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What Car? says

2 out of 5 stars

For Good room, safety and impressive economy

Against Very slow on motorway hills; so-so handling

Verdict Green enough, but it doesn’t drive as well as mainstream rivals

Go for… There's only one

Avoid… Not applicable

Toyota Prius Saloon
  • 1. The Prius’s digital instruments can be difficult to read in strong sunlight
  • 2. The remote central locking control can play up
  • 3. Rear seats fold easily to increase luggage space
  • 4. The cabin can accommodate a family of five
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Toyota Prius Saloon full review with expert trade views

Car manufacturers are always keen to prove how green they are and usually this means unveiling yet another concept car that is never going to turn a wheel. Back in 2000, though, Toyota put considerable amounts of money where its mouth was and made the electric/petrol hybrid Prius.

Under acceleration the Prius uses a combination of its 1.5-litre 58bhp petrol engine and a 40bhp electric motor. At cruising speed, it relies on the petrol engine alone, using excess power to recharge the battery, which is also recharged under braking. Then, at very low speeds it runs on its electric motor alone, producing zero emissions.

Generally, it's a system that works very well - and almost without the driver noticing. Although the engine can struggle on motorway hills, performance is reasonable. As you might expect, the emphasis is on comfort rather than sharp handling, so there’s a fair bit of body roll.

What's different about this green machine is that there are no sacrifices, no battery taking up half the cabin or boot. The aerodynamic four-door saloon can accommodate a family of five, and the rear seats are easily folded to increase boot space.

Trade view

Martin Keighley

Expensive and rare on the used market. People are scared of the technology

Martin Keighley
Valuations expert,
What Car? Used Car Price Guide

The choice isn’t hard because only a single version was sold in the UK, and during its three-year life the Prius was not subjected to any face-lifts or major revisions.

Equipment includes a single-slot CD/radio/cassette player, climate control, all-round electric windows and electric power-assisted steering. All cars ride on 14-inch alloy wheels wrapped in energy-efficient, low rolling-resistance tyres.

Driver and passenger airbags, anti-lock-brakes and electronic brakeforce distribution are standard safety kit, but security, with just an engine immobiliser and remote central locking, could be better. From March 2003 customers were able to add a sophisticated but expensive sat-nav system, which you may like to look out for.

Only one gearbox, a CVT automatic, is available and the gear selector lever is mounted in the dashboard. A colour screen constantly displays how much energy the car is using.

Trade view

James Ruppert

In certain areas Hybrid has huge retail appeal, just the one spec though

James Ruppert
Used car guru

Buying a high-mileage Prius can be like buying a leasehold flat. It might be cheap, but if there are only a few years left to run on the lease, it could prove a false economy. In the case of the Prius, the lease is the battery or, strictly speaking, the bank of batteries.

When the battery fails, it won’t be cheap to replace; you’re looking at well over a grand. At least it’s covered by an eight-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

In other respects, though, the Prius is as easy and as cheap to run as any conventional car. Major services are required at 20,000 miles, but these should be no more expensive than having a standard Toyota Corolla maintained.

You also won’t have to pay the Congestion Charge if you travel into central London and the Prius’s low emissions mean low road tax. Insurance is group 8, and the fuel economy is good, but be warned that 45-50mpg is a more realistic figure than the claimed 65mpg.

Trade view

Martin Keighley

Expensive and rare on the used market. People are scared of the technology

Martin Keighley
Valuations expert,
What Car? Used Car Price Guide

You'll have to get your Prius serviced by an official Toyota dealer. However, while all dealers can work on the second-generation 2004 model, that wasn’t the case with this Prius, so check your nearest dealer is familiar with the car before buying.

While this Prius has not been subject to any recalls and reliability seems to be up to the usual high Toyota standards, owners have reported some problems. These include the risk of a valve in the exhaust system corroding with road salt in winter and the remote central locking control playing up.

There have also been reports of the stereo controls failing and various electrical problems. Like almost all digital displays, the Prius’s instruments can be difficult to read in strong sunlight. What’s more, if you don’t close the boot properly, the interior light may well drain the battery.

Trade view

James Ruppert

In certain areas Hybrid has huge retail appeal, just the one spec though

James Ruppert
Used car guru
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