2013 Toyota Prius C Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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For those who haven't been paying attention, the past couple of years have seen a bit of a metamorphosis for Toyota's Prius, which has gone from being a single (and singular-looking) hybrid model to an entire hybrid sub-brand consisting of four different models.

These days, in addition to the original Prius (which has been rebranded as the Prius Liftback) we have the bigger Prius V (the new darling of taxi fleets everywhere), the more efficient Prius PHV (which is a plug-in version of the Liftback) and the smaller, less expensive Prius C, which was introduced for the 2012 model year and is the subject of this road test.

In creating the Prius C, Toyota has moved away from the iconic, slippery, and overtly "green" shape of the original liftback. Instead, the smallest Prius is a genuinely smart-looking subcompact with a much more conventional design. Swept-back headlights, mildly aggressive fog light housings, and character lines that rise up from the lower doors to the rear fenders all work together to impart a sense of movement and purpose. The upside is that the C should appeal to a much wider range of buyers, though the downside is that its less slippery shape does give up a little highway fuel efficiency.

Price, as well as styling, has also been set for broad buyer appeal, with the base Prius C starting at $22,005 including destination. This is admittedly $6,260 more than Toyota's own Yaris (which starts at $15,745 destination in) and $5,930 more than Honda's Fit (which starts at $16,075), but it's by no means a king's ransom and the Prius C does come nicely equipped for the money.

The Prius C also offers fuel economy that conventional subcompacts just can't touch: claimed city/highway ratings are 3.5 / 4.0 L/100km versus 6.6 / 5.2 for the Yaris and 7.1 / 5.4 for the Fit. The real difference tends to show up in real-world driving where the Prius C easily approaches its rated economy, while conventional subcompacts rarely get close to their ratings. I'm usually happy if I can manage genuine city consumption of 9 L/100km or better in a conventional subcompact, but I effortlessly logged between 3.9 and 4.9 L/100km in the Prius C.

Even using the more pessimistic official numbers, assuming you use the Prius C as a city car and drive an average of 15,000 km per year (which is actually a little below the Statistics Canada average) then at about 3 L/100km better than the Yaris in the city and at an average gas price of $1.35 per litre, the Prius C could save you $6,075 in fuel over a ten-year period of ownership. This pays for the price differential right there, and fuel costs are more likely to go up than down, and real-world savings are likely to be significantly better than this (by as much as 30 percent according to my experience, which would reduce the payback period to seven years). All in all, it means the Prius C really does look to make economic sense. The only question then, is how does it stack up in the day-to-day business of being a car?

In purely practical matters it stacks up very well: it seats five, and while getting three adults into the back would certainly be a bit of a squeeze, four can ride in genuine comfort. There are decently supportive cloth buckets in the front, and good headroom and legroom both front and rear (the rear roof liner is scalloped, so even my 6-foot teenage son found adequate space for his noggin).

The cargo area has enough space for a typical weekly family grocery run (481 litres), and my test car's 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks allowed for a variety of cargo configurations and a relatively commodious total cargo area.

Inside, the Prius C makes no pretense at being a luxury car, with cloth seats and hard-surface plastics, but the interior looks good and has some nice detailing and surface textures. I liked the two-tone black and light grey seats, though I wasn't 100-percent sold on the idea of using the same light grey on the door uppers.

Toyota fits all Prius C models with a nice range of included equipment, so while the interior won't trick you into thinking you're in a luxury car, neither will it leave you feeling like you're in a no-frills econobox. Standard kit includes air conditioning with automatic temperature control, power locks and windows, keyless entry, a tilt and telescoping steering column with steering wheel-mounted audio and climate controls, heated power mirrors, multi-information display, and four-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio with USB input and Bluetooth capability.

My test car's Technology package upped the ante with a six-speaker display audio system, satellite radio, navigation system, pushbutton start, cruise control, 15-inch alloy wheels, a rear centre console box and luggage cover, for a total as-tested price of $24,980 including destination fees. Optional equipment includes bigger 16-inch alloys, heated seats, power moonroof, fog lamps and SofTex faux leather seating. If this latter feature interests you I'd recommend making sure you get a chance to both see it and sit on it before committing - in my experience it looks reasonably good but feels more like soft neoprene than real leather. Nothing wrong with that (some cars have even offered neoprene seats), but personally I prefer the cloth.

Under the hood the Prius C has a downsized version of the Liftback's well-proven full-hybrid powertrain. There's a 1.5-litre Atkinson cycle engine combined with an electric motor/generator, which together produce 99 horsepower and drive the car through a CVT automatic. There's also a smaller, lighter 19.3 kW nickel-metal hydride battery pack, which feeds the electric motor when power is required, and gets recharged via regenerative brakes.

Thanks to the electric motor's excellent low-end torque the Prius C is much livelier-feeling around town than the raw horsepower number might suggest, but ultimately it's not particularly fast, with 0-100 km/h taking about 11.5 seconds (for the record, that's not really all that slow either - the base Honda Civic takes around 10.5 seconds to achieve the same feat).

What the powertrain perhaps lacks in emotional engagement it more than makes up for in quietness and, as noted at the beginning of this review, fuel economy. The quiet is at times profound: press the start button and roll the Prius C out of the driveway and you may not hear anything at all, because the engine often doesn't start up until you've travelled a short distance down the block. An EV button allows you to extend engine-free driving for as long as battery power allows, at speeds up to 40 km/h. Even when the engine does kick in it typically operates at a hushed mutter in the background, so that the loudest noise when rolling along city byways is generally the whir of tires, which can be somewhat noticeable at speed (though it's easily drowned out be the stereo). All bets are off if you mash the accelerator pedal however, because this kicks up all sorts of mechanical pandemonium as the CVT lets the little engine rev right up to get the Prius going quickly.

Thanks to the Prius C's light weight and short wheelbase it handles corners with a livelier, more connected feel than its liftback cousin, although the electric steering doesn't offer a whole lot of feedback and the regenerative brakes are a little on the grabby side, especially at low speeds. Still, under normal driving conditions the Prius C is as responsive and fun to toss about as most conventional subcompacts. It's also every bit as safe as any conventional subcompact, with nine airbags, stability control, ABS brakes and all the other usual safety gear.

Besides fuel economy, another area where the Prius C clobbers its conventional competition is in the range of information it can show in its programmable multi-information display. Enter the price of fuel and you can see how much your current trip has cost so far. Switch displays and you can see how efficiently you are accelerating, cruising and braking. Switch again and you can see the classic Prius display that shows the up-to-the-moment energy flow in the car's drivetrain and battery pack. Happily, this display is mounted up high on the dash so you don't need to take your eyes too far off the road to check out the latest driving stats.

Overall then, the Prius C offers good-looks, practical subcompact packaging, a decent if not especially exciting driving experience, and stunningly good fuel economy, all at a price that's only marginally higher than conventional subcompacts - and that's before you start comparing standard equipment against the Prius C's reasonably comprehensive list of gear. It makes the little Prius appealing on a number of levels, and worth looking at for anybody in the market for a subcompact car.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Hatchback, Hybrid, HEV, Toyota, 2013, Prius c, $20,000 - $29,999, Hybrid, Subcompact,

Organizations: Toyota

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