The first generation Prius was on sale from 2000 to 2003 and was one of the first practical hybrid cars. It's the later cars from 2003 on that are better known though and are what most people think of when the name Prius is mentioned. It's a practical, economical five-door hatchback and its hybrid drive system puts it in band B for VED. Revised models from 2009 onwards build on the successful formula with better economy and zero road tax, there's also a plug-in version available.
Full leather upholstery became an option in 2005 and from 2006 an Intelligent Parking Assist system has been available which can automatically steer the car into a parking space.
Bang for your buck
The first Toyota Prius had a 1.5-litre 58bhp petrol engine plus a 40bhp electric motor. Second generation cars are powered by a combination of a 70bhp 15-litre petrol engine and 50bhp electric motor. The latest models have a 1.8-litre VVTi engine giving 98bhp and a 36bhp electric motor.
The electric motor is powered by batteries that are charged during deceleration and braking. All models have an automatic CVT gearbox in order to best exploit the power train. Second and third generation cars are practical five-door hatches with a large boot.
The current used Toyota Prius for sale comes in T3, T4 and T-Spirit trim levels, all have a touchscreen system for audio, multimedia and Bluetooth access. Second and third generation cars have a 5-star Euro NCAP safety rating.
What you'll pay
You should be able to pick up a second hand Toyota Prius for under £2,000. A second generation car from 2004 will sell for around £4,000 and the last of these from 2008/9 commanding around £8,500 to £9,000. The latest 1.8 model on a 61 plate will cost you around £17,500.
Road tax shouldn't be more than £35 depending on the model and insurance is group 7 or 8.
What to check
Look out for corrosion along the front edge of the bonnet which shows as a bubbling of the paint. The 12v auxiliary battery used to start the car can fail as it gets relatively little use. This is a particular problem on cars that are only used for short journeys. Note that you should never jump start a Prius as this can damage the electronics. If the auxiliary battery does fail it needs to be trickle charged.
Because it's something of a specialist car Prius parts aren't especially cheap. A full exhaust system for example will cost you around £375 and a headlamp unit about £170.
How it drives
Being a hybrid the Prius drives a little differently from more conventional cars. Up to about 30mph it will run purely on the electric motor. Above that the petrol engine kicks in to drive the wheels and recharge the batteries. If you need hard acceleration both motors are used to give an extra boost. When you lift off the power regenerative energy is used to charge the batteries. You should be able to get around 56mpg around town but don't expect spectacular fuel consumption on long journeys as you'll be relying on the petrol engine to do the work. If you spend most of your time on the motorway you'll get better economy from a diesel.
The Prius handles as well as any mid-range hatchback and its steering feel is good. The automatic transmission is smooth and jerk-free as is the switch from electric to petrol drive. It's a capable rather than exciting drive but then you're not buying a sports car. The latest 1.8 models will do the 0-60 sprint in just over ten seconds and reach a maximum of 112mph.
Inside it's all a bit sci-fi with a computer screen instead of a conventional dash. Put the key in, press Start and watch it all spring to life. There's a foot-operated parking brake which may not be to everyone's taste.
The used Toyota Prius has a bit of a reputation as a car for greenies but put aside that image and it's a perfectly competent family hatch. It'll cost you a bit more than say a Ford Focus of equivalent age but provided you don't spend too much time on the motorway it'll reward you at the pumps and with lower road tax; it's exempt from London Congestion Charge too.