Toyota Prius C Hybrid Car Test Drive and Review

By John Addison (6/28/12)


I see a soaring hang glider as I look up through the sunroof of this sporty hybrid. This new Prius c is a pleasure to drive along the cliffs of Pacific Coast Highway overlooking the ocean. This hybrid has handled well through sharp turns, accelerating quickly on to freeways, and hitting the brakes hard when some nut cuts me off in heavy traffic.

After 130 miles of mixed driving, I am getting 48.1 MPG, averaging 33 miles per hour, and staying in electric-motor only mode 20 percent of the time. That’s real world mileage with a mix of highway, city stop-go, hills and descents, and windy ocean roads. This sporty hybrid car is fun to drive and saves at the pump. The car is honestly rated with fuel economy of 53 mpg in the city, 46 mpg on the highway, and a combined rating U.S. EPA rating of 50 mpg.

Prius continues to be the world’s best-selling fuel-efficient vehicle, with more than 3.5 million vehicles sold worldwide.  Since its U.S. introduction in 2000, Prius – when compared to the average car – has saved American consumers an estimated $2.93 billion in fuel costs, 1.1 billion gallons of gas and 16.1 million tons of CO2 emissions estimates Toyota. IntelliChoice selected Prius as the Best Overall Value Passenger Car of 2012.

The Prius has been so successful that Toyota has expanded it into a family of four Prii: the Prius Liftback, the new compact Prius c, the larger Prius v crossover SUV, and the Prius Plug-in Hybrid. In adapting the Hybrid Synergy Drive to the smaller Prius c platform, each of the system’s major components were re-designed to reduce weight, scale, and improve efficiency.





Curb weight

2012 Prius

176.4 in.

58.7 in.

68.7 in.

106.3 in.

3,042 lbs.

2012 Prius c

157.3 in.

56.9 in.

66.7 in.

100.4 in.

2,500 lbs.

19 Inches Shorter and $4,000 Lighter

We can finally get a new Prius for under $19,000 ($18,950 + delivery cost – dealer discount). At 50 miles per gallon (mpg) overall, you can face down record gasoline costs with fewer trips to the pump. This new compact Prius uses the same fuel-efficient hybrid Synergy drive as its classic midsized cousin and is at least $4,000 less expensive to buy.

The Prius c is smaller and lighter than the midsize Prius Liftback with 19.1 inches less length (157.3 vs. 176.4 inches OAL) and 542 lbs. less weight than the Prius Liftback (2,500 vs. 3,042 lbs.).  The Prius C is roomier than some compact hatchbacks, but compared to the midsized Liftback the “c” has 7 less cubic-feet of passenger room and 5 less cubic-feet in the luggage area.

By lowering the 60/40-split backseat, my wife and I were able to fit our two mountain bikes in the rear. Although this is easy to do in the larger Liftback, and effortless in the larger Prius v, I was surprised that we had room in the Prius c. This smaller Prius has good cargo flexibility for one or two people. If you have kids, or demanding business or lifestyle needs, then consider a larger Prius. On the other hand, with kids or other demands that $4,000 savings matters.

World’s Leading Hybrid-Electric Drive System

The Prius c relies on a SULEV (Tier 2 Bin 3) rated 1.5-liter in-line, four-cylinder gasoline engine that utilizes an Atkinson cycle to increase efficiency. This engine produces 73 horsepower and 82 lb.-ft. of torque, contributing to a total hybrid system output of 99 hp. This proved plenty for my 130 miles of real-world driving.

Although Honda, Ford, Hyundai and others now use lighter lithium-ion batteries in their hybrids, Toyota is staying with the tried-and-true nickel-metal hydride, except for the Plug-in Prius. The Prius c’s hybrid system utilizes a 144-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack that has been located under the rear passenger seat, near the center of the vehicle, and low in the chassis to help improve the center of gravity. When we loaded the two bikes, the backseat easily folded flat (no bump for the battery).

Prius c offers three distinct drive modes: Normal, Eco, and EV mode.  Eco mode reduces overall energy consumption by governing climate control and throttle to improve vehicle efficiency. Most of the time, I drove in Eco mode by touching the “Eco” button once. The Prius c remembered my Eco preference when driving the car on different days. It was difficult to know that I was in Eco mode, with just a modest “Eco” being displayed in the upper corner of the dash.

When I touched “EV,” the car would only stay in EV mode a short distance, and only if I touched the accelerator with the weight of a feather. I had much more success with EV mode when I drove the bigger Prius Liftback and could stay in EV mode 15 miles in the Prius Plug-in Hybrid. Forget trying to tell the Prius c to be in EV mode. The hybrid’s computer determines when to engage the electric motor, the gasoline engine, or both. In my 130 miles, 20 percent of the time, the computer decided to only use the electric motor.

On step descents, I downshifted to “B” which uses the electric motor as a generator to capture added electricity and minimize the need to use the brakes. Driving was always smooth and braking effective.

The Prius c is available in four trim levels. Prius c provides many standard features such as automatic climate control, tilt-telescopic steering wheel with audio, climate, Multi-Information Display and Bluetooth® hands-free controls, and remote keyless entry with illuminated entry among a long list of standard equipment. The Prius c that I drove had a suggested price of $25,140. It included power sunroof/moon roof, larger 16-inch alloy wheel package, and a $760 delivery and handling fee.


