Friday, 11 May 2012

Toyota Prius Review

A reader recently asked me about what I thought about my Toyota Prius - both the good and the bad aspects.  Well, I do have a few draft articles sloshing around within the creative juices of my mind, such as a Prius Buyer's Guide and a Prius Seller's Guide, to name but two.  However, I had also intended to write about my experience of Prius ownership to date so this reader request has neatly prompted me to get such an article published now.

In contemplating my Prius ownership so far I have to say that it is all positive points that immediately spring to mind.  To see the bad points I really have to think hard and furrow my brow.  The whole of my Prius ownership experience has been pleasant, has exceeded my expectations and has been stress free.  Now, in reviewing a vehicle, it is only fair that the negative as well as the positive points are noted.  This is what I will try to do.  I will also try and group these points in a sensible way so all points are assimilated as easily as possible.

Note that this review is based on my second generation (2006) Toyota Prius T-Spirit, owning and driving it mostly in Scotland with the occasional foray o'er the border to England.


What I love about the Prius:

Running Costs & Efficieny

Fuel Efficiency - this is easily the most fuel efficient car I've had.  The lowest I've ever achieved was 49.9mpg (with roof bars fitted) and the best was 60.1mpg (without roof bars).  As you can see from my regular MPG Review posts, I'm currently achieving 50.5mpg.  So, altogether, one can expect to achieve better than diesel economy with a cheaper unit fuel cost – (petrol/gasoline being typically £0.04 cheaper per litre than diesel. 

Toyota Brand - it is a reassuring feeling to me that the badge stuck on the front of the bonnet (hood) is Toyota.  Why so?  Well, I've worked in the past as a professional quality engineer, both in heavy and hi-tech engineering sectors.  In much of the quality assurance (QA) literature one cannot help but come across references to the work of J Edwards Deming – one of the founding fathers and pioneers of what we know today as quality assurance.  Like other big Japanese companies in the third quarter of the twentieth century, the Toyota Company embraced the ideas of Deming and saw the adoption of quality assurance and the related principles of TQM (Total Quality Management) as the solution to its problems.  Now, it is easy to think of QA in terms of every widget coming out of a factory as having the 'bad quality' widgets 'inspected out'.  This is not QA; this is QC (Quality Control) – an entirely different aspect.  QA can be thought of in simple terms as principles of good business management.  Take care of your business management, know your inputs, processes and outputs, measure them and take corrective actions.  Having seen QA and being an early enthusiastic adopter of TQM, Toyota climbed its way up the reputation ladder.  People now want Toyota (and, if they can afford them, a Lexus) because they know they will likely get a vehicle that will do as they expect and will demonstrate resilience and reliability over the course of a reasonable life of ownership.  Sounds like I’m a tout for Toyota.  Don’t worry – I’m not.  I’m just giving credit where credit is due.  To date, I can say I don’t regret having a Toyota badge on the bonnet.  Not one little bit.

Road Tax – in the UK road tax has to be paid every year if a car is driven on any public highway.  There are different tax bands and costs.  Typically, the more environmentally unfriendly the car is then the more it costs.  A typical medium size family car will cost about £200 ($300) to tax every year.  I think my wife’s 1999 Volvo S40 cost £225 last time round.  Compare and contrast this with the 2006 Prius at £10 ($15).  Aha.  Yes.  That’ll do nicely, thanks very much.

Fuel and Energy System Feedback – the LCD system provides real-time feedback on where the energy is coming from and going to.  On a Prius, petrol can be burned to power the internal combustion engine, of course.  But kinetic energy can be converted back into electrical energy that is stored in the special battery located under the back seat.  Electrical energy from this battery can then be used to power the electric motor which can either augment the petrol engine or propel the car solely by itself.  The LCD display lets you see all this energy flow and enable sthe careful driver to adapt driving style to get the most economy out of the Prius.  You may have heard about hypermiling – getting the most mpg out of a car as possible. The Prius display really facilitate this.  You can judge the pressure on the accelerator/gas pedal just right so that you can coast along with neither power source engaged and use the Pulse and Glide method to maximise your mpg.


100% Reliability – In over a year of ownership my Toyota Prius has been 100% reliable.  It has never skipped a beat.

