Compact car; Built in Japan
  • 4-door sedan
  • transverse front-engine/front-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $3,500 – $5,500*

2001 Toyota Prius

2002 Toyota Prius

2001 Toyota Prius interior

2002 Toyota Prius

2002 Toyota Prius

  • Fuel economy
  • Maneuverability
  • Low-speed acceleration
  • Rear visibility

Like Honda’s Insight and subsequent Civic Hybrid, the Prius serves mainly as a high-tech alternative to a traditional economy car. Toyota’s own Echo delivers similarly appealing fuel mileage, and Volkswagen’s Jetta/Golf diesel engine can achieve 40 mpg. Prius is roomier, more pleasant daily transport than an Insight, but less conventional in appearance than Honda’s Civic Hybrid sedan–which beats the first-generation Prius in refinement and driving feel. Still, as a “green machine,” Prius delivers pleasant, practical daily transportation, though you might want to consider the second-generation version instead. In short supply when new, the Prius is also scarce on used-car lots.


Toyota closely followed Honda’s lead into hybrid-powertrain territory with its subcompact Prius sedan, which debuted as a 2001 model. Seating five passengers, the Prius was powered by a four-cylinder gasoline engine and an electric motor. The two automatically worked in tandem or separately, depending on driving needs at the moment.

The Prius could move away from a stop using its electric motor alone. Once underway, the gas engine kicked in automatically and became the sole power source while cruising. For passing, though, the electric motor could provide temporary assistance. During coasting or braking, the gas engine could shut off and the electric motor became a generator to recharge the nickel-metal-hydride battery pack. While stopped, the gas engine remained off (unless the air conditioner was in use).

The hybrid system drove a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which had no gears but worked with a belt and pulleys to produce near-infinite ratios. Because the system can charge the batteries while the Prius is moving, it never needs to be plugged into an AC outlet.

Fuel economy was estimated by the EPA at 52-mpg city and 45-mpg highway. The higher city rating reflected the electric drive’s greater low-speed efficiency.

Antilock brakes, air conditioning, and power windows/locks/mirrors were standard. The special Prius warranty included 8-year/100,000-mile powertrain coverage, plus roadside assistance.

Toyota’s only hybrid competitor was the Honda Insight, which was a two-seat hatchback coupe with a 1.3-liter gas engine that initially came only with a manual transmission. The Insight’s hybrid system worked differently, too, with the electric motor providing assistance to the gas engine during hard acceleration.

Comparable high-mileage models included the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Toyota Echo, and Volkswagen Golf/Jetta diesel.

Yearly Updates

2002 Prius
Front side airbags were newly optional for 2002, along with cruise control and a navigation system. By now, Honda’s Insight was available with a continuously variable transmission, like the Prius.
2003 Prius
Unchanged for 2003, the Prius continued to attract buyers who favored high fuel-economy figures. Honda launched a conventionally-styled Civic Hybrid sedan this year, with a different power system and a smaller gas engine, to compete against the Prius. Toyota, meanwhile, was about to move away from the original sedan design and introduce a larger, more potent Prius with a hatchback body, as a 2004 model.


transverse front-engine/front-wheel drive

The Prius used a hybrid (gasoline/electric) powertrain, driving a gearless continuously variable transmission. Toyota’s 1.5-liter gasoline engine produced 70 horsepower, while the companion electric motor generated 44 horsepower at 1040 rpm and 258 pounds-feet of torque at 0-400 rpm.

dohc I4
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 1.5/91
Engine HP 70
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 82
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
CVT automatic



Horsepower/torque figures shown are for the gasoline engine alone.

Road Test

Acceleration is not a strong point. In fact, a test Prius required a leisurely 12.3 seconds to reach 60 mph, but the CVT-equipped Honda Civic Hybrid isn’t noticeably quicker. Still, the Prius does not feel lazy around town, and shows decent pep in the vital 55-70 mph range. The powertrain does have its quirks: a slight nudge as the gas engine cuts in or out, plus an annoying sag in momentum as the motor switches in and out of battery-recharge mode during braking or when descending long grades.

One test Prius averaged 44.1 mpg in city/highway driving. Another, driven mostly on the highway in somewhat hilly terrain, returned 38.3 mpg. As a comparison, a manual-shift Civic Hybrid managed 47.6 mpg in mixed driving.

