A wolf in sheep’s clothing
Wayne Gerdes - CleanMPG
- June 23, 2007
The 2002 Toyota Prius not only surprised us with regards to its fuel economy capabilities but also turned out to be a fun commuter while discovering her secrets. The numbers achieved while traversing a 20% rural/80% heavily congested Interstate commute were simply outstanding. With that lead in, I hope others enjoy the look back at this wonderful piece of hybrid automobile history. If the hybrid community had known what she was actually capable of using the latest techniques back in her day, I am positive many more would be on the road today.
The first generation Toyota Prius for North American consumption was released in July of 2000. She was the world's first mass-produced hybrid electric vehicle as first seen on the streets of Tokyo back in 1997. The underlying technology represented an automotive breakthrough with its high fuel economy and extremely low emissions via the combination of an efficient Atkinson intake equipped ICE, (2) electric motors and a relatively large NiMH battery pack all providing power through the Power Split transmission known back then as THS (Toyota Hybrid System). This hybrid technology propelled a somewhat roomy, compact four-door, five-passenger sedan commonly known today as the Prius-I.
What made the North American Generation 1 Prius special? Besides the new for its day Hybrid drivetrain capable of fuel economy in city, suburban and heavily traveled Interstates only a Honda Insight, HCH-I/II or Prius-II could possibly achieve, its centrally located 5.8-inch LCD with real time Energy, Consumption, Navigation (for those vehicles so equipped) and Radio controls was a noteworthy addition offered only in vehicles costing thousands of $’s more back when the Prius-I first arrived on our shores.
2002 Toyota Prius-I - Pricing when new
MSRP: $19,995 - Invoice: $18,793 - Destination: $485. Options and pricing: Navigation: $1,900, Side Air Bags: $250, Cruise Control: $250, Carpeted floor mats: $86, DRL’s: $40.
2002 Toyota Prius-I - Used car pricing
2002 Toyota Prius-I Exterior and Interior
Assumptions include Good Condition for KBB and Average condition for Edmunds. Vehicle had 75,000 miles. Options as tested included Navigation, Side Air Bags and Cruise Control. TIV = Trade in Value. PP = Private Party. Retail = Full retail pricing.
2002 Toyota Prius-I Specifications
. Prius-I specifications can be viewed in the CleanMPG - New Fuel Efficient Automobile Specifications
forum at the following: 2001 - 2003 Toyota Prius
2002 Toyota Prius-I Performance
. The Prius-I’s 0 - 60 times of 12.5 seconds with a full SoC and 14 + with a low SoC is standard fare. For everyday commuting, this is more then sufficient whereas for a highway merge, a bit of planning would be advised.
60 - 0 panic stop times of 140 feet are also the norm. A short note about braking performance. With a slight application of the brakes or when simply letting off the accelerator pedal to decelerate, standard regen slows you down smoothly and predictably. When applying the brakes hard enough to actually grab the Mechanicals directly, there was a mushy feeling through the Regen section and then a rapid deceleration with the mechanicals applied for full stopping power. A bit unnerving at first given the non-linear feel but something you would get used to.
I believe Fuel Economy is a more important performance measure then the acceleration and braking results as long as those standard performance parameters are both adequate. In the case of the Prius-I, it met the minimum criteria for acceleration and braking and hit a grand slam in terms of its fuel economy as shown below.
2002 Toyota Prius-I Ride and Handling
. The Prius-I has a comfortable and complaint road feel when driving down the road absorbing road imperfections with ease. With heavier cross winds however, a little more attention to the wheel and direction of travel must be adhered to as she can be moved around within your lane of travel with wind gusts as low as 20 mph.
During hard cornering, as entry speed increases, body lean becomes more pronounced. She was not meant to handle like a Formula 1 car so do not pretend that she is one and you will find the ride and handling more then sufficient for your everyday commuting needs.
2002 Toyota Prius-I Ergonomics
. The front driver’s seat is supportive, comfortable and well placed with regards to the pedals and steering wheel. The front seats could use a few more adjustments for maximum comfort over a longer segment but were supportive enough for the average driver. The head rest is a bit close but makes for a safer setup in case you were to ever be hit from behind. The Accelerator pedal itself needed more force to control then I would have liked but again, nothing that I did not get used to in short order. The lack of a center armrest tall enough to rest your right forearm on was unfortunate. The main negative was the manual seek and tune buttons for the radio were directly behind the shift lever which caused some blind navigation around the lever to tune the radio.
2002 Toyota Prius-I - CR’s current reliability, satisfaction and depreciation ratings
2002 Prius-I w/out Side Air Bags - NHTSA Crash Test Ratings
A short note about the 2002 Prius Crash Test ratings. For both the 2002 and 2003 model year, SAB's (Side Air Bags) were an option with the purchase of a Prius-I. With this $250 option included, Front side impact crash test scores were bound to achieve a minimum of 4 stars although the NHTSA never tested a Prius-I with them installed. It is a lifesaving feature that I believe should be at a minimum, mandatory if you were to consider the purchase of a used 2002 or 2003 Toyota Prius-I today.
2002 Prius-I Fuel Economy and Gauge Results
All tank fills were topped off from the beginning of the tank and topped off again when completed. Initial odometer readout: 74,893 miles.