JD Power Vehicle Ownership Satisfaction Survey – one of my reasons for choosing a Prius was its continual appearance in the top 5 or so cars in the UK JD Power Vehicle Ownership Satisfaction Survey.  The latest 2011 survey shows the Prius as the 5th best overall car in terms of the survey’s criteria.  Most of the readers coming to this blog come from the USA.  The latest 2011 USA JD Power survey shows similar patterns in respect of the Prius (albeit I think this relates to the third generation – but you get the picture).


Clear Instruments – the digital display of the speedometer and the layout of driver information is clear and well thought out.  The display is not busy nor cluttered and I can reaily get the information I want.  There’s even a small arrow on the fuel level read-out that reminds what side the fuel flap is.  When you are as forgetful as I am every little detail like this helps.

Cruise Control – thank goodness for cruise control on these long trips.  This version is easy to use and takes that bit more stress out of driving.

CVT – the transmission on the Prius isn’t manual or automatic like on most conventional cars.  Instead, it has a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) system which doesn't lurch between gears when driving like an automatic or a manual.  You get a very smooth ride and never worry about the gears.  Easy peasy.  Why don’t all cars have this?

Quietness – the Prius is a very quiet car to drive.  This makes it more relaxing in my experience.  Perhaps its due in part to the CVT system.  Perhaps its because its a solidly built, well sound-proofed car, perhaps it because it can go all-electric at lower speeds.  I don’t know.  But, quiet it is, and I like it.

Fuel Cover – you open the fuel cover flap by pulling a lever in the cabin next to the driver.  This makes it safe and secure.  Once open, there is a well-designed holder for you to rest the fuel cap whilst refuelling.  Maybe it’s silly, but I appreciate the design and thought of such a humble aspect.

Sat Nav Guidance – our T-Spirit comes equipped with satellite navigation.  Once you have set your destination I do like the driving instructions I get from the device.  The visual information is good and is better than other sat nav devices I have used, like on our Volvo XC90, for instance.  The audio information is good too.  However, setting the destination is not the easiest (see the negative aspects below)

Family Life

Room - the cabin is very roomy, particularly for its class.  I am a six-footer and have plenty of headroom in any seat.  The driver's seat adjusts up and down too.  However, it is the back seat I love; the amount of leg room is incredible - bigger than we had in our VW Passat 1.8T Estate - and that is saying something.  If you have small children who love nothing more than to stick their little legs out and rest their feet (usually mucky) on the back of the seat in front then you will not be troubled as such in the Prius.  They simply won't be able to reach.  This extra leg room also means I can easily get in to fasten and adjust their seat belts.  Family life made that little bit easier.  Ah.

Sound System – on the T-Spirit model there is a JBL sound system.  It produces a lovely deep, clear sound from all the speakers.  Actually, as I write this, I realise I don’t even know how many speakers there are – a fair few all round the cabin anyway.  I also like the fact that on the LCD display panel I can easily select to shove the sound output only to the rear speakers for the kids.  In this way they can listen to Horrid Henry and Daddy becomes a happy man again.

Storage Space – there are plenty of cup holders and storage room around the cabin.  Four people can safely put down their favourite hot beverage in a convenient cup holder – two in the rear, two in the front.  There’s cubby holes all over and I find the deep space under the front central armrest the most useful.  There’s even a little drawer under this at the front – something that some people only learn about after a few weeks of owning the car.

Specs Holder – I’ve blogged already about the specs holder, situated just above the rear mirror.  It can easily hold two pairs (three at a push) and you always know where to find your specs or sunglasses – and they won’t be squashed.

Seat Belt Tensioners – if you have small kids that require car seats then you’ll appreciate the seat belts and the seat belt tensioners on the Prius.  We used to have a lovely VW Passat Estate when we had our first child.  However, although we loved the car, it soon had to go because the seat belt tensioner clutch always kicked in and made it so very difficult to get the seat belt around the child and car seat before clicking it into place.

Tonneau Cover – the tonneau cover that covers the rear luggage compartment has got to be the easiest one I have used on any car.  Some can be so awkward and fiddly they end up never being used and items in the luggage compartment end up being on show to Uncle Fred, all his pals and anyone else that knows them.  Don’t know about you, but I don’t like Uncle Fred to see all my stuff.