Gasoline Engine

Engine Output

Electric Motor Output

Total System



1.8-liter, four-cylinder, Atkinson cycle with VVT-i

98 [email protected] rpm

105 [email protected] rpm

80 hp

(60 kW)

134 hp

(100 kW)

Prius c

1.5-liter, four-cylinder, Atkinson cycle with VVT-i

73 [email protected] rpm

82 [email protected] rpm

60 hp


99 hp

(74 kW)

The Prius c’s body structure makes extensive use of lightweight, high-strength steel to help reduce vehicle mass and improve fuel economy. The strategic use of high-tensile-strength steel contributes to the vehicle’s ability to absorb and disperse impact energies helping enhance occupant safety. The high level of torsional rigidity afforded by the Prius c body structure allows the suspension to be more optimally tuned for ride and handling.

The front suspension uses a Macpherson strut design, and the rear rides on a tuned torsion beam. The coil-spring and shock absorber of the Prius c have been tuned to enhance handling, flat turning, and smooth ride comfort.  Prius c is available with 15- or 16-inch wheel-and-tire combinations.  The 15-inch wheels are available in steel with wheel cover for base model or in aluminum alloy for elevated trim levels. Prius c models equipped with the available 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels enjoy enhanced handling thanks to a faster steering ratio (2.28 turns lock to lock), which helps quicken the vehicle’s dynamic response.

The Prius c is equipped with nine airbags strategically located to help protect the driver and passengers in the event of certain types of accidents.  The new 2012 Prius c, like all Toyota models, is equipped with the standard Star Safety System™, which includes Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), Anti-lock Brake System (ABS), Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist (BA), and Smart Stop Technology (SST).

Toyota Goes for a Youthful Exterior and Interior Design

The Prius c exterior design helps project a fun, youthful attitude for this all-new addition to the Prius family, while offering excellent aerodynamic performance. Extensive aerodynamic features were engineered into the Prius c to help achieve a 0.28 coefficient of drag. Adding character to this subcompact, the Prius c’s lower-body styling is wider below the beltline, featuring sculpted rear flares to help express a sturdy, athletic stance that communicates a more agile driving experience.

The Prius c’s available exterior colors include vibrant hues that are unique and expressive. The available colors for Prius c include three new colors – Habanero, Moonglow, and Summer Rain Metallic – along with Blue Streak Metallic, Absolutely Red, Black Sand Pearl, Magnetic Gray Metallic, Classic Silver Metallic, and Super White.

The Prius c interior design seeks to create a space that is futuristic yet passenger friendly.  Using black as a basic interior color, the door trim, seat surfaces, and instrument panel feature treatments in lighter colors to help create contrast.

Display Audio and Connectivity with Entune®

The 2012 Prius c will offer three audio system configurations. A base audio system features either four or six speakers, depending on the model, and includes AM/FM CD player with MP3/WMA playback capability, auxiliary audio jack, USB port with iPod® connectivity, hands-free phone capability, phone book access, and music streaming via Bluetooth® wireless technology.

The Display Audio with Navigation and Entune™ has six speakers and augments capability with a 6.1-inch touchscreen, SiriusXM™ Satellite Radio capability (with 3-month trial subscription to XM Select package), HD Radio™ with iTunes® tagging, and advanced voice recognition. Toyota’s Entune™ multi-media system can be controlled by a smart phone that is USB or Bluetooth connected. It also features real time information such as traffic, weather, fuel prices, sports, and stocks.

Alternatives to the Prius c

In my opinion, the Prius c is the best hybrid that you can buy for less than $20,000. We all have different driving requirements. There are good alternatives to consider.

Toyota Prius Liftback gives you midsized room, over 30% more horsepower, 5-seats, more options, and more cargo starting at $4,000 than the Prius C. It still delivers 50 mpg combined and commands a premium at resale.

Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid will save you thousands in gasoline over the life of the car, because the first 15-miles is in electric mode from a garage charge. Toyota Prius PHV starts at $32,000. The Prius Plug-in costs about $8,500 more than the classic Prius Liftback, but the difference narrows to  $6,000 after Federal Tax Credit.

Honda Insight is an alternative compact hybrid that has been selling for a few years. It only averages 42 mpg and is a bit less roomy than the new Prius C. You may be able to save at least $1,000 with the Honda Insight.

There are many good compact hatchbacks that deliver over 30 miles per gallon that are less expensive than hybrids. Yes, you will spend more on fuel over the years, but you can save thousands upfront with hatchbacks such as the Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, Toyota Yaris, Chevrolet Sonic, Honda Fit, Mazda 3, and Ford Fiesta.

With the Prius C, you are likely to save thousands in fuel over the life of the car and do well at resale time. When needed you can comfortably seat four, or drop the back seat for surprising cargo space.  You’ll have fun driving this new member of the Prius family.


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About Author:

Founder of the Smarticd, author of Save Gas, Save the Planet. John writes about electric cars, renewable energy, and sustainability.

2 thoughts on “Toyota Prius C Hybrid Car Test Drive and Review

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  2. Jeff
    March 26, 2013 at 9:54 pm

    Awesome that two mountain bikes fit in the back. That is my usual delema when new car shopping. I figure I’ll be saving $500/year at $4/gallon gas, which I’ve added back into my budget for car payment. Sucks, but it definitely akes me more willing to get some of the optional extras that come on the Prius c Four. Thanks for the review!

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