2009 Toyota Prius Hatchback Indepth Review

2009 Toyota Prius Hatchback

As with many of Toyota's vehicles, the Prius has become a standard-bearer in its segment. While many automakers have yet to even develop a gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle, Toyota is already on its second generation of the Prius. This four-door hybrid has become a hit with consumers because of its stellar fuel economy, relatively uncompromised driving and acceleration characteristics and reasonable price.

The Toyota Prius (its name comes from Latin and means "to go before") exists as a partial solution to the automobile's problem of tailpipe emissions. The Prius, like other hybrid vehicles, has a special powertrain that combines a gasoline-fueled internal combustion engine with an electric motor. This powertrain, along with other advanced features, allows the Prius to deliver higher fuel economy and lower emissions compared to regular cars.

Due to its popularity and relatively long sales history, Toyota's original hybrid car is a strong candidate for a shopper interested in a used hybrid vehicle. So far, it seems Toyota's reputation for reliability and durability is holding true for the Prius. Early concerns about long-term durability have turned out to be mostly unfounded. However, potential buyers of a used Prius should take extra care during the research process. As the Toyota Prius is quite complex, future repairs and part replacements could be quite expensive.

Current Toyota Prius

The current and second-generation Toyota Prius was introduced for the 2004 model year. It features a four-door hatchback body and can seat up to five people. The car's hybrid powertrain features a small 1.5-liter gasoline-fueled engine that's used in conjunction with two electric motors and a special planetary gearset that functions as a continuously variable transmission. The result is adequate power, high fuel economy and reduced tailpipe emissions.

Under full acceleration, both power sources work together to provide maximum oomph. But under lighter load conditions such as stop-and-go traffic, the Prius alternates between the two, often running on battery power alone. A regenerative braking system converts energy normally lost as heat into electricity to charge the car's battery pack. The gas engine produces 76 horsepower and 82 pound-feet of torque, while the electric motors generate the equivalent of 67 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque.

In most other ways, the Toyota Prius functions like a regular family car. The interior is comfortable for four adults and comes standard with most modern convenience features. On the Prius's dash, there's an information display that can be used to show the operational status of the hybrid system. The vehicle's hatchback design provides extra versatility in terms of carrying items, and the rear seat can be lowered flat.

In our Toyota Prius reviews, our editors have cited outstanding mileage, ultra-low emissions, hatchback utility and a reasonable price as the car's greatest strengths. Downsides include soft handling characteristics at highway speeds and, compared to regular midsize sedans, unimpressive maximum acceleration. Most Prius owners say their cars typically achieve real-world mpg ratings in the mid-40s. The current Prius model hasn't been subject to any major update as of yet, though 2006 and later models have a few improved features. Also, a "standard" trim level, which lacks cruise control and heated mirrors but in exchange has a significantly lower base price, was added in 2008.

Past Toyota Prius Models

The original Prius debuted in the North American market for the 2001 model year. However, Toyota had been selling it in Japan since 1997. This model was the second hybrid vehicle available to U.S. consumers after the Honda Insight. In just about every aspect, the original Prius has been eclipsed by the second-generation car. The first-generation Toyota is slower, smaller and not as comfortable. But this in no way means that it is to be avoided. For a consumer interested in a used hybrid vehicle, this first-gen Toyota Prius could be a smart choice.

Though less advanced than the one in the current model, the older Prius's powertrain still paired a gasoline engine with an electric motor. Its 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine made 70 hp at 4,500 rpm and 82 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm. The electric drive motor was worth another 44 peak hp.

Selecting a used Prius based on year shouldn't be too difficult. Models built for 2002 and 2003 might have more of a draw, as it was then that Toyota started to offer additional optional features, such as a navigation system, side airbags and cruise control. Most first-generation owners seem quite happy with their cars and overall reliability has been very good. For additional peace of mind, these models came with an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty for the battery pack.

$21,500 - 23,770

$20,210 - 21,816

Midsize Car
2008 Toyota Prius
Expert Rating Summary
Category Base w/navigation Rating (See All
Midsize Car Average Rating

Acceleration 3 5.6

Fuel Economy 10 5.6

Ride Quality 7 6

Steering/Handling/Braking 4 6

Quietness 6 6

Controls 4 6.3

Details 5 5.5

Room/Comfort/Driver Seating (front) 6 6.7

Room/Comfort (rear) 6 5.1

Cargo Room 3 4

Value within Class 6 6.2

Total Score: 60 63
The 2008 Toyota Prius adds a new lower-priced Standard model but is otherwise unchanged. This gas/electric hybrid car is a five-passenger, 4-door hatchback that teams a 4-cylinder engine with a battery-powered electric motor for 110 hp. Toyota's hybrid system automatically runs on one or both of its power sources to balance acceleration and fuel economy. No plug-in charging is required. Prius has a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). In addition to the Standard, Base and sport-themed Touring trim levels are offered. Available safety features include ABS, traction control, antiskid system, curtain side airbags, and front side airbags. Tourings have a sport suspension, fog lights, and xenon headlights. Standards cost about $1400 less than the Base and are unavailable with features such as cruise control and heated power mirrors.
Consumer Guide Automotive places each vehicle into one of 18 classes based on size, price, and market position. Midsize Cars represent the heart of the U.S. car market. Most are price-sensitive, conservatively designed, family oriented sedans and wagons.

Our Best Buys include Honda Accord and Kia Rondo. Our Recommended picks are the Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mazda 5, Mercury Milan, Nissan Altima, Saturn Aura, and Toyota Camry.

New or significantly redesigned models include the Chevrolet Malibu, Dodge Avenger, Honda Accord, and Mazda 5.

A redesign for Hollywood's favorite hybrid is reportedly on for 2010 or 2011. Because the current model owes some of its popularity to distinct styling, the replacement, too, is expected to look like no other hybrid-power Toyota. There's also talk of a new powertrain with a plug-in electric side to allow running longer and farther without the gas engine. We also hear the new system might include a driver-adjustable selector for favoring acceleration or fuel economy as needed. What these changes might do to sticker price is unclear, but Toyota seems less concerned now with value than having Prius be a showcase for the company's latest and best hybrid technology.

Meantime, the current Prius is apparently selling now without the long waits and padded sticker prices of the past couple of years, this despite heightened public concern over long-term fuel prices. So if you can't wait for the new one, you should be able to get a decent deal right now, though probably not much of a discount.