2012 Toyota Prius Third Generation Facelift
The Toyota Prius XW30 has been facelifted once during its lifetime, in 2012, with changes extending to all-new light units fore and aft, and the debut of the Toyota Entune subscription-based infotainment system.
2012 - 2015 Prius 3rd Gen Facelift Front Changes
The 2012 Prius boasts all-new headlight clusters with new lenses and projector units within the same overall shape as before1. The front bumper is all-new2, with a far more aggressive lower fascia and air intake, now containing the fog lights on models so equipped3. The upright slots on either side of the bumper that used to contain the fog lights lose their rectangular shape and taper towards the bottom4.
2012 - 2015 Prius 3rd Gen Facelift Rear Changes
At the rear, the only noticeable difference is the redesigned taillights that retain their original shape but gain new lenses and swoopy C-shaped LED elements1.
2012 - 2015 Prius 3rd Gen Facelift Side Changes
Only the eagle-eyed will be able to spot the revised front bumper treatment from the side1, but the new 15-inch wheel covers on the Prius 2 are obvious2. They have thinner spokes that actually expose a lot more of the ugly steel wheel underneath and can be seen as a step back from the old units that more closely resembled alloy wheels. Otherwise, the profile remains mostly unchanged.
2012 - 2015 Prius 3rd Gen Facelift Interior Changes
The overall style of the interior remains the same and even the steering wheel designs are retained. However, a variety of new audio head units are available1, including the debut of Toyota's new subscription-based Entune infotainment system.
Engine, Transmission, and Drivetrain
From the day it was launched to the day it was discontinued, the 3rd-generation Toyota Prius has only ever been offered with one drivetrain. The gas engine is an Atkinson-cycle 1.8-liter 2ZR-FXE unit with 98 hp and 105 lb-ft of torque. It is aided by a permanent magnet synchronous electric motor developing 80 hp and 153 lb-ft of torque. As their power and torque peaks do not coincide, the total hybrid system output is 134 hp. The drivetrain is connected to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that drives the front wheels. The hybrid battery pack is a 1.3-kWh nickel-metal hydride unit. The Prius takes around 10.1-10.2 seconds to reach 60 mph from a stop.
2010-2015 Toyota Prius Real MPG
Official EPA estimates have varied slightly over the five production years of the Toyota Prius gen 3 but they never drop below 49/46/48 MPG for the city/highway/combined cycles. Though EPA estimates can sometimes be optimistic, consumer reports show almost identical, if not superior, figures.
*Real-world MPG and MPGe figures are provided by the EPA. Once a car has been on sale for a significant period of time, the EPA gets real-world figures directly from the customer base. These figures are then provided on the EPA website. Real-world figures are not available for certain models due to a lack of sales or not enough people partaking in this after-sales survey.
When the Toyota Prius third-generation launched as a 2010 model, the NHTSA still evaluated cars against the old, outdated pre-2011 standards, so only 2011 or newer ratings are worth noting. The Prius does well, with a five-star overall crash rating, made up of four-star ratings for the frontal crash and rollover test and five stars for the side crash. Due to more stringent newer standards, the 2014 Prius loses a star on its overall rating, which doesn't improve on the 2015 model. Over at the IIHS, the 2010 Prius receives "Good" scores across the board. The roof-strength test added for the 2011 model returns a "Good" score as well, netting it a 2011 Top Safety Pick award. It continues for the 2012 and 2013 models, while the 2014 and 2015 Toyota Prius boasts a Top Safety Pick+ award.
Even the base Prius 1 trim gets plenty of safety equipment. The 2010 baseliner comes standard with ABS, stability and traction control, and seven airbags, not to mention the decent crash ratings. Pre-collision and lane-departure warning systems are available optionally, so check if any of these are specified on a used Prius you're looking at. Nothing changed on the safety front until the final 2015 model year when all Prius trims received a standard backup camera.
Frontal Barrier Crash Rating::
Side Crash Rating::
3rd Generation Toyota Prius Trims
The Prius trim lineup is quite simple and straightforward, comprising five trims: Prius 1 through Prius 5. Prius 1 wasn't a permanent fixture though, with the lineup kicking off with the 2010 Prius 2. The Prius 1 was added at the bottom of the lineup late in the 2010 model year and remained on sale for 2011, only to disappear for the rest of the production run.
Toyota Prius 3rd Gen Interior Overview
The 3rd generation Toyota Prius' interior has an attractive and modern design, but the materials aren't upmarket. Unfortunately, this doesn't improve further in the production run, although top-tier models with all the advanced electronic options fitted and the leatherette upholstery do look better inside, if not plush. The rear legroom of 36 inches, along with the spacious 21.6-cubic-feet trunk, are impressive for what is essentially a compact car. What is less impressive is the 37.6 inches of rear headroom, which will see tall passengers' scalps grazing the headlining.