2002 Toyota Prius-I Fuel Gauge Pip dropouts
|Tank||Temp Range (degrees F)||MFD (mpg)||ScanGauge (mpg)||Distance Traveled||Fuel Consumed (US Gallons)||Actual Fuel Economy (mpg)|
| || || || || || || |
|Scan Gauge Calibration||63 - 76||74.3||NA||234.0 miles||3.306||70.78|
|Full Review||63 - 84||79.3||74.5||963.8 miles||12.821||75.17|
|Final Short||72 - 88||83.4||79.1||392.5 miles||4.960||79.13|
| || || || || || || |
|Totals||63 - 88||NA||NA||1590.3 miles||21.087 gallons||75.416 mpg|
|Current EPA ratings||City||Highway||CleanMPG Observed Fuel Economy|
|US||52 mpg||45 mpg||75.416 mpg|
|Imperial||62.4 mpg||54 mpg||90.5 mpg|
|Metric||4.5 L/100 Km||5.2 L/Km||3.119 L/100 Km|
2002 Toyota Prius-I FE Techniques and results
|Tank||Pip #||Miles traveled before Pip disappeared|
| ||10 Blinking||873.5|
| ||Fuel Starve||947.3|
| || || |
. The Prius-I higher end FE techniques and detailed results can be viewed in the CleanMPG Article
forum at the following: Toyota Prius-I - Reaching for the hypermiler in all of us.
2002 Toyota Prius-I Conclusion
With its introduction, the Prius-I was the vehicle that set the entire automotive industry on a new path if it liked it or not. Not only did we discover a compact vehicle with fuel economy capabilities unrivaled by anything from its day other then a Honda Insight, the Prius-I had a smooth ride, decent ergonomics and handled commuting duties without a hiccup. Overall, a great commuter and if you drive through a heavily congested Interstate or city/suburban type environment on a daily basis, the Prius-I with its impressive fuel economy capability may be the exact used vehicle for you. Whether a Prius-I fits your lifestyle, wants, needs or commute is a question I hope this review helped answer. A wolf in sheep’s clothing indeed!
A few words from Doug Schaefer, CleanMPG member and tech savvy owner of a 2001 Prius-I.
Originally Posted by DAS
Cost of ownership: One might anticipate total operating costs of high-20s cents per mile with shop maintenance, or low-20s with (easy) Do it Yourself.
Add-ons: Seat covers and factory floor mats still appear on Ebay. Watch for them. Keep the original upholstery covered until 300k or so, and then sit on nice new fabric until end of life. The extra floor mats are real handy for mud or sand extrication.
If you like quiet like the Prius-II, install sound-absorbers in the front doors and under the hood. They really work. Adds 40-ish pounds. If you hate donut spares, a real spare tire can be squeezed into the well.
With almost 100 amps available from the DC/DC converter, it is an excellent candidate for a 1000 (or so) watt 110 volt AC inverter. Adds 10-15 pounds. This can keep your basement sump pump alive during power outages, or just to make espresso while car-camping. Operated in this way it has the same specific fuel consumption as those little Honda (TM) gas generators; a bit quieter, and much less polluting.
Technical Service Bulletins: For (nearly) all NHW11 used buyers, find out if the HV battery resealing and crankshaft position sensor have been done. Free by Toyota with no sunset. The most common squawks are ECM and power steering replacement, both of which should have been done (by now) under warranty for affected vehicles. Some bad accelerator pedals before VIN ... 45000.
Navigation inclusion: I would not pick one that included Navigation. Map upgrades are either unknown or non-existent. Aftermarket add-on GPS are cheaper and (arguably) better.
Transmission fluid: Toyota does not mandate transmission fluid change intervals, but experience has shown that 60k miles is a sensible precaution. Maybe even a bit more frequently? On the first change, also buy the pan gasket, so the pan can be inspected for metal chips and cleaned if needed. has a real pan that you can drop out and inspect/clean for metal bits. I favor migrating to type WS transmission fluid, but Toyota on high has not officially blessed this. But in any case, change it out, using type IV if you are not adventuresome.
General Maintenance: The more salty your winters are, the more you need to exercise the parking brake cable and inspect the condition of all brake hardware wrt corrosion. This is a downside to friction brakes with a very low duty cycle! Absent that, anticipate 200k brake life or more. But, as with all hydraulics, the fluid will absorb water over time and one should enlist the help of a competent brake shop to confirm that you are not above 1% water. Fluid replacement otherwise.
Align the suspension for as little toe-in as you can stand. Zero toe-in rolls very easy, but requires a steady hand on the wheel and won't please all drivers (mine is 0.05 in on each side and I could probably manage with less).
Clean the throttle butterfly every 60 k or so. Replace the PCV valve eventually. Inspect the CV boots for grease and cracks when you rotate the tires. With the rear end up, make sure that the brakes don't drag.
With appropriate maintenance, I see no reason to doubt that the NHW 11 would perform superbly for 300k miles or more, or until suitable fuel is 'not commonly available'. Best car I've ever owned.
Comparisons: Why it's better than the Prius-II. Less cost for a used one. Lockable trunk. "B mode' works along with the cruise control. You can manage brake fluid and the 'electrical' coolant loop without Toyota's THHT! A bit more rear seat head room. Climate controls do not confuse cavemen.
Why it's worse than the Prius-II: 5-10% less fuel economy in the hands of 'typicals'. No pushbutton start, Bluetooth, and all that 21st century stuff. Cargo volume and space-versatility. Noise levels, unless adding sound deadening as above.
Overall: These are extremely reliable vehicles and sure to please those who can get by with the interior space available. This makes the Prius-I particularly cheap to operate by Hypermiling or by DIY the easy routine maintenance. The reduction in total costs cents per mile is similar in either case. The HV battery or transmission failures are each less than 1/1000, so far. I have developed high confidence in both systems, presuming fluid change as above.
A huge thank you goes out to both Doug Schaefer for his technical expertise and in particular, Cheryl Appel of the Madison Hybrid Group who loaned her Prius-I out for this review.