Storage Under the Main Luggage Compartment – I love this extra storage space.  The floor of the main luggage compartment has piano hinges in two places that means it folds up easily and rests against two stops at the side.  You can then put items in the space under the main luggage compartment.  I carry all my shopping bags, bungee cords, kids drawing stuff, DVD players, ropes and tow rope and first aid box in this bit.  There’s still more space for other items too.  I like it because it keeps the main luggage area neat, free and tidy and stops all the items I mentioned above from sliding around whilst driving.

Voice Control – yes it does sound a bit futuristic, I know.  Kind of reminds me of Client Eastwood in the Firefox.  Although not used much, this feature has been handy when my two kids have been making loud, emphatic requests for audio entertainment that was deleterious to my driving concentration levels.  In such cases, where I really did need hands on the wheel and eyes front, I can press the Voice Control button on the steering and the friendly (and calm) voice requests what command I need.  In the absence of a “Silence Kids” command I request “Audio On” and the sound system engages.  Calm is restored to the cabin.  Daddy is again happy.


Top Safety Rating - The Prius makes me feel safe in its solid cabin, surrounded by copious air baggery.  In the UK, I find the Parkers website a very useful source of car data and information.  You can see for yourself that the Prius scores well and has a top Euro NCAP 5 star rating.  With more safety-feature related acronyms than you can shake an oily stick at, the Prius gives me the reassurance that my family’s safety is being well catered for.


What I don’t like so much about the Prius:


Sat Nav Destination Setup – the Sat Nav doesn’t take full UK post code as a way of setting the destination.  Now, this is the most common and convenient way most people I know set destinations on their Sat Navs.  Why this is not the case on the Prius beats the tripe out of me.  I’m not sure if USA models can accept full ZIP codes, or what the equivalent is in other parts of the world.  I’d love to know.

Dim Instruments – when it is poor visibility during daytime driving (like when it gets gey dreich as we say here in Scotland) then I’ll put on my side or main headlights in order to be more visible to other vehicles on the road.  However, the digital instrumentation dims because it presumes I am driving at night time and therefore needs to reduce instrument intensity.  Maybe there is a setting to address this, I’m not sure.  In the meantime, it means I am hesitant to put on my headlights in the daytime, which can impinge on road safety.

Family Life

Raindrops in Cabin – this is a minor quibble.  When the car is wet and you open the doors or tailgate you can get drips from the door surrounds dripping onto the seats or luggage areas.  Not many drips but nonetheless I wonder how this got past the designers.

Tailgate Opens High – if you are parked in a multi-story car park (car lot) or any garage with low roof then take care when opening the tailgate.  It opens in such a way that the line of the tailgate rests at 10 degrees or so from the vertical, meaning the bottom portions of the tailgate are now way high up and can risk bumping against a low roof.  This is what happened to me and I’ve had to get paint chip repairs done to fix minor paintwork damage.


In summary, there are far more positive points to owning a Toyota Prius than there are negative points.  That is my personal opinion based upon just over a year’s ownership.  If you have anything useful to chip in then, please, send me me a comment.


  1. Thanks, I am looking to buy a 2nd gen Prius and found the article very informative.

  2. Hi Mark and thanks for your comment. I'm really chuffed that you find the information useful. Priming yourself with knowledge of the 2nd gen Prius will aid your selection and purchase of your eventual vehicle. I'm minded to write a down-loadable Prius Buyers Guide that readers of this blog can print off and take with them whilst viewing Prius cars for sale. Best wishes for your future purchse!

  3. Hi Sean,

    You seem very knowledgeable about the Prius that you drive and I would be very interested in reading that downloadable guide, should you choose to write it. I'm a British national who has been living abroad since before the 1st gen Prius came out and I plan to return in a few months' time to Manchester. I know that here in Australia there are a lot of Prius taxis that have over 500,000 kms mileage and supposedly run fine. When I buy a car I want it to be a 2nd gen Prius! How much does a used second hand Prius cost in the UK these days?

    I know the 3rd gen is improved in some aspects but I don't think I can afford it, and it doesn't seem to be -that- much better than the 2nd gen.

    If you write the guide, it would be nice if you could include an analysis of the long-term costs involved, such as service, parts, and repair. I assume the costs have gone up a bit since ten years ago! How often do you service your Prius and how much does it cost you?

