Launched for the 2012 model year, the Prius c is Toyota’s lowest-priced hybrid model. It’s also the smaller member of the Toyota Prius family of hybrid (gasoline/electric) vehicles.
Bumpers and rocker panels were redesigned for the 2017 model year, along with the rear spoiler and new alloy wheels. Toyota also has made standard its Safety Sense suite of driver-assistance features, including a pre-collision system, lane departure warning, and automatic high beams.
Officially considered a subcompact, the Prius c is a bit longer than some competitive models, measuring 158.7 inches. Urbanites and commuters are the foremost prospects for a modestly priced, fuel-efficient little runabout like the Prius c. Toyota says c stands for city. We think of it as meaning cheap or compact. Roomier than expected, the interior shows evidence of cost-cutting measures, but it is a solidly built hatchback.
The hybrid powertrain combines a 60-horsepower electric motor with a 73-horsepower, 1.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and a 19.3-kW (144-volt) nickel-metal hydride battery pack. Like most smaller hybrids, the Prius c uses a continuously variable transmission (CVT). System output totals 99 horsepower. Both the battery pack and the gasoline tank fit beneath the rear seat, which permits a full-depth cargo area.
Four logical trim levels are offered: One, Two, Three, and Four. Each version contains power windows, mirrors, and door locks, along with automatic climate control and remote keyless entry. A 6.1-inch touchscreen for the audio system includes a USB port and iPod connectivity.
Even when driving with zest, the Prius c is fuel-efficient. Normal mode is for everyday driving. EV mode, activated by a dashboard button, lets the Prius c run on electricity alone, but for less than a mile, below 25 mph. Eco mode curtails power output by controlling throttle operation and lowering climate-control settings, for even thriftier fuel usage. Painfully slow acceleration is the penalty for that level of thriftiness. And motorists behind may not appreciate it.
Safety scores in crash-testing aren’t the best. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the Prius c a four-star rating overall, and the same score for frontal and side-impact collisions. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has given the hatchback Good crash scores, but only an Acceptable evaluation for that organization’s small-overlap crash test. Nine airbags are standard, along with the newly standard Safety Sense suite.
Four trim levels are offered. Prices are MSRP and do not include the $885 destination charge.)
Prius c One ($20,150) includes 15-inch alloy wheels, 3.5-inch information display, cloth seat upholstery, a fold-down rear seat, automatic climate control, a tilt/telescopic steering column, remote keyless entry, power windows, and four-speaker audio with a USB port and iPad connectivity.
Prius c Two ($20,950) adds a rear spoiler, LED taillights, power mirrors with turn-signal indicators, daytime running lights, two-tone fabric front seats, six-way driver’s seat, 60/40 split fold-down rear seat, six-speaker audio, cruise control, and a cargo cover.
Prius c Three ($22,375) gets a Smart Key system with pushbutton start, Touch Tracer display, and premium audio with navigation, an apps suite, satellite radio, and HD radio.
Prius c Four ($24,965) comes with LED foglamps, a rearview camera, heated power mirrors, moonroof, and SofTex-trimmed heated front seats.
Sixteen-inch wheels are optional.
Some hybrid models differ little in appearance from a company’s gasoline-engine vehicles. Others exhibit a look all their own. Forthright design of the Prius c doesn’t suggest that it’s a fuel-efficient hybrid, or that it’s part of the Prius hybrid family.
Modest redesigning for 2017 gives the hatchback fresh bumpers and rocker panels, plus a new blacked-out rear spoiler. Viewed from the side, the softly rounded nose leads into smooth bodysides. The rear end looks substantially more conventional than the one on the larger Prius Liftback. In addition to tall vertical LED taillights, the back window is a single pane, hinged at the top, unlike the Liftback’s split-window setup. A long roof spoiler helps limit turbulence, adding to the car’s fuel-efficiency at highway speeds.
Inside the cabin, the Prius c is more conventional than its larger Liftback sibling. Despite recent upgrading, interior materials still have a somewhat low-budget look compared to other Prius models. Metallic-painted plastic items can be seen. Instead of a smart click, doors close with something closer to a dull thud.
Front seats were essentially borrowed from prior-generation versions of the larger Prius, but they’re sufficiently comfortable. With 35 inches of back-seat legroom, a pair of 6-foot adults can fit quite neatly, without excess crowding.
Instead of the quirky little drive-selection stalk in the bigger Prius, the Prius c gets a conventional lever positioned atop the central tunnel. Switches also are conventional. Rather than ahead of the driver, a multi-information display sits in the dashboard center.
Luggage space is substantial in the rear hatch. Behind the rear seats, cargo volume amounts to 17.1 cubic feet.
No one should be surprised to learn that a Prius c is no speed demon on the road or around town. In order to keep up with traffic, the engine has to work rather hard, while the driver may have to plan some passing/merging moves in advance. When pushed hard, too, the engine emits considerable noise.
For typical hybrid-car owners, on the other hand, modest performance is not a significant drawback. It’s simple a price to be paid for impressive gas mileage. Under the agency’s latest fuel-efficiency standards, the Prius c is EPA-rated at 48/43 mpg City/Highway, or 46 mpg Combined. (Hybrid cars typically get higher fuel economy in city driving than on the highway.)
Although the overall driving experience is less engaging than the current-generation Prius Liftback can provide, the Prius c derives handling benefits from its simple and direct steering. As a result, this little hatchback is more agile than the prior-generation big Prius, giving the driver a greater sense of the road below.
Perhaps more importantly, the Prius c is in its element when battling urban traffic. No one will mistake the Prius c for a sporty hatchback, but it can deliver a joyfully rewarding experience whether driven gently or more emphatically. Besides, when encountering a tight parking space, the Prius c stands ready to demonstrate its talent for squeezability.
Fuel-efficiency is doubtless the prime selling point for the Prius c. Apart from engine noise and tepid performance, though, this micro-level hatchback can be quite pleasing to drive. Still, the larger Prius Liftback is more refined and not so much more expensive. On the plus side, the One edition is reasonably well-equipped.
Driving impressions by Aaron Cole, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.