13 Types of Toyota Prius Explained (1997 – 2023)

The Toyota Prius made waves upon its announcement in 1995, marking a revolutionary step in the automotive industry. It became the pioneer among gasoline-electric hybrid cars, capturing global attention with its distribution and availability. The term “Prius,” derived from Latin, signifies being the first, original, and leading the way – a fitting name for the debut hybrid vehicle.

This exploration will delve into the Prius’ journey, spotlighting how each generation of the car propelled advancements. It will also shed light on models that have exited the market, alongside intriguing insights into the story of this iconic Japanese hybrid automobile.

1. Toyota Prius XW10 NHW10

Toyota designated its groundbreaking Prius line with both generation and model labels. The initial generation, named XW10, featured the first model known as NHW10.

Unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1995, the Toyota Prius NHW10 commenced production in 1997, and its debut sales in Japan followed in December that same year.

Primarily launched in Japan, the NHW10 of the first generation garnered esteemed automotive accolades, including the Japan Car Of The Year award. Although primarily available in Japan, a few units trickled into the UK, New Zealand, and Australia via private imports.

Crafted as a subcompact 4-door sedan, the NHW10 pioneered gasoline-electric hybrid technology, positioning Toyota two years ahead of other automakers in this domain.

The electric motor technology implemented in the Prius echoed the potent motors propelling high-speed Japanese bullet trains.

Under the hood of this model lay the Toyota 1.5L DOHC engine. The vehicle’s styling was a product of the collaborative efforts of designers in California, ultimately chosen by Toyota as the optimal design for their inaugural hybrid offering.

However, this early Prius iteration encountered some challenges relating to battery performance and electrical systems when operating in extremely hot climates.

2. Toyota Prius XW10 NHW11

The Toyota Prius NHW11 marked the second model within the XW10 generation of the pioneering Prius line.

Introduced as an upgrade to the NHW10, the NHW11 aimed for global sales, especially targeting the US automotive market.

Debuting in 2001 and maintaining production until 2003, the Prius NHW11 underwent design modifications to enhance power and durability, aligning with the preferences of American drivers who often favored higher speeds and extended distances.

An integral enhancement was the incorporation of an air conditioner as a standard feature, powered by the gasoline engine.

Featuring a 1.5L 4-cylinder gasoline engine and a permanent magnet electric motor, the NHW11 employed nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) batteries for storing electrical power.

While not the first gasoline-electric hybrid in the US market—preceded by the Honda Insight in December 1999—the Prius NHW11 earned recognition as an Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV) during an era emphasizing emission reduction. This designation secured Prius owners a $2000 tax benefit on their annual income.

Expanding beyond the US, the Prius NHW11 entered the European market in 2000 and the Australian market in 2001.

However, in 2006, Toyota encountered a setback, recalling around 8500 Prius models produced between 2001 and 2002 due to a manufacturing flaw in the crankshaft position engine sensor.

Even in its early iterations, the Prius demonstrated fuel efficiency as one of its strengths. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data, the consumption statistics were as follows.

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3. Toyota Prius XW20 NHW20

The XW20 series, the second generation of the Prius lineup, was announced in mid-2003 and entered the American market in 2004. This iteration remained in production until 2009, when the third-generation models made their debut.

Under the model designation Prius NHW20, this new release showcased advancements in its environmentally friendly features, positioning it as a more ecologically conscious option than its predecessors.

Enhancements to its eco-friendly attributes were achieved through a redesign of the vehicle’s aerodynamics, effectively reducing its drag coefficient. Notably, the new body design contributed to a 6-inch or 150mm increase in the overall length of the Prius NHW20 compared to earlier models.

These improvements led the Prius NHW20 to earn the prestigious designation of Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV) from the California Air Resources Board, highlighting its remarkably low emissions.

A notable innovation was the electric motor-driven air conditioner, a pioneering move by Toyota in the hybrid car market. Additionally, advancements in battery technology translated to reductions in the size and weight of the NiMH batteries integrated into the vehicle.

In contrast to the first-generation models that yielded a production total just over 37,000 cars, the second-generation Prius achieved considerable success, with nearly 1.2 million units sold worldwide.

However, Toyota faced complaints from drivers regarding the Prius NHW20, particularly concerning the quality of the lights, resulting in reduced visibility, as well as instances of headlights suddenly turning off without apparent cause.