The trims are straightforward, but the Prius 1 joined the lineup late in the 2010 model year, so some sources don't even list it as a 2010 trim. It was discontinued soon after. The Prius Persona Edition adds a cosmetic package to the Prius 3 and is available for two model years only: 2013 and 2015.
2010-2015 Toyota Prius Gen 3 Maintenance and Cost
There are 3rd gen Prius models out there with many miles on the clock, they are not nearly as reliable as their predecessors, and earning bad marks for problematic brakes, piston rings, and hybrid-drive inverters. In fact, there were so many complaints about the 2010 model that it should be avoided altogether. The same applies to a lesser extent to the 2011 and 2012 models. That said, with the problems fixed and the recall work done, the Prius is a solid car that can last many years.
The basic oil service should be performed every 10,000 miles, but we always recommend halving that distance if you use your Prius in harsh conditions, such as in freezing temperatures, in dusty environments, or if you typically idle a lot. The first few services typically only entail the replacement of the engine oil and filter, as well as the cleaning of the cabin air filter, the rotation of the tires, and the inspection of the brakes and ensuring that the driver's floor mat is properly secured - a legacy of ill-fitting floor mats and defective accelerator pedals being responsible for millions of Toyota being recalled for unintended acceleration. At 30,000 miles, the cabin and engine air filters are replaced and a lot more systems and subsystems are inspected. At 120,000-mile intervals, the spark plugs must be replaced. Keep in mind that the nickel-metal hydride hybrid battery pack is guaranteed for 100,000 miles or eight years and that it will start to deteriorate after that time. A new battery pack will cost between $2,200 and $4,100 and a refurbished or used one at least $1,500.
Check Before You Buy
Technical Service Bulletins according to the NHTSA. Check service book for:
Unfortunately, the 3rd gen Toyota Prius is a clear step back from its predecessor in terms of reliability and it has experienced various problems with both its internal combustion engine and hybrid system. In the quest for efficiency, the low-tension piston rings used on the 2ZR-FXE engine are notorious for getting clogged and stuck, causing oil consumption to soar. Because of Toyota's selective warranty conditions, it isn't a given that an owner would have this problem corrected while under warranty either.
The hybrid system cause problems, too, with many faulty inverters replaced under warranty. These are the expensive, big-ticket items, but there are myriad other smaller problems too, affecting the headlights and braking system, among others. Cared for properly and with all the major issues attended to, a 3rd generation Prius can exceed 200,000 miles, but there might be a few bumps in the road getting there. As always, meticulous maintenance helps and frequent oil changes are a must. If the CVT frequently gets clean oil, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, and 2015 Toyota Prius transmission problems are quite rare. Unlike some Toyotas, 2010-2015 Toyota Prius radio problems and Bluetooth echoes are not common either; similarly, Toyota Prius sunroof, power window, and driving problems are not often reported.
We dedicated a section below to each of the major problems, but some are not as serious, commonplace, or costly to fix, so we mention them here:
- The Prius' wheel bearings tend to fail as early as 60,000 miles, so it might be something to look out for. Listen for a humming sound when driving on smooth roads, with the sound becoming more intense and changing pitch when you go around curves. A set of wheel bearings costs around $500 to replace.
- Some Prius owners have reported insufficient headlight coverage and had to have the headlight level sensor replaced, while others had unspecified work done to the tune of up to $800. However, poor headlight coverage can also be related to the other headlight problems the Prius suffered from, so read on for those.
- It seems some 2010-2012 Prius models suffer from instrumentation failures, with the electronic dashboard display becoming erratic or going completely dark. Make sure the dashboard display works perfectly because a gauge cluster replacement can cost up to $3,000.
- Although not common, a few 2011 Prius owners report failing air-conditioning compressors, which have to be replaced at a cost of around $2,500.
- 2010-2012 Toyota Prius door lock problems are not uncommon. Door-lock actuators can fail and this seems to be a problem in mostly early Prius years. Replacing the actuators can cost from $400 at a dealership.
- Although it doesn't seem to be all that commonplace, 2010-2012 models can suffer from steering pinion and intermediate shaft problems that can cost more than $2,200 to fix.
- Electronic Control Module (ECM) failures do occur from time to time and might produce the P0606 or P0607 Toyota Prius error codes. Other symptoms include rough running, a failure to start, and a failed self-diagnostics test.
It's worth keeping in mind a few common error codes:
The 3rd generation Prius is beset by some persistent problems, for which Toyota has had to recall various years. The first years are by far the worst and problems dramatically decrease for later model years.
