Prius C Hybrid Light on the Wallet, and on the Vroom
2012 Toyota Prius C Review:
The new Toyota Prius C is what most folks think of when they imagine a hybrid car.
They think of an extremely small car that gets great gas mileage. Unlike many hybrids, the Prius’ smaller cousin comes with a lower price. The base C One starts at $18,950 and the tested C Two starts at $19,900. That’s about $4,000 less than many hybrids, including the Prius II, which is about 19 inches longer.The C looks more like a Honda Fit, and is pointy-nosed cute with a lot of glass. Bathed in a bright red paint job, the test car looked fun and sprightly.
Handling is light and accurate, but its power and acceleration skew toward methodical. And that’s after Prius C dropped about 500 pounds from the original hybrid.
Mainly you’ll feel like a slow-moving target as you press on the accelerator at stop lights; the tiny 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine kicks in after a short burst of electric power from the batteries powers you up to about 20 mph. This is where you are saving gas. After that, the little engine growls viciously as it tries to nudge the 2,600-pound car up to cruising speeds. Combined, the electric and gas power deliver 99 horsepower. I found myself waiting much longer to cross traffic or turn against oncoming traffic, gauging that I’d need much more space to get the car across the road than with a normal gas-powered vehicle.
In addition to its shortage of power, the C uses an electronic continuously variable transmission (ECVT), which does the car no favors. While it delivers smooth power, as CVTs generally do, the transmission offers little low-end power.
While performance is lax, the gas mileage this version of the Prius achieves is laudatory. I got 48.2 mpg, while the trip computer indicated 50.7 mpg. The EPA rates this car at 53 mpg city and 46 mpg highway. The larger original Prius is rated 51 and 48 mpg.
The C also rides on 15-inch tires and there is the typical small car jiggle and suspension thump on rough roads. Rarely is it uncomfortable, but you know you’re riding in a small car. On the C Three and Four 16-inch tires are standard.Braking is fine and there are ABS and traction control.
Inside, the car has a cheap plastic feel to all its surfaces and looks low-cost. The test car had a gray and black cloth interior with gray plastic atop the doors and on part of the dash. Everything feels hard and inexpensive.
Even the wheel feels bargain basement like a kid’s plastic baseball bat, its only benefit being a flat bottom that allows the driver to easily fit his or her legs under the wheel, even if the driver’s seat is well forward. The wheel also is tilt/telescope and has radio, phone and trip computer buttons on its hub, along with buttons to change the cabin temperature.
The interior is very quiet at low speeds when the electric motor is doing its job, but the engine gets buzzy under heavy acceleration. Visibility is quite good all around as this is a glassy cockpit.
I liked the dash layout and ease of seeing the key gauges. There are eight screen choices for the main dash gauges, all telling you what a great job of fuel saving you’re doing at the moment, or over time. That’s about six too many.
Seating is firm with slight contouring, and the front seats are manually adjusted. Back seats are pretty hard.Prius has six radio channel selection buttons and a radio even I could figure out. Many luxury make aren’t that considerate. The car also has two small radio knobs. That’s ironic, because the knobs to control the air temperature are huge with small buttons to adjust the rest of the system.
Prius C will carry four people, although headroom is limited in the rear seat. Also, weight from extra passengers makes acceleration that much more challenging. Likewise, there is a huge 17.0-cubic-foot cargo area. That’s great for groceries, but again adding weight slows the C.
With a $760 delivery charge the test car came in at $20,660. That makes this pretty reasonably priced and with low fuel consumption this is economical to run, about $10-15 a week for gas. But you give up a lot of performance vs. a gas-powered compact or subcompact car.