The gasoline engine in the NHW20 saw an upgrade to a 1.5-liter fuel-injected 16-valve engine, delivering significant power improvements compared to the preceding version.

According to the EPA, the fuel consumption figures for the Toyota Prius NHW20 are as follows.

4. Toyota Prius XW30

The unveiling of the third-generation Prius, known as the XW30 series, in 2009 marked a significant milestone with the introduction of three driver-selectable driving modes. These modes encompassed an electric-only mode for low-speed driving, an eco-mode optimizing fuel efficiency, and a power mode offering heightened performance capabilities.

Toyota’s commitment to environmental advancement was reinforced by the incorporation of bioplastics in various car components, utilizing plant-based materials as an alternative to petroleum-derived ones.

Innovatively, photo-voltaic cells integrated into the car’s roof not only contributed to cooling the interior but also served as an additional means of maintaining battery charge.

The vehicle’s overall design underwent a transformative overhaul, adopting the profile of a subcompact liftback. This rejuvenated look presented a modern and aesthetically pleasing appearance. Simultaneously, the engine capacity was upgraded to a 1.8-liter engine, infusing the car with more power and versatility.

By introducing an electric-powered water pump, the gasoline engine transitioned to a beltless configuration, thereby enhancing its fuel economy.

However, the third-generation Prius encountered a series of issues, including software glitches, inverter overheating, and safety concerns. These challenges prompted recalls for specific models in the years 2010, 2014, and 2018.

The EPS fuel economy tests yielded the following outcomes for the Prius XW20.

5. Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid ZVW35

Derived from the third-generation XW30 series, the Prius Plug-in Hybrid, designated as the ZVW35, made its public debut in 2009, captivating audiences at motor shows in Frankfurt, Los Angeles, and Tokyo.

The Prius ZVW35 retained the core features of the third-generation XW30 but introduced a noteworthy upgrade in the form of lithium-ion batteries, replacing the conventional NiMH batteries. This transformative shift empowered the car with the capability to recharge through a standard household electrical outlet or dedicated charging stations.

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An eminent advantage of the Prius Plug-in Hybrid was its electric-only mode, allowing it to travel an impressive distance of 14.3 miles or 23km on electric power alone, prior to necessitating a recharge.

The integration of lithium-ion batteries in the Prius Plug-in Hybrid represented a significant leap forward, aligning with evolving trends towards enhanced energy efficiency and environmental sustainability.

6. Toyota Prius Prime (PHEV)

Within the realm of the third-generation Prius series, the Toyota Prius Prime emerged as a notable advancement, marking the second-generation evolution of the Prius Plug-in model.

In the American market, this model was presented as the Prius Prime, while in Japan, it was introduced as the Prius PHV. A pivotal enhancement was achieved by doubling the electric-only driving range, a notable improvement over its predecessor. This innovation propelled the electric-only range to an impressive span of 25 miles or 40km.

Looking ahead, Toyota’s projections for the 2023 Toyota Prius Prime indicate a substantial 50% increase in the electric-only driving range, underscoring the brand’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of electric mobility and efficiency.

7. Toyota Prius V

Derived from the third-generation Prius, the Toyota Prius V was marketed as the Toyota Prius Plus across Europe.

Distinctly designed as a multi-purpose vehicle (MPV), the Prius V featured a reimagined body shape, resulting in a remarkable 50% expansion of interior cargo capacity compared to other third-generation models.

Two variants were introduced in this iteration: a five-seater model equipped with NiMH batteries and a seven-seater counterpart boasting newer, more compact lithium-ion batteries. This battery configuration not only provided enhanced internal space but also catered to varying seating preferences.

The sales of the Prius V concluded in the United States in 2017, while production in Japan was halted in 2021, marking the culmination of this innovative model’s journey.

8. Toyota Prius c

The third-generation Prius variants, the Prius c emerged as a distinct model, featuring a unique body shape. Marketed as a hatchback, the Prius c was strategically designed to cater to urban environments, earning its “c” moniker, symbolizing “city.”

Primarily aimed at the younger demographic residing in urban areas, the Prius c presented a compact and agile option ideal for city life. Introduced in 2011 under the name Prius Aqua, production continued until 2015, embodying its purpose as a nimble city runabout.

