Introduced as a 2012 model, the Toyota Prius c is a smaller, cheaper version of the original Prius liftback. Think of it as a cross between the Prius's gasoline-electric hybrid powerplant and a compact four-door hatchback like the Toyota Yaris. But this isn't just a Yaris repackaged, it's a whole new breed of small hybrid car. And although Toyota doesn't say so, we think its urban-friendly dimensions and ability to fit in smaller spaces make the c a perfect abbreviation for city.
Dimensionally similar to the Yaris and a couple of hundred pounds heavier, the Prius c is nearly 20 inches shorter than a Prius and 500 pounds lighter. It has room for four adults, or five with kids in the back. The airy cabin has interesting textures and textiles, and standard equipment on the least-expensive version includes automatic climate control and Bluetooth phone book and streaming audio. Upper level trims have connectivity on par with $100,000 luxury sedans.
Only minor changes to trim materials make their way to the 2013 Prius c, otherwise, it remains unchanged from 2012. A sophisticated combination of gasoline engine, electric motors, big and small batteries, variable-speed transmission, controllers and coolers powers the Prius c at economy-car acceleration and excellent economy. One-touch start, select D and off you go. On-board fuel data displays graphically detail the efficiency of your driving.
Like other hybrids, the Prius c powertrain pairs gasoline and electric motors: a 1.5-liter four-cylinder that makes produces 73 horsepower paired with two electric motors for a total combined output of 99 horsepower. Power is sent to the front wheels via an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (eCVT). The batteries are nickel-metal hydride, the same type found on the original Prius. The gasoline engine is smaller, less powerful than the one found on the original Prius.
Fuel economy is the most compelling reason to buy a Prius c. EPA estimates put it at 53/46 mpg City/Highway, with 50 mpg EPA Combined rating. At $4 per gallon, that's 450 miles on a $36 tank. Factor in the Prius c's lower sticker price, and you've got the most economical (non plug-in) hybrid on the market. In addition, Prius c may qualify for additional tax incentives or a coveted carpool-lane access sticker in some locales.
Despite its small size, the Prius c gets high marks for safety. Standard features include front seat side airbags, a driver knee airbag and side curtain airbags, as well as electronic stability control, traction control and antilock brakes. In crash testing, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Prius C the highest rating of Good in frontal-offset, side-impact and roof strength tests.
The closest direct competitor to the 2013 Prius c is the Honda Insight, but while pricing is similar, the Prius c blows it out of the water with its 50 mpg Combined rating, versus the Insight's 42 mpg. Other similarly priced compacts include pure gasoline-powered cars such as the Honda Fit, Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio and Volkswagen Golf diesel. Some of these will come close to the highway mileage of the Prius c, but none will match it in the city.