Review: Toyota Prius (2003 – 2009)

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Much better than the original. An enjoyable, practical, safe, economical hybrid. Looks good, too. Prius Taxis have run to 400,000 miles plus with very little trouble.

It isn't a fault, but don't expect to achieve astonishing mpg on a clear motorway run. Hybrid drive doesn't regenerate at constant speed. Catalytic converters vulnerable to theft.

Toyota Prius (2003 – 2009): At A Glance

Drive into the future. Tomorrow's car today. Car of the next decade now. We've all heard this kind of hype before. Except in the shape of the new Toyota Prius II it all happens to be true.

The Japanese have some pretty good diesels. Toyota's 1.4 D-4D is the best small diesel in the world. Yet despite the economic advantages, diesel's smutty reputation is against it. Which is why for the past ten years the Japanese have been developing and perfecting hybrids. Or, in other words, cars that combine petrol engines, electric motors and batteries to regenerate power and effectively use it twice.

The original Prius and the Honda Insight were proper production cars you could go out and buy, then claw back a Powershift grant for helping to save the World. More than 100,000 old shape Prius were built and sold. Now we're into the second generation of both. Honda has chosen to add hybrid technology to a standard Civic saloon. Toyota has created a totally "all new" car.

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What does a Toyota Prius (2003 – 2009) cost?

List Price from £24,350
Buy new from £21,896
Contract hire from £345.47 per month

Toyota Prius (2003 – 2009): What's It Like Inside?

Length 4450 mm
Width 1725 mm
Height 1490 mm
Wheelbase 2700 mm

Full specifications

It even looks futuristic, both outside and inside. Instead of a conventional dashboard, the driver is confronted with a large computer screen and a line-of-sight, digital speedometer. The speedo is so clear and so frees up steering wheel adjustment it instantly makes all conventional dashboards seem hopelessly and ridiculously old fashioned.

You push the electronic key into a socket, press the start button and the instruments spring into life. Then, instead of having to take a master's degree in computer technology, you simply flick a little lever into ‘D', kick the foot-operated parking brake, and you're off. It really is that simple. The only small thing you have to remember is to press a button above the lever if you are stopped for any length of time and that, like most automatics, you have to touch the footbrake again to be allowed to re-engage Drive.

Interior fittings are high quality and rear legroom is almost limo like. The batteries take up very little space directly over the rear axle line. Though the luggage floor is high, it is flat with the rear seats folded and has several compartments underneath which significantly increase its total capacity. A space saver emergency wheel sits right at the bottom.

Child seats that fit a Toyota Prius (2003 – 2009)

Our unique Car Seat Chooser shows you which child car seats will fit this car and which seat positions that they will fit, so that you don't have to check every car seat manufacturer's website for compatibility.

Which car seat will suit you?

What's the Toyota Prius (2003 – 2009) like to drive?

In normal driving, you take off and drive on electrical power. The 500V motor delivers 50kW and 400Nm torque, which is roughly the equivalent of a 1.2 litre petrol engine. Then, as you cruise, the 1.5 litre petrol engine cuts in both to re-charge the batteries and drive the wheels. During sudden acceleration the electric motor gives back-up power to the petrol engine. Then, when you lift off, the coasting wheels turn the generator, re-charging the battery. Once the battery has been brought to full charge a few times and once you get used to the necessary driving technique, you can start to get close to the 56.5mpg (urban) to 67.3mpg (extra urban) of which the car is capable. Alternatively you can press the EV button and drive on electric motor alone, creating zero emissions and a virtually silent drive. Toyota calls the system Hybrid Synergy Drive.

Thinking about the car after my short test drive the surprise is how easy it was to get used to it. Anyone who can drive at all could drive the Prius II without being conscious that the car was propelled and stopped in an entirely different way than they were used to. Even the steering has feel, the handling is fine and, unlike the Touran, the little windows in the front pillars are actually usable. Whether you feel virtuous driving the Prius or not, you certainly don't have to suffer. It's a bit like climbing onto a gentle learning curve, then being surprised and delighted by the new features you discover and your gradual mastery of them.

Engine MPG 0-62 CO2
1.5 VVT-i 66 mpg - -

Real MPG average for a Toyota Prius (2003 – 2009)

Real MPG was created following thousands of readers telling us that their cars could not match the official figures.

Real MPG gives real world data from drivers like you to show how much fuel a vehicle really uses.

Average performance


Real MPG

41–67 mpg

MPGs submitted


Diesel or petrol? If you're unsure whether to go for a petrol or diesel (or even an electric model if it's available), then you need our Petrol or Diesel? calculator. It does the maths on petrols, diesels and electric cars to show which is best suited to you.

What have we been asked about the Toyota Prius (2003 – 2009)?

Every day we're asked hundreds of questions from car buyers and owners through Ask Honest John. Our team of experts, including the nation's favourite motoring agony uncle - Honest John himself - answer queries and conudrums ranging from what car to buy to how to care for it as an owner. If you could do with a spot of friendly advice before buying you're next car, get in touch and we'll do what we can to help.

Ask HJ

What is the most reliable family automatic hatchback for under £4500?

What is the most reliable family automatic hatchback for under £4500? I was set on Civic 1.8 2009 but then learned that this model has the i-Shift which is best avoided.
We'd still me tempted by the Civic. It's true that the i-Shift gearbox attracted some criticism when it was new as it wasn't the nicest gearbox to use, but learn to drive around its flaws (e.g. lift off when changing up a gear) and it's not too painful. It's also more reliable than the likes of Ford's Powershift gearbox. Alternatively, would you consider a Toyota Prius? It will be very economical and should prove to be reliable.
Answered by Andrew Brady
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