Here is the complete NHTSA list of third-generation 2010-2015 Toyota Prius recalls:
- 2010 Toyota Prius brake booster and ABS recall. Many Prius cars have been recalled for various brake problems, with the official recalls covering 2010 Toyota Prius brake and ABS problems, but other years also report problems. Nitrogen gas can escape from a brake-booster assembly and get into the brake fluid, reducing its compressibility and causing a loss of braking power and an increased crash risk. In another recall, the ABS ECU's software had to be reprogrammed, because the switch from regenerative braking to friction braking can be delayed, leading to a momentary loss of braking power, especially on rough roads. Well over 200,000 cars were involved in these recalls. Make sure all recall work has been done and test drive a used Prius to make sure it transitions smoothly from regenerative braking to friction braking and that there is no loss of braking power, even on bumpy roads. No brake warning lights should illuminate and the brakes should not be snatchy or grabby. Cars with braking problems not covered by the recall can cost well over $3,000 to fix.
- Airbag recalls. Nearly half a million 2010-2012 models have been recalled because a welded curtain-airbag inflator may split on the weld and eject one or both of the pieces into the interior when the airbag deploys, posing a risk to the occupants. Toyota installs retention brackets on the inflators free of charge.
- 2010-2015 Toyota Prius IPM and inverter recall. A massive recall covered all model years and was for the replacement of the Intelligent Power Module (IPM) of the hybrid system's inverter that may suffer heat damage and fail, causing the hybrid system to shut down and the car to stall or be unable to start. Toyota has updated the IPM software or replaced the entire inverter assembly, as necessary. This condition might be accompanied by the Toyota Prius code P0AA6 error, indicating voltage leak; this error with result in a disabled powertrain. This recall for 2010-2015 Toyota Prius inverter and starting problems affects all years and it is critical that the recall work has been done. The cost of a new inverter can be well over $3,000 if your car isn't covered and the inverter has to be replaced.
- Recall for switched taillight circuit. Only just more than 400 2012 model year cars have been recalled to fix a wiring fault in aftermarket replacement taillights in which the circuits of the taillights and brake lights were switched around, resulting in brake lights that don't illuminate brightly enough.
- Recall for electric seat-heating wiring. More than 10,000 2010-2012 cars were recalled because of aftermarket electric seat-heating wiring that is prone to short-circuit, increasing the risk of a fire if it were to become damaged. Toyota doesn't fix the wiring, it merely disconnects the seat heaters from their power source and refunds owners for the money the seat-heating option cost them to have installed.
- Recall for incorrect load-capacity labels. Hundreds of thousands of 2010 and 2012 cars were recalled for incorrectly printed load-capacity labels that can cause owners to inadvertently overload their vehicles.
- Recall for occupant-sensing calibration. More than 3,200 2010-2012 cars were recalled to correct the programming of the occupant-sensing system. The incorrect calibration can cause the airbags to deploy inappropriately for the size and sitting position of the occupant.
Which One To Avoid
In the case of the XW30 Prius, the earlier, the worse. In fact, so numerous were the problems in the first model years that we would recommend avoiding all 2010-2012 models like the plague and only start considering a clean 2013 model. Many of the problems might have been sorted out under warranty or recall, but some big-ticket items such as the engine (oil consumption) and hybrid system (inverter failure) affect later models to a lesser extent. Avoid the barebones steel-wheeled Prius 1, as well as the 2, which is only slightly better.
Which One To Buy
As for the trim level, we wouldn't consider anything less than the Prius 3 with its upgraded infotainment and access to additional packages, such as the Solar Roof package and Navigation package, so check whether any of these have been fitted. The Prius 4 is even better equipped, but only really adds improved seating with leatherette surfaces and electrical adjustment. Since the interior is rather low-rent, try to find a Prius 5 at a good price, because it is the best-appointed, gets the LED headlights that never cause any problems, and runs on the nice big wheels, even if this does impact economy slightly. A 2014 or 2015 model should do nicely and should have most of its problems sorted out.
3rd Gen Toyota Prius Verdict
A meticulously maintained XW30 Prius with all its recall work carried out and all the necessary repairs done can provide you with years of reliable service. However, a full maintenance record is critical and the later the year, the better to avoid expensive problems. It does not uphold the Toyota reputation for reliability, but its reliable predecessor is neither as attractive nor as safe as the third-generation car, so we're loathe to recommend the gen 2 car for those reasons. The gen 3 can be an extremely economical and cost-effective compact car with a surprising amount of interior space - limited rear headroom notwithstanding - as long as you tread carefully and don't lose everything that you have managed to save on low running costs on expensive repairs. To avoid the pitfalls, take heed of all the warnings in this Toyota Prius 3rd generation review. As always, buyer beware.