- Straightforward styling
- Surprisingly roomy
- Fuel efficient and cheap
- Simple, direct steering
- Noisy engine when pressed hard
- Performance is less than thrilling
- Base Prius Liftback isn't far away in price
- Budget interior materials
The 2017 Toyota Prius C is geared toward urban buyers looking for a fuel-efficient, inexpensive runabout—or in other words, a cheap and easy commuter.
The 2017 Toyota Prius C is the automaker's most-affordably priced hybrid, and is the smallest of four vehicles in the Prius family.
Toyota gave the Prius C a new front and rear bumper for 2017, and made standard its suite of advanced safety features across the lineup. The car is offered in easy-to-remember One, Two, Three, and Four trims.
The 2017 Prius C earns a 4.8 overall, which is just slightly below the average rating for a new car. Its fuel efficiency should be the biggest selling point, but refinement and performance take a back seat to achieve those figures. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Style and performance
From the outside, the Prius C doesn't give much notice that it's a thrifty hybrid, nor that it's called a Prius. The smooth, rounded nose leads back into smooth sides and a more conventional tail than found on the bigger Prius Liftback model. The rear window isn't split either, just a regular top-hinged hatchback flanked by high vertical taillights and topped by a surprisingly long roof spoiler, which cuts fuel-sapping turbulent air at speed.
The interior is more conventional than the Prius Liftback too. A much-needed upgrade in interior materials and plastics in 2015 still doesn't bring the Prius C up to par with the Prius Liftback, but has helped the small car exponentially. The Prius C tries to hide its cost cutting to offer a hybrid powertrain at less than $20,000 to start: there are some areas of metal-painted plastics and doors close with a less-than-thrilling hollow thud. A classic multi-information display is mounted below the windshield in the center of the dash, but the dash switches and console are conventional—and some controls may look familiar to Yaris owners. There's no oddball, stubby Prius drive selector stalk, just a conventional chrome shift lever on the tunnel.
Performance in the Prius C is predictably tepid for a car looking to stretch fuel dollars as far as they can go. The Prius C pairs a 73-horsepower 1.5-liter inline-4 with a 60-hp electric motor for a total system output of 99 hp. The Prius C wins in packaging: a 0.9-kwh lithium-ion battery pack and the car's gasoline tank are situated under the rear seat, giving the Prius C a full-depth load bay and doesn't compromise usability in the cargo area.
Any time spent behind the wheel of the Prius C will quickly reveal that the subcompact is not a fast car. Work hard and plan hard and it'll keep up with traffic, you'll just have to endure the noise produced by the small engine at full roar. An EV mode activated by a button on the dash will keep the car in all-electric drive at low speeds, but only for up to half a mile. There's also an Eco mode, which caps power output and lowers the climate-control settings, for even thriftier use of fuel. But the price for that is painfully flow travel; we dutifully tested it, then switched it off. You'll likely find the Prius C to suitably efficient even when driven energetically. Our road tests indicate that the 50-mpg rating should be easily achievable, at least in temperate climates.
The Prius C is noticeably more nimble and communicative than the last-generation Prius, but the C falls short of the same engagement of the current generation Liftback. The Prius C is geared toward jousting urban traffic, tight parking spaces, and maneuvering around town. It's far from a sporty hatch, but it's adequately rewarding to toss around.
Comfort, safety, and features
The 2017 Toyota Prius C is officially a subcompact, but it's longer than other competitors. Two 6-footers can fit neatly in the back with 35 inches of rear leg room, with little horse trading with front passengers. The front seats are lifted from older Prius models; thin, but adequately comfortable. Build quality was good in our test cars. Behind the rear seats, 17.1 cubic feet of cargo room in the hatch invites tall, but moderately sized goods.
The safety scorecard for the Prius C is relatively mixed, on par for cars priced similarly, but a half-step behind what's normal for new cars. The IIHS rated last year's Prius C with mostly "Good" scores, except for an "Acceptable" rating in the small-overlap crash test. Federal testers gave last year's car a four-star overall rating, including four stars in front and side-impact protection. It also comes with nine standard airbags, plus the usual stability control and brake assist for the anti-lock brakes.
Four trim levels are offered for the 2016 Prius C: One, Two, Three, and Four. Every Prius C, even the base One model, offers standard power windows, mirrors, and locks; automatic climate control; keyless entry; and a 6.1-inch touchscreen that includes a USB port (and iPod capability). When it was launched, that was a package few subcompacts could claim; now, it's becoming more common. As you move up the Prius C range, the Three model includes navigation, satellite and HD radio. Then, at the top of the line, the Prius C Four includes such niceties as alloy wheels, heated seats, fog lamps, and a rearview camera.
There's just one option package for the cars below the Four: it bundles together a moonroof and alloy wheels.
And the base price around $20,000 still gets one of the most fuel-efficient cars in the U.S. this year. How appealing that may be in a year of gasoline around $2 a gallon is debatable; Prius C sales have fallen each year since 2013.
The 2017 Toyota Prius C is rated at 48 mpg city, 43 highway, 46 combined, according to the EPA.