On our recent trip to Santa Fe, we rented a Ford Focus from Alamo. In a nutshell, it was a very nice little economy car. It was plenty roomy, had good trunk space for our luggage, a decent sound system for listening to Jeff Lynne-produced CDs (Tom Petty, ELO and Traveling Wilburys) and, above all, was incredibly economical. We went from Albuquerque to Santa Fe to Taos and back and all around on 8.9 gallons.
According to Edmunds, our little Focus cost about $15,000 new. A Prius runs about $25,000. For $10,000 you can buy about 3,300 gallons of gas. With the Focus getting 30+ miles to the gallon, that means you can buy the Focus and drive it with free fuel for 100,000 miles before you can even buy the Prius.
The only downsides to the Focus are that it's a bit noisy and underpowered. The road noise was washed out by the adequate sound system, but with the radio turned off, you could clearly hear the road. It struggled to pass other cars, particularly going uphill, but once moving, it did just fine keeping up at highway speeds. The lack of power was a bit endearing as we kept saying, "Go, little Focus, go!" every time we tried to pass someone.
You gotta take your smiles where you can, you know. :-)
All in all, I'd recommend the Focus as a starter car for a high schooler or college student or just as a nice around-town runabout.