New & Used Toyota Prius C: In Depth
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The Prius C is part of Toyota's expanded hybrid-only Prius lineup. It's the smallest and most affordable offering in the bunch, a truncated hatchback sitting below the original liftback model. Thanks to its diminutive size and miniaturized powertrain, the C manages fuel economy similar to that of its bigger brother, at 50 mpg combined, with both of them outdoing the larger Prius V.
As a compact hatchback—or subcompact by many distinctions—the Prius C is considerably more fun to drive, not to mention more agile and easier to maneuver, than the two larger Prius models. It competes against the most fuel-efficient versions of mainstream subcompacts like the Ford Fiesta, Chevrolet Sonic, Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa, and Hyundai Accent. Until its cancellation after the 2014 model year, the Honda Insight was also counted as a Prius C competitor; now that it is gone there is no longer a direct hybrid rival in this size class. The two-door, two-seat Honda CR-Z is the closest there is to a gas-electric competitor.
For a more detailed look at the Prius C, see the full review of the 2014 Toyota Prius C, including options, prices, gas-mileage ratings, and specifications. You can also see the Prius C vs. its competitors.
While the lines of the Prius C are far less distinctive than those of the traditional Prius--to us, it looks like a mass-market model and very similar in shape to Toyota's non-hybrid Yaris--it's actually a unique, hybrid-only body style. The rather ordinary five-door hatchback layout offers as much space up front as the standard Prius, though rather less in back, thanks to more upright seats and the shorter wheelbase. Cargo space with the rear seats in place is enough for a load of groceries, while the seatbacks can fold forward to expand the available room for stuff--it makes an excellent car for two people, with tolerable space for three or four in a pinch. Toyota managed to locate both the gas tank and the battery pack under the rear seat, meaning that unlike the Insight, the Prius C has a full-depth load deck.
From the driver's seat, the instrument-panel layout borrows some minor controls from the Yaris but shares the central gauges and readouts of the rest of the Prius lineup. There's a fair amount of interior noise, and the trims and materials are clearly a step down in quality compared to the Prius, but that's to be expected given the bargain price.
Because the C is smaller than its Prius kin, it can make do with a similarly downsized powertrain. The 1.5-liter four-cylinder makes just 73 horsepower. It's paired to a small electric motor in the same arrangement as the other Prius models, and uses a 0.9-kWh battery pack. The layout and function of the system are the same as in Toyota's other hybrids, although the Prius C uses a more traditional gear selector in place of the blue nub found in its brethren.
While it ends up at the same 50-mpg EPA combined mileage rating as the larger Prius liftback, the details follow a different path. We've seen a bit lower in real-world drives, but found that it's considerably more nimble and maneuverable than any other Prius—although hardly sporty. We've found the best way to keep up with traffic is to work the little Prius hard--which didn't seem to negatively affect gas mileage very much.
For less than $20,000, you'll make some tradeoffs to get the sophisticated hybrid powertrain. Just four trim levels are offered (Prius C One, Prius C Two, Prius C Three, and Prius C Four), though even the least pricey Prius One model includes automatic climate control, power accessories, keyless entry, and USB/iPod connectivity. A navigation system and Toyota's Entune infotainment system come in the Prius C Three, while Prius C Four models get heated seats, alloy wheels, and fog lamps.
The Prius C doesn't fare as well as some other models in safety testing. It receives four out of five stars in the NHTSA's evaluation, with some minor warnings that aren't taken into account in the ratings. In the IIHS's testing, it receives top 'good' scores in all but the new small front overlap test, in which it scores a 'poor' grade, keeping it from the coveted Top Safety Pick honor.
The 2015 model year brings the first round of updates to the Prius C. Styling has been refreshed front and rear, with a new, more aggressive look that echoes that of Toyota's other recently redesigned offerings. Equipment also has been shuffled somewhat, and there is a new set of bold colors available in addition to the tamer options. Toyota has left the powertrain unchanged, with the chart-topping fuel economy also carrying over.