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CARFAX Finds: Used Toyota and Lexus Hybrids

It’s St. Patrick’s Day, and while I could’ve done a salute to green cars, I’ve chosen to highlight cars that are “green,” environmentally speaking. Specifically, cars that include the Toyota Prius and its close relatives.

When considering a hybrid, the obvious place to start is Toyota, and with the Toyota Prius. The compact car that popularized the gas-electric hybrid format has yet to be surpassed, in sales at least, by anything that’s come along since its 2000 debut in the U.S.

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More Prius hybrids are sold per year than mainstream models like the Mazda6. You get the point: There is a lot of choice out there if you want a used Prius. And it’s actually possible to get a current-generation Prius for less than $15,000 without getting an accident-damaged one.

Hard to believe the Prius is about as old as the long-forgotten Toyota Echo. But it’s not hard to see why, especially at these prices, the Prius is a wise move if you’re looking for practical transportation.

Sure, the interior could be more refined, but it’s an extremely versatile package, with good cargo space and hatchback practicality. And then there’s the EPA estimate of 50 mpg combined. For slightly more than a similarly aged gas-only compact, a Prius makes a huge amount of sense for those who need a set of wheels that’s low-maintenance, frugal and inexpensive.

But for a bit more money, you can get a bit more power, a bit more space and a bit less economy. Still, the Toyota Camry Hybrid is one of the most sensible cars out there. Starting from about $17,000, you can find a 2012 or newer Camry Hybrid, which is one of the most efficient sedans on the market. And, as Toyota likes to remind us every year, it’s also America’s most popular midsize sedan for almost two decades.

Still, do you remember when the Camry didn’t look quite so American?

Camry Hybrids benefit from a more robust 2.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine paired to the “Hybrid Synergy Drive” of the Prius. While far from a sports car, the Camry Hybrid has a bit more grunt in highway passing, as well as a more relaxed cruising demeanor. That befits the Camry’s larger size and noticeably more spacious interior.

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(Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.)
(Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.)

The trade-off comes in the form of a combined 40 mpg, which is 10 mpg less than the Prius offers. You also lose the Prius’ hatchback flexibility, because in the Camry sedan, the trunk is impacted by the battery pack and the rear seats only fold to reveal a small pass-through.

Interested in a luxurious Prius? The Lexus CT 200h made a stab at it, while giving Toyota’s premium label an entry-level car. And for less than $25,000, you could have a rather sharp-looking compact hatch that looks posh, but also nets great fuel economy as an added bonus.

The Lexus CT Hybrid also tries to be a sportier Prius. While it’s using the same 1.8-liter four with the hybrid drivetrain, the Lexus has more aggressive driving modes that keep the power on tap. Still, its 0 to 60 mph time is roughly 10 seconds, which is not much of an improvement over the Prius. And fuel economy is a combined 40 mpg, so what the Camry does.

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(Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.)
(Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.)

But the Lexus, staying true to its brand position, comes with a far nicer interior than the Toyota models. It’s snug inside, but not really any more than other premium-branded compacts. And you still get the practicality of the hatchback with split-folding rear seats. For those who crave the prestige of a Lexus but are ultimately sensible people inside, the CT 200h is a great compromise.

So this is the case for buying a used Prius, or used Toyota products that are only Prius-like under the skin.

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