I've owned my Toyota Prius for just over a year now, and my overall mpg now stands at just over 50.5 mpg. While used primarily as a commuter car, I have taken a number of long distance trips including a ski trips up to Mount Hood (a vertical gain of around 5,500 feet). It has served all of my purposes quite well and I’d consider it the best vehicle I’ve ever owned.
Once learning how to conserve my battery charge for the steeper sections of this climb, I’ve found that it has plenty of power for long uphill climbs (certainly superior to my wife’s small SUV). The only negative issues I’ve encountered with regard to using the Prius for ski trips is the low ground clearance (around 5 inches) and the marginal stock tires that come standard (chains help a lot). Other than that, it can easily carry me and two passengers with plenty of room for three sets of skis, boots and other equipment.
As for saving money over all, I’d say it does if compared to a comparably sized gasoline vehicle, but if saving money is your only concern, you might want to look at something smaller along the lines of the Toyota Echo. As for me, in addition to all money I’m saving in gas expenses (I’ve saved around $800 over the last year as compared to my previous mid-sized car), I was also able to take advantage of a $2,000 federal tax deduction and a $1,500 Oregon state tax CREDIT for the 2004 tax year (money well spent on new mountain bikes).
The battery pack in the Prius is under warrantee for 8 years / 100,000 miles (10 / 150,000 in California) and many early Prius owners have reported the battery outlasting the useful life of the vehicle. With my wife’s SUV requiring replacement in the next few years, I am so sold on the hybrid concept that I am pushing her towards considering the new Ford Escape hybrid.