Fuel-Saver Flashback: First-Generation Toyota Prius

The Toyota Prius is probably the most recognized car on the planet by now and it’s no surprise that it keeps getting better with every new generation. However, does anyone remember the first generation of the Toyota Prius? Probably not. Let’s take a look back to the turn of the century and find out how everyone’s favorite beloved (and hated) hybrid car came to be.


2001 Toyota Prius Cutaway

The first-generation Toyota Prius ran from 2001-2003. It actually debuted in the last part of 2000 for the 2001 model year. The name Prius comes from the Latin term “to go before,” which is fitting considering it was a car that was ahead of its time. But it’s also ironic because it was beaten to the U.S. market by the first-generation Honda Insight by a mere 7 months.

The first-generation Prius was actually launched in Japan back in 1997 and was such a hit that Toyota decided to launch it worldwide a few years later. The Toyota Prius came at a time when fuel prices were rising and large SUVs like the Ford Excursion roamed the planet. And while small, fuel-efficient cars were prevalent, the Toyota Prius offered a more high-tech solution to saving gas.


The 2001 Toyota Prius looked like a snubbed-nose sedan on its tippy-toes, thanks to skinny 14-inch wheels and narrow-body style. As you might be able to tell, however, it was all in good engineering faith as the Prius had a 0.29 drag coefficient and the skinny wheels were wrapped in low rolling resistance rubber for better fuel economy. On the inside, the Prius wasn’t much to look at by today’s standards.

Cloth fabrics and hard plastics abound, in true early 2000’s fashion, and the bare dashboard housed dial-knobs and buttons for the HVAC and radio controls. Sitting front and center was a small LCD screen that displayed the hybrid power information, while up top, a digital speedometer let everyone in the car know how fast it was going. Let’s not forget the column shifter, though, which was a unique foreshadowing of the Prius shifters that were yet to come and the fact that it had a proper trunk, as opposed to the usual hatchback shape that we’re used to now.

2001 Toyota Prius Interior


The 2001 Toyota Prius was powered by a 1.5-liter, 70-hosepower engine mated to a 44-horsepower electric motor that was connected to a 274-volt nickel-metal hydride battery and a CVT transmission. Together, this powertrain produced a total of 114 horsepower and 82 lb-ft of torque. It wasn’t much, but the car did weigh 2,765 pounds and was able to get to 60 mph in about 13 seconds. It was slow, but it made up for it in fuel economy.

2001 Toyota Prius Engine

Fuel economy

When the 2001 Toyota Prius debuted, it touted the best fuel economy numbers on the market: 52 city/45 highway. However, the EPA has updated its testing procedures since then and the adjusted numbers are 42 in the city and 41 on the highway. Still not too terrible considering its 20-year-old technology, but in this day and age, we need something that’s in the mid-50 mpg range to be impressed.

2001 Toyota Prius

Is it worth it to buy one now?

If you’re feeling nostalgic and need an affordable commuter car that will feel like a time machine to the early 2000s, then we say go for it. A current search on Cargurus reveals that pricing for the 2001-2003 Toyota Prius nationwide is anywhere between the $1000 and $7,000 range depending on the year, condition, and location of the car.

Considering these cars can be refurbished quite easily and there’s enough aftermarket support for battery and hybrid system parts, we think the first-generation Prius would work for anyone interested and handy with a wrench. If not, we would advise sticking to a newer Prius.