USED: 2015 Toyota Prius 5 Hybrid Review: Geeking Out on MPG and Great Technology

Toyota Prius
The 2015 Midnight Blue Toyota Prius we drove

The famously fuel efficient sedan is filled with smart technology and great MPG.

As hard as it is to believe, until a few weeks ago, I’d never driven a Toyota Prius hybrid sedan. So I was thrilled to spend a few days in the 2015 model and get the lowdown on this popular, game-changing car.

Lots of surprises—even though I knew what to expect

Toyota Prius

Look, ma, no dials on the dashboard of the 2015 Toyota Prius

So here is the surprising first thing you see (or don’t) when you get into the Prius. No instrument panel in front of the steering wheel.


Yup. Instrument readings are displayed on a screen centered on the dashboard, not over the steering wheel. That’s where you’ll see your speed, fuel consumption, battery charge and other key driver feedback. The Prius 5 that we test drove also added a heads up display, which projects your speed limit (and other select information) on the windshield right in front of you. Only the driver can see the heads up display, but if you find it distracting, you can turn it off.

Toyota Prius

View from the driver’s seat in the 2015 Prius. Steering wheel controls include voice commands, radio controls, adaptive cruise and climate control

Driver feedback–lots of it–because knowledge helps improve your MPG 

Probably the biggest challenge is finding your MPG. In a hybrid especially, this is a constant measure. The Prius shows your constant consumption with an MPG meter to the right of the MPH reading, and a consumption display option that shows (with little car icons) how much you’ve generated and stored in the car’s battery  and how much you’ve used, among other feedback. It took me a while to figure out what my fuel economy was, and even after driving the Prius for a while, I’m not sure I really know.

Toyota Prius

The gear shift in the 2015 Toyota Prius is not your typical gear shift

Then, the gear shift is a little different, too. When Toyota introduced the re-designed gear shift with the first generation Prius in 2001, people were a little baffled. But now, a look around at cars all over the spectrum—from BMW to Cadillac—shows similar gear shift designs. That’s because the gear selector is electric, not mechanical, so the way it functions can be customized to what is best for the driver and the car. Luckily, the information screen displays which gear you’re in so you can always check before stepping on the gas (I got used to doing this, too).

This car is for drivers who:

Toyota Prius

The cabin of the 2015 Prius is roomy and with all the windows, bright and airy

  • Want great fuel economy–50MPG on average
  • Need passenger and/or cargo space
  • Don’t mind (or like!) that this car is a badge for environmentally sensitive drivers
  • Like the challenge of trying to beat their own best fuel economy numbers
  • Regularly have only one, two or three other passengers
  • Drive a lot in the city
  • Appreciate the roomy, airy hatchback design
  • Like being part of a revolution

Drivers of this car should consider:

Toyota Prius

A small shelf under the center console is surprisingly spacious; it could hold a small handbag. It also has seat heaters and a 12V cigarette style power port

  • Front seat storage space is mostly limited to the small space under the center console
  • Fuel economy readings can take some learning to discern
  • There is not an all wheel drive option
  • Seats 5 but is more comfortable for 4 passengers

But the biggest reinvention? The hybrid drive battery-assisted engine

Toyota Prius

The head up display in the 2015 Toyota Prius projects key driver information onto the windshield via a projector built into the dash (in the foreground)

OK, so this isn’t news, but it’s still big. Toyota came up with this system that, using a combined set of criteria, gives you much better fuel economy than the average small sedan. From the large battery that can power the Prius for a short distance at low speeds, to recharging systems that funnel energy back into the battery when braking or cruising, the system recoups much of the energy generated, letting very little of it go to waste.

The Prius even adjusts the climate control for maximum efficiency, and with heated seats, eliminates the need to over-control the climate, which can burn up a lot of fuel.

The car to spark your inner MPG geek 

Toyota Prius

The Prius is the taxi of choice in LA (an older Prius C is pictured here) where rides can be long and gas is pricey

You might see the Prius in places where people who are environmentally or fiscally conscious go, like the farmer’s market or Trader Joe’s, or you might hop in one for an Uber ride—they are very popular as taxis.

That is because the Prius is thinking about how you save at every turn: it’s an inexpensive car to buy (the Prius C starts at $19,500), they regularly last 300,000 miles or more, and best of all, Prius’s fuel economy has captured the heart of a whole spectrum of drivers. 50MPG is typical, though your actual mileage can vary. Many drivers are able to exceed the estimates; they achieve this by doing several things: keeping climate control use at a minimum, not driving too fast, keeping loads light, keeping tires properly inflated, regenerating energy back to the battery by consciously keeping a foot on the brake a little longer, and driving only on battery power when they can, which is at about 15 MPH or lower and for short distances.

The beauty of a hybrid: Quietly blowing up fuel economy standards

The Prius was a game changer when it was introduced 15 years ago as the first car with a large battery that not only stores power to assist the gas motor but that also recaptures energy the car generates when it’s doing things like braking or cruising at highway speeds. When the car is powered by the battery it’s virtually silent; when the gas engine kicks on it’s still pretty quiet. 

That distinct shape: A body built for efficiency

The distinct arrow shape of the Prius and its smallish size is, typical of cars these days, not casual or thoughtless. Toyota’s engineers carefully crafted everything about the Prius to encourage optimal fuel efficiency. It is designed to cut through the air, and its lightweight body keeps efficiency at its greatest.

Added safety technology counter balances the car’s light weight

Toyota Prius

The rear view camera in the 2015 Toyota Prius

A light weight car can feel less substantial or safe, though, so Toyota addresses that with safety features that just work on their own to keep the car stable and safe. The “Star Safety System” includes vehicle stability control, traction control, anti-lock brake system, electronic brake-force distribution (this keeps the vehicle’s weight steady and not lurching forward when the brakes are applied suddenly), brake assist (automatic braking when in-car sensors anticipate a crash) and smart stop technology (automatically stops the car to avoid a crash).

Other safety features that help drivers to drive safely include a rear view camera, lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control.

Then, there’s a power mode for an extra boost when you want it, like merging onto the highway or for more engine power when there is a truck tailgating you. Or, when you just want a zippier drive experience, Prius can do that, too.

A cabin built for space and light

Toyota Prius

The rear hatch has lots of glass, including a panel under the rear spoiler, which gives you added visibility

One thing that surprised me is the amount of glass in the Prius. From front corner windows to a window under the rear spoiler, the car’s design leaves you with a light, airy feeling. The car’s hatchback design also creates a nice flexible cargo area, and with the seats folded down, you can haul surf boards, skis or more likely, strips of crown molding from Home Depot (because, while I like to think I’d use this space for a surf board, it’s more likely it will be used for hauling home improvement supplies).

Other great spaces in the interior include a cubby under the center console that is big enough for a small handbag, or sunglasses, phones and car keys, and the double glove box, which also has offers some nice space.

What We Loved

Toyota Prius

Push this button on the top of the rear seat to fold it down

  • The color of the model we test drove: Nautical Blue Metallic (which has been discontinued for 2016)
  • Lane keep assist
  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Heads up display
  • Storage space under the center console
  • Easy fold down seats
  • 50 MPG

What You Need to Know

Toyota Prius

Even more glass this small corner window adds visibility in the Prius

  • Takes regular gas
  • Prius base price: $24,200
  • Price of the Prius 5 model we drove: $35,160
  • Two years of Toyota Care included in purchase price (and, two years of scheduled maintenance and road side assistance)

Disclosure: Toyota loaned us the Prius for this test drive; opinions expressed here are all my own.

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss