Motorcheck Used Car Guide: Toyota Prius

Years built: 2003 to 2009
Bodystyles: five door hatchback

What is it?

It is, quite simply, the king of the hybrid car world. Oh sure, lots of car makers make hybrid cars now, some of which can even be plugged into the mains and which have posh badges on their bonnets such as Porsche, Mercedes and Volvo. The humble Toyota Prius got there first though, initially with a slightly-awkward looking saloon way back in 1999, before it introduced this classically-teardrop-shaped hatchback in 2003. Since then, both the badge and the shape have become a byword for part-electric motoring and the Prius is still the car most people think of when they think of hybrid. With all of the bad publicity swirling around diesel-engined cars right now, something tells us that an awful lot more people are going to be looking at hybrids…

Which one should I buy?

Toyota Prius 2 It’s not so much a question of which one you should buy as there is really only one version. It uses a 1.5-litre petrol engine which runs on the Atkinson cycle. That’s really just a slightly different way of opening and closing the valves that let fuel in and exhaust gases out as the engine is running, but while it’s good for efficiency, it’s bad for power. That’s where the electric bit of the hybrid drive comes in – it boosts the engine’s power, adding better acceleration and also providing short bursts of silent, electric-only running at low speeds.
All Priuses of this vintage are the same then – the same body, the same drivetrain. What you need to decide is whether one will suit the way you drive. You see, if you do lots of long motorway miles, then this is not for you. All you’re doing then is needlessly lugging around heavy batteries which aren’t doing anything for you, while the Constant Velocity Transmission lets the engine whine and rev away at high rpm, sounding awful and burning fuel. You’ll be lucky to get 35mpg.
If most of your driving is in town, or on slower roads though, then the Prius works quite well. Learn to drive it gently, let the electrics do their thing, sit silently at traffic lights and cruise noiselessly into parking spaces and suddenly the Prius starts to make sense. You’ll probably never get next or near the claimed 70mpg fuel economy figure, but learn the Prius’ ways and you might get 50mpg around town and that’s not bad at all. Plus you get none of the noxious diesel emissions that are causing so much panic right now.
How much should I spend? Around €8,000 for a 2008 Prius
Here’s one we found:
2008 Toyota Prius 1.5 Hybrid Synergy Drive, two owners, 158,000km, €7,900 from a dealer.

What goes wrong?

Toyota Prius 3Precious little. The Prius has long been one of the jewels in Toyota’s crown, so it’s very, very careful about making sure that the car is as well built as it can be. That’s why it’s stuck for so long with old-fashioned nickel batteries. They’re not as cutting edge as the lithium-ion batteries used by many competitors, but they’re far more reliable, long-term. Interiors are all-but indestructible, and the only reported engine fault is a stalling issue that can be fixed by a quick trip to the dealer’s for a software update. Batteries will degrade a little over time, but even early 2003 cars should have plenty of cell life left, even if they won’t be quite as efficient overall as a younger car. As ever, don’t buy anything without a full service history, and it’s worth noting that the Prius is becoming ever more popular as a taxi, so check carefully for signs of abuse or mega-mileage.

Anything else?

The more recent Prius, introduced in 2010, is more sophisticated again, and has more power (134hp compared to the older 110hp) yet is even more efficient and has lower Co2. They’re much more expensive though – you’ll pay at least €10k for a 2010 Prius, but the more sophisticated cabin and extra equipment might just make it worth the extra. It’s also arguably a better looking car. More recently, a seven-seat MPV version of the Prius, the Prius Plus, was introduced, as well as a very rare (and expensive) plugin hybrid, which could charge its batteries up from mains power and go for around 17km on just the electric power (a standard Prius can only go for about 2km on just the electrics, and that’s if you drive it very gently indeed).
And when you’ve found your perfect Prius don’t for to get it history checked on