miles.
Even with all the added technologies, the sales did not meet Toyota’s expectations as many other Plug-in Hybrid Vehicles or PHVs were already prevalent in the market.
Fourth Generation (2016 – Present)
With the fourth generation, Toyota redesigned the Prius to make it even more fuel-efficient and pocket-friendly. With significant improvements to the gasoline engine, the motors and the battery, all were achieved.
To improve handling, Prius was mounted with a double-wishbone suspension instead of the typical torsion beam. The motors were replaced with smaller and more efficient versions, allowing the interior to be bigger than before.
The 2016 Prius boasted a fuel economy of 65 miles per gallon in the city and 60 on the highway. An eco-version of the car skips the spare tire, trunk lining and rear wiper to offer 70 miles per gallon in the city and 64 on the highway.
The trim packages remained similar to the previous generations, with some changes in the names like Touring, L Eco and LE.
In 2019, Toyota launched an All-Wheel Drive Prius, called the AWD-e for the US market. This model housed an extra motor in the rear axle but used the traditional Nickel-metal battery. This car was designed to best suit colder climates.
For many years, Toyota has strived to make the Prius affordable to allow anyone to enjoy the Hybrid wave. A brand-new Toyota Prius starts at around $24,500, which is nothing short of remarkable for a new car.
Which Model is the Best for Me?
As we now know, there is a range of four to five generations to choose from when selecting a Prius. All of these models come in different variants and with different packages. It will be nothing short of a challenge to decide which Prius is best for you.
If you are looking for the best value for money, you will go for a Prius V from 2013. This model has all the sophisticated features and houses a new THS. You can get all of that without burning a hole in your pocket. This model will come in at around $10,000 with under 100,000 miles on the odometer.
But if you are looking for the sleeker and more stylish variant and don’t mind shelling out extra bucks, you can go for the latest Prius XLE. While the XLE is not fully loaded, you can be sure that you are not overspending on features that you will hardly ever use. You can purchase the XLE for around $28,500.
Which is the Best Year Toyota Prius?
Over the years, Toyota has made significant improvements in the quality of the Prius and continues to do so until today.
So far, the fourth generation of the Prius has proven to be the best one. It has had the least number of issues and fewer complaints compared to any other model.
The second-generation falls in second place in terms of reliability. Although now more than ten years old, second-generation Priuses are more prone to issues. You will likely need to replace the hybrid battery pack soon after you purchase the car. You might find the battery pack at a much lower price in the aftermarket, but it will still be a hassle.
The third generation, incorporating many new technologies, was one with the most complaints. The owners of this generation find that the Prius is an expensive-to-own car.
The lifespan of a hybrid car is different from a traditional gasoline engine car. Electric components of the new technology are more sensitive than the sturdy mechanical parts on a traditional combustion engine.
One of the first and major components to give in is the battery pack. The Prius’ battery pack can last up to 100,000 – 150,000 miles. Given that an average car drives around 12,000 – 15,000 miles a year, the Prius can last 8 – 12 years.
The battery pack replacement can cost you around $4,000. There are many aftermarket options available that work fine and cost slightly less.
It is important to remember that hybrids also need regular fluid changes and routine maintenance, just like normal cars. Maintaining a Prius is very affordable. Some owners claim that the maintenance on their car costs them under $500 annually.
The only costs that stand out on a Prius are those linked to the hybrid system. The battery and the motors can break your bank account. But with a design built to last, the battery life is up to 150,000 miles, while the motors do not need any work until 300,000 miles.
Over the years, Toyota Prius has become a household name. With over 10 million units sold globally, the car has proven itself to be a hybrid innovation. Paired with Toyota’s reliability and modern technology, the Prius is a choice you will never regret.
About The Author
I've spent many years selling cars, working with auto detailers, mechanics, dealership service teams, quoting and researching car insurance, modding my own cars, and much more.Read More About Charles Redding