Few cars have as strange a reputation as the Toyota Prius. Sure, it doesn’t have the muscle of a Camaro, the looks of the Mustang, or the reputation of the Honda Civic. Still, the Toyota Prius paved the way for an entire category of fuel-efficient vehicles that promise to save drivers money on gasoline without sacrificing usability or requiring them to plug their vehicle into the wall.

Yesterday, I went car shopping with my wife after having sold my Hyundai Elantra for a reasonable price. Having heard that gas prices were inching back up towards the $4.00 mark here in Texas, the search for an economical vehicle that sips gas rather than guzzles was on.

We came across a used 2008 Toyota Prius in a sizable lot. With only 52k miles on it, it really wouldn’t be considered a bad long-term investment in terms of depreciation. What really caught my wife’s eye is the touring package that extends the vehicle’s standard equipment to include electronic keys with push-button ignition, better wheels, and a number of other little features that turns an otherwise decent car into something that fits our needs perfectly.

As we went for the test drive, I heard the salesman say something that really had me thinking. He mentioned that he had considered a Prius before, but wasn’t quite at a point in his life where he would see himself buying a Prius. Couple that with some good-natured ribbing that LockerGnome’s founder, Chris Pirillo, receives when he reveals that he drives a Prius, and I’m left wondering why this impressively techy vehicle has such a strange reputation among the general population.

Here are a few reasons that I decided to sign on the dotted line and take home a 2008 Toyota Prius.

Fuel Economy

Fuel economy is the number one draw for any hybrid vehicle. You’re not going to be drag racing as if you were driving a Tesla in a Prius, but the amount of money you’ll save on gasoline could very well overshadow the cost of ownership.

Let’s break the fuel savings down when comparing the current-model Toyota Prius to another fuel-efficient sedan, the 2011 Chevy Cruze. While the Cruze itself isn’t a hybrid, it does come with a comparable price tag and no “reputation” for being a non-vehicle. It’s also one of the most fuel-efficient sedans in its class.

While the Cruze itself isn’t a hybrid vehicle, it does boast an impressive 36 MPG on the highway and 25 MPG in the city. Compare that to the Prius with its 51 MPG city / 48 highway and you have one serious gas-sipping machine.

Given that gas prices vary widely from state to state within the US, we’ll assume that the average price throughout a year is $4.00/gallon. Assuming that each vehicle is driven 15,000 miles in a year, with half of the miles being driven on the highway and half in the city, the difference between the two couldn’t be more obvious.

The Prius would run you roughly $1,200 in gasoline during the year averaging 50 MPG. The Chevy Cruze would cost $2,000 in fuel during the same period of time averaging 30 MPG. That’s about $800 in savings. Not too shabby.

Just in case you’re wondering, we’re not picking on the Chevy Cruze with this analogy. Here are some MPG averages to consider from other vehicles.

  • 2012 Fiat 500 – 33 MPG
  • 2012 Ford Focus – 31 MPG
  • 2011 Ford Fusion – 39 MPG
  • 2011 Honda Insight – 41 MPG
  • 2011 Hyundai Elantra – 33 MPG
  • 2011 Lexus CT 200h – 42 MPG
  • 2011 Volkswagon Golf – 34 MPG

Even the Lexus CT falls 8 MPG short when compared to the Toyota Prius.

Reasonable Price

The Toyota Prius may save you money in fuel, but what about your payments? What good is saving $800 per year when you’re paying that much more just to own it?

The 2012 Toyota Prius comes in several different options ranging from $24,000 to $29,805 for the top-of-the-line model. If you don’t mind a smaller model, the Toyota Prius C runs just $19,500 as a starting price.

That certainly doesn’t make it the cheapest vehicle on the market, but it is one of the least expensive hybrids out there. The Kia Optima Hybrid starts at $25,700 and goes up from there. The Buick LaCrosse Hybrid will run you between $29,960 and $32,440.

Personally, I believe in buying cars used since the price is generally much more reasonable and the likelihood of manufacturer defects causing you issues is slightly less. Granted, you lose the benefit of a full warranty.

Joy to Drive

This part of the experience is relative. Not everyone will enjoy the way the Prius handles acceleration or feels on the road. Personally, I was amazed at how smooth of a ride the Prius offered.

What struck me as the most impressive feature of the Prius when I first hit the big round power button to start the car was how automated everything was. Even shifting felt less manual, with the switch to park being a simple matter of a push of a button.

A big, bright display screen keeps me updated on the battery charge levels, charging cycles, and allows me to navigate through various radio stations with ease. Oh, and these controls are also built right in to the steering wheel, making it a lot easier to turn music up or down as I desire. As part of the touring package that came with my particular Prius, a rear camera makes it really easy to back up without fear of running over rogue hamsters or other obstacles that may be difficult to see.

Perhaps the most notable advantage to driving the Prius is the noise level. Because the engine only kicks in when you really hit the gas, you can hardly hear it at all. Instead of a noisy racket going on throughout the entire driving process, you can enjoy the music you’re listening to or take a phone call via Bluetooth without having to worry so much about road noise. Oh, and Chris Pirillo would probably want me to note that it also makes a great environment for video recording as the background noise doesn’t drown out the speaker.

The Prius itself turns on a dime. I was astonished to find out after years of driving everything from an 88 Chrysler LeBaron Coupe to a 2003 Hyundai Elantra just how much easier sharp turns are with a Prius. This is a big plus in a crowded parking environment like Austin, TX during SXSW.

Drawbacks

There are some drawbacks to the Toyota Prius that should be noted. For one, the battery may last quite a while, but when it does start to go out you may be in for an expensive replacement.

Recommended tires are slightly different from the standard ones you can buy for $60 a piece, starting at about $100 per tire.

Even with the rear camera, seeing out the back windows when checking your blind spot is difficult. I had a hard time adjusting to this at first.

Despite its advantages, the Toyota Prius will probably never gain you any attention from the ladies. If you’re depending on a car to help you get a date, you probably have more issues than a muscle car could ever make up for.

Final Thoughts

Before I went for that first test drive, I wasn’t sure if I’d like the Prius. After having heard so many comments about it, I was almost convinced that there would be some serious drawback to it that would make it feel like less of an actual car and more like what some people would describe as a glorified golf cart.

After having driven one around and experienced the appeal of a hybrid sedan first-hand, I couldn’t disagree more. I honestly believe that I’ve made a great decision with this purchase, and would recommend anyone out there take one for a test drive before casting judgment on what could be one of the best driving experiences you’ve ever had in an affordable hybrid sedan.