It's still the most influential car of the 21st century and a smart buy.
Love it or hate it, you can't deny the importance of the Toyota Prius. It started as an experiment and changed the face of the automotive landscape.
Without the Prius, the electric car wouldn't be on the rise, and many of us would be hurting even more from the high price of gas. The Prius is why almost every major manufacturer has electrified models, and hybrid cars will be the best-selling cars for the foreseeable future. Hell, you can thank the Prius for the Ferrari SF90 and Lamborghini's upcoming Aventador replacement.
However, you're likely reading this right now because you're looking at gas prices, knowing it will not get better. The gas companies are lining their pockets at your expense, and you want to burn less fuel but can't work an electric car into your lifestyle.
The good news is that a new Prius isn't necessarily the best Prius for you. Also, there are model years to avoid, and the best Prius isn't even a Prius.
If you're looking for the best Prius model for gas mileage and safety tech, you've got to go new. The answer is the Toyota Prius L Eco. There are at least eight trim variations for the current fourth-generation Prius, but the Toyota Prius L Eco pips the rest on fuel economy.
You won't get a lot of bells and whistles, but less weight means having to burn less fuel to get moving. L Eco has an EPA-estimated 58 mpg in the city, 53 mpg on the highway, and 53 mpg combined. It starts at $25,075 and is an absolute bargain.
Any way you cut it, the best Toyota Prius year will always be the current model year.
If you're looking for a used Prius, the 2016 model year is the sweet spot for cost, fuel economy, and a lack of common issues. The model we'll look at here is the 2016 Prius Two Eco, which gets an EPA-estimated 58 mpg city and 53 mpg highway. Does that sound familiar? It should if you haven't skipped to this section, as that's the same as the 2022 Toyota Prius L Eco trim.
It's not that Toyota hasn't improved its hybrid drivetrain, though. You'll get more features and better tech in the 2022 model year. However, you will pick one up for under $20,000 with around 100,000 on the clock. Now, that's not exactly a screaming deal, but there's a reason the Prius Two Eco holds value well - part of that is how hard it is to get a new Prius right now.
If you want a deal, 2013 is probably the best used Prius year, and the Prius V specifically. It's part of the third generation, where the Prius showed a dramatic improvement and added drive mode selection.
On the used market, look for cars that were optioned with Intelligent Parking Assist, Lane Keep Assist, and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. You should be able to pick up something in good condition for around $15,000, but there is another approach to take if you want serious value for money.
You could look for something around $10,000 with around 150,000 miles on the clock and factor a replacement battery into your budget. Research first, but it shouldn't cost more than $3,000 for the battery with a core exchange (the company selling the battery takes the old one) and then factor in the installation cost.
We're talking about a core Toyota product here, so the rest of the car will have a lot of miles to go before it wears out.
The best year to buy a Prius is nearly always the current one, but what if we told you that you could drive a Prius without actually driving the automotive equivalent of broccoli?
Yes, the Prius is good for your life, but it's hard to swallow. Well, Toyota solved that problem by releasing the Corolla Hybrid. It uses the current Prius drivetrain and gets an EPA-estimated 53 mpg city, 52 mpg highway, and 52 mph combined while costing between $22,800 and $26,600, depending on trim level.
There aren't as many trim levels as the Prius available, but if you ignore the silly Prius Nightshade editions and the most premium trims that nobody really buys, you're going to get about the same level of features and options. Plus, it's a Corolla, so it'll run forever, and someone will always be ready to buy it if you ever want to level up.
You may have figured it out already, but the Prius model years to avoid encompasses the first two generations.
Even if the car has had its battery replaced, the EPA changed the way it rates cars since the earliest, and something like the 2002 Prius' 41 mpg combined isn't as impressive as it once was. If you compare it to, say, a 2016 Corolla, you'll get less fuel economy, but the safety tech jump is vast, and you won't have things wearing out and needing a replacement for a while yet. This includes the battery, which is particularly tricky to get hold of nowadays.
We wouldn't blame anyone for considering a second-generation Prius, as 52 mpg city and 45 mpg highway are attractive, but you will replace a battery unless you are remarkably fortunate.