    You mention that the Prius is a very quiet ride. I have never actually sat inside a Prius so I wouldn't know personally, but I have read complaints about the Prius' cabin noise, which appears to be a result of the lightness of the materials used. What is your opinion on this?

    I hope I'm not asking too many questions. I'm just very interested!

  4. Well Mark I'm flattered - thanks! I'm just learning as I go along and have a lot to learn, believe me. I bought my 2006 2nd gen Prius precisely because of affordability issues - when purchasing and in the longer term upkeep, running and maintenance. A reader recently informed me of his regular 70mpg+ economy in his 3rd gen Prius. However, I read of people in 2nd gen also getting near this figure. I will certainly take on board your thoughts and suggestions when preparing a Buyer's Guide. I recently got a major service (6 years) and it cost £250 (approx 350AUD?). There were no surprises and the price quoted was the eventual price paid. J.D Power and Associates annual league tables always seem to feature the Prius in the top 5 cars for customer satisfaction so it is a very sensible buy. Cabin noise seems quiet to me and I have driven quiet smooth cars in the past. Hmm, don't know why someone would say the Prius was nosiy in the cabin. To me it seems refined and quiet. Choice of tyre (mine are Bridgestones) could affect road noise in the cabin. Some people have remarked on the sound of the engine but I think that is only when its accelerating relatively hard and the CVT transmission doesn't go up 'through the gears' as there are no distinct ratios like automatic or manual transmissions. It just selects the engine speed needed at that instant to suit the road wheel speed and load. Thanks again.

  5. Hello Sean,

    Thanks again for all the information. A quick question - does your 2006 Prius have side air bags? And is it included as standard on the 2006 (and later) Prius?

  6. No problem at all Mark - yes, in a word, to answer your question. The 2nd Gen Prius does feature a comprehensive airbag safety system. I cannot copy the contents of the Owners Manual and post on this blog since that would infringe copyright. Suffice to say, there is a driver's airbag in the steering column, a front passanger's airbag above the dashboard glovebox, front seat side airbags supplemented by a curtain airbag. This last airbag runs from the base of the A-pillar and up the sides of the windscreen (windshield) over the tops of the front and back door openings and past the C-pillar to the bse of the rear quarterlight windows. Pages 98 and 106 in the (UK) Owners Manual refer. I'm going to put a post on immediately after this showing a video on YouTube of the Euro NCAP testing on the 2nd Gen Prius. The Prius gets 5 stars for adult safety. I believe there may be differences in specification on second generation Prius depending on the country you are in. I can say that I just checked a T3 Prius (the basic trim here in the UK) and it features the following safety equipment as standard:

    3 rear 3 point seatbelts
    Brake assist
    Driver/Front Passenger airbags
    Driver/front passenger side airbags
    Electronically controlled ABS with EBD
    Energy absorb/Deformable/retracting steering column
    Front and rear curtain airbags
    Front/rear energy absorbing crumple zones
    Head impact protection structure
    Height adjustable front seatbelts
    Rear child proof door locks
    Seatbelt warning
    Side impact door beams
    Traction control
    Central double locking with remote activation
    Keys left in ignition warning
    Remote control alarm
    Security window etching linked to 24hr helpline
    Steering column lock
    Transponder engine immobiliser

    I have a T-Spirit (top-level trim) and it is the trim I'd recommend in the used market.

  7. Thanks again Mark for another comprehensive answer! Could you perhaps comment on how the Prius compares to the Camry Hybrid in the UK?

  8. Hi there - though I think you have Sean and Mark confused! The Toyota Camry has not been part of the UK new car market for, oh, ten years or so. Its place has been supplanted by the Toyota Avensis. The Camry, in its most recent and current guise, is part of the Australasian car market, the North American car market and the Russian car market plus others, I believe, So, I can't comment. The Toyota Auris is the UK model that comes below the Avensis. Whilst the Avensis does not have a hybrid model in its family, the Auris does. I'd recommend you visit the Toyota UK website at for more information. If I had deep enough pockets then I could choose from the Yaris Hybrid, Prius, Prius-Plug In, Prius Plus or Auris Hybrid. All very nice and very lovely. One can dream!

  9. I know this is a really old thread and you've probably got rid by now, but the right hand button (next to trip reset) on the display can be pressed to cycle the dash brightness through 4 different presets when the lights are on.