Interestingly, the Prius c was not introduced to the European market, where the Toyota Yaris Hybrid had already established itself as a successful choice. The Prius c shared a powertrain with the Yaris hybrid, prompting its exclusion from the European market due to the presence of the well-received Yaris Hybrid.

9. Toyota Prius XW50

In 2015, Japan witnessed the introduction of the fourth-generation Prius, which made its way to the USA in 2016, marking the beginning of a new era for the iconic hybrid series.

Notably, this latest iteration showcased remarkable advancements in efficiency, driven by cutting-edge innovations in electric motors, battery technology, and the integration of gasoline engines with hybrid systems.

Substantial gains in efficiency were achieved through refined aerodynamics in the vehicle’s design, coupled with a strategic reduction in its center of gravity. These enhancements not only contributed to enhanced performance but also bolstered fuel economy. This design evolution resulted in a length increase of 2.4 inches (6.1 cm) and a width increase of 0.6 inches (1.5 cm).

A noteworthy departure in the Prius XW50 was the exclusive use of lithium-ion batteries, leaving behind the older NiMH battery technology. This transition to lithium-ion batteries offered more potent power delivery within a compact and lightweight package.

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The Prius XW50 achieved remarkable fuel efficiency ratings as follows:

  • City driving: 65 miles per gallon or 4.4 liters per 100 kilometers.
  • Highway driving: 60 miles per gallon or 4.7 liters per 100 kilometers.
  • Combined driving: 62 miles per gallon or 4.5 liters per 100 kilometers.

10. Toyota Prius Nightshade

The fourth-generation Prius underwent a notable exterior redesign, resulting in a more dynamic and sporty appearance that captured the attention of the public. This revamped model was introduced to the US market under the name “Prius Nightshade.”

Simultaneously, a performance-oriented feature known as the Toyota E-Four system was introduced. This system offered drivers the choice of all-wheel drive, enhancing the vehicle’s capabilities and further expanding its appeal.

11. Toyota Prius XW60

The fifth generation of the Prius, known as the XW60 series, was unveiled. This latest iteration of the Prius boasts a sleek and modern design, along with an efficient and comfortable driving experience. It incorporates all the expected internal features of a contemporary vehicle.

This generation offers a broader range of engine options, including the 1.8-liter 2ZR-FXE engine and the 2.0-liter M20A-FXS engine. These engine choices come with a variety of features available in different models. Some of these models include the innovative E-Four all-wheel drive system, and others are equipped as plug-in hybrids.

For the year 2023, sales will be primarily focused on the Japanese market, where both 1.8-liter and 2.0-liter versions will be offered. Additionally, the US market will have access to the 2.0-liter options exclusively.

12. Toyota Prius XLE

The Toyota Prius XLE stands as a prominent model within the fifth-generation Prius series, set to make its debut in the US market in the year 2023.

In contrast to earlier perceptions held by some motoring enthusiasts, the Prius XLE marks a significant evolution in the model’s identity. With a refreshing design overhaul, the XLE achieves a modern and appealing aesthetic, appealing to a broader range of drivers who value contemporary style and allure in their vehicles.

Positioned within the upper echelons of the XW60 models, the XLE model offers a heightened level of opulence and advanced features, distinguishing it from the lower-tier LE model in the lineup. This inclusion of elevated luxury and internal amenities further enhances the appeal and desirability of the Prius XLE for discerning drivers.

13. Toyota Prius LE

The Toyota Prius LE represents the introductory tier within the Prius XW60 series designed for the US automobile market. While maintaining the same distinctive body design as the XLE model, the Prius LE distinguishes itself by offering a more streamlined set of luxury and convenience features.

Both the XLE and LE variants are equipped with the cutting-edge 2.0-liter M20AFX gasoline engine, expertly paired with Toyota’s latest advancements in electric power drivetrain technology. This fusion of engineering excellence ensures an exceptional driving experience marked by efficiency and performance.


The Toyota Prius emerged as a groundbreaking achievement in automotive design and engineering, originating in 1995 and making its debut in the market in 1997.

Over time, the Prius has evolved and flourished, benefitting from the remarkable progress in hybrid technology and the creative ingenuity of the Toyota car company. Toyota’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of hybrid car technology remains unwavering, positioning them as frontrunners in this domain. As we look ahead, it’s intriguing to contemplate the potential future prospects that lie in the realm of fully electric versions, hinting at the exciting possibilities that could reshape the automotive landscape.