What's the next best thing to a Prius?

My '94 Corolla just died. My dream car is a Prius but I can’t afford a new one. I’ve looked for a used one or one off lease, I only found one in my area with 74,000 miles on it.

Any ideas where to find a good used one or one off lease?

Or, what would be the next best thing to a Prius? I need good mileage since I live in a rural area and have to drive long distances for errands, doctors, shopping, visting etc. And we all know that the price of gas will only go up. And, I’m on a budget. I have 6 or 7 thousand to go toward the car and can afford about 200 a month for 3 years plus or minus.

I thought about a Honda Fit. Consumer’s Report gave them good reviews. They’re much less expensive than a Prius ($15,000 base as oppossed to $22,00 base). They have pretty good mileage. Do you think one of those would be a reasonable alternative?

Are the new Scions a good alternative to a Prius? I think they have side airbags now, but not very good mileage. And tend to be sorta expensive.

I’ve been looking for a used Corolla with side airbags with no luck (and anyway, I really don’t like sedans very much), too staid. But it’s really good milage and reliabiltiy that I need so that has to be the most important consideration.

I’d be grateful for any suggestions.


Two words: Ford Excursion.

nah. :slight_smile:

A Fit would, you know, be the correct size, but they are awfully small. Your dream car is a Prius but you don’t like sedans? I’ve got news for you, the Prius is pretty sedan-y. What with its 4-doors, and as was pointed out to me here, dimensions close to a Camry.

I’d look at the Fit, also the Civic, two-door Accord, newer Chevy Malibu (getting a little larger), things of that ilk. Go test drive some stuff! Take Friday after work and Saturday morning for the next week or two to go to dealerships and test drive stuff! I do that once in a while and I’m not even thinking about buying a new car. (Sales people hate me.)

You should also add the Nissan Versa on your list of cars to check out.

Not to shatter your dreams, but a Prius actually wouldn’t be very good for the kind of driving you describe. The advantage of the hybrid system is that it recovers the energy wasted by braking and uses it to accellerate during stop-and-go traffic-- on the highway it gives you no advantage and you have to haul around the big heavy batteries and motors. The Prius’ efficiency is unrivaled in taxi-cab style driving, but there are many small conventional cars that do better on the highway.

To me the most obvious “poor man’s Prius” would be the Toyota Echo, which is very similar to the Prius can be found used for fairly cheap. At the moment the Scions are only really a good deal if you have to have a new car-- they’re cheap for a new car, but the used market is still pretty pricey. Really any of the little econoboxes would do-- Fit, Yaris, Versa, Aveo, etc… (Hmm… the “Etcetera” kind of sounds like an economy car name!)

Have you considered a diesel Volkswagen? They have a somewhat questionable reliability record (not to start the whole VW argument again) but in terms of highway mileage, they blow the Prius away and they have better crash survivability than the Japanese economy cars.

Hyundai Accent or Elantra hatchbacks. Either of them can be had fairly cheap, fairly new, they get great gas mileage (I get over 40mpg regularly in my 02 Accent) and they are very reliable. I don’t think you’d go wrong with one of them.

Depending on how much spcace you need, there are many good small cars on the market. If I was on a budget and needed long life, the Honda Fit would be my choice by far; it has an excellent repair record, is fun to drive, and is very frugal on gas. Just for fun I did a cash flow comparison, and for me a Prius would take 22 years to come out ahead costwise of a Honda Fit, not counting the interest on all that extra money. The Fit is a better choice than the Toyota Yaris, which is less comfortable, more noisy, and has much less space. The Fit passenger seat folds down and allows you to carry a stepladder inside the car. The secret to economical car operation is to buy a good and frugal amchine, and keep it a very long time, just as you did with your Corolla.

The Honda Fit rear seats also fold up ( the part that you sit on ) and that lets you use the floor space. It looked like a great idea .

Why get a loan? You can get a 2003 Ford Focus ZX3 from a dealer for $6000 to $7000, or a 2004 from a private seller. You could also afford a 2002 Golf GL coupe. A 2002 or 2003 Echo is also in that price range. Why get a loan if you don’t have to? Save your $7200 loan money ($200/mo) for your next car, or something else you really need. Any of these cars will be a lot nicer than your 1994 Corolla. Not that it is a bad car, but these other cars are 10 years newer and have more advanced features.

An Echo is my choice before a Yaris because there seems to be more room in one.

An Echo is just a Prius with a standard powertrain. They share the same engine, but the Echo is more lively and gets almost the same mileage. But it IS, for sure, an Econo-box…

For long distance, rural driving, the current version of the Civic (2006 or newer) is a better deal than the Fit. It is significantly larger and more comfortable yet gets similar gas mileage. The only drawback is that the Civic costs more to buy than the Fit. For bare bones brand new ones, the price difference is about $1,000. If you spring for the fancier trim levels, the difference can grow to $4,000 or $5,000.

Hybrid cars do best in stop-and-go driving at low speeds. This is exactly the opposite to your use. For you, a car that gets decent gas mileage with a conventional power train is a wiser choice than the same car with a hybrid power train. The hybrid version is always more expensive to buy and, especially in your situation, it will take somewhere between a long time and forever before you break even.

Mmmm, Ford Excursion sounds good…

I know the Prius is sedanish, but in a hyper-designed way.

I was going to go on a test-drive week-end, but didn’t know what models to look for. So, thanks for your ideas. Very helpful.


I described my driving patterns incorrectly. Even though I live in a rural area, it’s in NJ, so whenever I have to drive anywhere it’s stop and go. Even on the highways around here you can’t go more than a few miles without a traffic light or slowing down for merging traffic. It’s kind of a strange combination of rural and crowded suburban.

I once had a VW, so I think I’ll stay away from them this time around

I like the idea of an Echo, hadn’t thought of that.

Thanks for your help.

Sounds good.

Thanks for your suggestion.

Thanks so much. I hadn’t considered a Hyundai. I’ll take a look at one.

Thanks for your help.

I was wondering about the long-term cost savings. I appreciate the cash flow comparison.

Those were all the reasons I was considering a Fit. I think I need to go out and look at some other cars too, I don’t want to make a mistake on such a big purchase.

I always thought that buying a reasonably priced, safe and reliable car for the long haul was the way to go.

That is a good idea. I wasn’t aware of that.


I feel that way too, but didn’t know what other cars to look for. Is the Ford as realiable as the Japanese cars?

The Echo is getting a lot of votes.

The Corolla sure wasn’t fancy, but it served me well for a long time.

Thanks for helping out.


Another vote for the Echo. I hadn’t thought of that one.

Thanks for helping out.

I don’t mind Econo-boxes. I didn’t know they shared the same engine, interesting.