The Car Connection Toyota Prius C Overview
The Toyota Prius C is a five-seat, five-door hatchback sold exclusively with a hybrid powertrain, as a part of Toyota's Prius family of hybrids.
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.
The most affordable and smallest Prius offering, the Prius C manages fuel economy similar to that of the bigger hatchback, thanks to its downsized body and powertrain. It manages about 50 mpg combined on the EPA cycle, which isn't quite as good as the new 2016 Prius, but better than the wagon-bodied Prius V.The two-door, two-seat Honda CR-Z is the closest competitor to the Prius C. Among gas-powered cars, the Prius C competes with the most fuel-efficient versions of mainstream subcompacts such as the Ford Fiesta, Chevrolet Sonic, Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa, and Hyundai Accent.
MORE: Read our 2016 Toyota Prius C preview
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 less space 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 4-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 trade-offs 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 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 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 where it scored an "Acceptable" rating, which keeps it from a Top Safety Pick honor.