Soft damping gives the Prius a capably absorbent ride, with little of the expected small-car choppiness on rippled freeways. Steering/handling is safe and predictable. On the other hand, with its tall body and skinny tires, the Prius is sensitive to crosswinds, tracks road grooves too easily and corners with marked lean and limited grip. Brakes can produce stable and fairly short emergency stops.

Wind and tire noise are small-car normal, but expect considerable engine ruckus in full-throttle driving. A Civic Hybrid is quieter overall, and its gas engine is smoother and sweeter-sounding.

The Prius gearshift sprouts from the dashboard, and moves vertically but works well. A video-type screen can display power sources in use, fuel economy, and radio presets. Distraction occurs easily, but the display can be turned off. Central dashtop digi-graphic gauges are large and legible.

Adult-size front-seat space is matched by easy entry/exit. However, budget-grade seats grow tiring after a couple of hours, despite comfortably high positioning. Body styling slightly impedes aft visibility.

The backseat is too narrow for three adults, but two have ample head clearance and decent leg room even with a front seat pushed well back. Toe space also satisfies.

Cargo space is good for the Prius’s exterior size, but the trunk is taller than it is long, only average in width, with a fairly small opening. The battery-pack location precludes a folding rear seat.


Model Tested: 2002 Toyota Prius

Ratings values are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. With the exception of Value, these numbers reflect how the vehicle compares against the universe of vehicles, not just against rivals in its class.


Acceleration - 2
Fuel Economy - 9
Ride Quality - 5
Steering/Handling - 5
Quietness - 4


Controls/Materials - 3
Room/Comfort Front - 5
Room/Comfort Rear - 5
Cargo Room - 2


Value - 5

Total: 45


4-door sedan
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
100.4 169.6 66.7 57.6
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
11.8 11.9 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
38.8 37.1 41.2 35.4
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: 2002 Prius 4-door sedan


(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

Driver Injury - 3
Front Passenger Injury - 4

Side Impact Test

Driver Injury - N/A
Rear Passenger Injury - N/A


(A score of 100 is average. Lower is better)

Collision N/A
Injury N/A
Theft N/A

Trouble Spots

Dashboard lights
Description: Three warning lights (Master, Hybrid, and Check Engine) may all glow simultaneously after the car is restarted cold (below 32-degrees F), requiring a revised control computer. The lights may also come on due to a problem in the fuel system, which would require a revised gas tank and engine computer. The same three lights may come on due to low engine output, requiring installation of a new accelerator pedal. (2001-02)
Engine stalling
Description: After sitting for an extended time, or when used exclusively for short trips, the vehicle may not start. The original battery, rated at 272 CCA, should be replaced with a larger one rated at 356 CCA along with the hold-down hardware. (2001-03)
Exhaust system
Description: In climates were road salt is used, a valve in the exhaust system becomes corroded and sticks, requiring installation of a revised front exhaust pipe. (2001-02)
Keyless entry
Description: The remote keyless entry and the keyless ignition may malfunction if there is also a Mobil Speedpass (or similar) transmitter on the same key ring and the problem can be alleviated by replacing the vehicle’s oscillators located in both the trunk and cabin. (2004)
Audio system
Description: The radio knob(s) may quit working. Revised knobs are available. (2002)
Electrical problem
Description: After much city, stop-and-go driving or prolonged highway driving in hot weather, the vehicle may have low power output or the “Ready On” indicator may not show requiring replacement of the inverter. (2001-03)
Check-engine light
Description: The check engine light may come on and a code may indicate a problem with the oxygen sensor, requiring reprogramming of the engine control computer. (2004)

Recall History

Description: Insufficient electrical contact in the torque sensor that controls the power assist operation of the electric power steering gear box. If this occurs, the power steering warning icon will be displayed on the center panel, and the driver could experience higher than normal steering effort.
2001-2003 Prius passenger cars manufactured from January 28, 2000, through May 30, 2003.
Description: The steering linkage may loosen, resulting in reduced electric steering assistance when making a left turn. Loss of power steering, particularly when an operator is actively intending to a steer the vehicle, may increase the risk of a crash. Toyota will notify owners and dealers will replace the nuts in the steering linkage free of charge.

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.


Used-car pricing varies widely depending on local market conditions. Therefore, we recommend visiting websites that list used cars for sale to get a better idea of what a specific model is selling for in your area.