Quick Drive: 2012 Toyota Prius C

By John Beltz Snyder

July 24, 2012

 —Ann Arbor, Michigan
The Prius C is smaller than the standard Prius, and that is apparent as soon as you sit down inside. Headroom isn’t amazing, allowing for the aerodynamic shape of the roof. The car is narrower, and the important gauges are situated toward the middle of the dash rather than directly in front of the driver. Cargo space is also a bit smaller, the Prius C offering a maximum of 17.1 cubic feet—a volume that should be more than enough for the average person’s day-to-day hauling duties. The truth of the matter is that there is still enough room to feel totally comfortable as a driver or passenger despite the C’s smaller dimensions.
[Click here to read our review of the 2011 Honda Insight]
But being small is part of the point. Its diminutive size makes the Prius C ideal to drive in urban environments. It is superbly easy to park, and to maneuver in heavy stop-and-go traffic or the tight confines of a parking lot. Its city gas mileage is slightly better than its bigger brother (53 miles per gallon versus the Prius liftback’s 51), but suffers a bit on the highway (46 versus 48 mpg). That’s the same average fuel economy as the standard Prius, which is as good as it gets without going all-electric—undoubtably the nameplate’s most famous attribute and greatest draw. In all, the C makes efficient work of in-town commutes, and feels right at home at the slower speeds of city traffic.
Quick Drive: 2012 Toyota Prius CThe C’s smaller size also changes its driving dynamics a bit—for the better, we’d argue. With a wheelbase of 100.4 inches, it is quick to rotate. Its low weight of 2500 pounds makes it easier to toss about through traffic or in tight corners. While it is not an enthusiast vehicle, nor is it set up to be super sporty, it is actually enjoyable, especially as far as low-power, high-efficiency vehicles are concerned. Its steering is numb, but light and precise, and there’s not a lot of room for slop in the suspension. If you like the dynamics of small cars, you might find the Prius C to be a good match for you.
Part of the fun in driving a hybrid, though, is trying to achieve maximum efficiency. The C has Eco and EV modes, and it gives you constant feedback about your fuel economy and driving style. Various informational display screens give data on current and average fuel economy and speed, battery usage, etc. One screen offers an “Eco Score,” which rates how efficiently you take off, cruise, and come to a stop. We found ourselves becoming a bit obsessed with this feature, and striving to get as close to 100 percent as we could between traffic lights and stop signs. In this way, the Prius C helps train the driver how to get the most out of the small gasoline engine and electric motor.
During the later part of our week with the car, though, we took it in a different direction, driving hard and essentially bringing the fuel economy numbers way down. By the end of the test, our average hovered around 43 mpg—below the EPA estimates, but still exceeding the average of almost every other car on the road, which is impressive.
The Prius C has an overall feeling of quality similar to that of the standard Prius liftback. It feels very solidly put together, and the only real NVH nag is that the motor can get quite noisy when under full load. Other than that, the seats are comfortable and supportive, controls are laid out neatly and usefully, and a lot of neat technology is on hand to keep the car efficient and interesting. The C feels entirely unique, and combines its green cred with compact, urban utility to make it really stand out as a smart buy in the automotive marketplace.
2012 Toyota Prius C
Engine: Inline-4/electric motor, 1.5-liters, 16v
Output: 99 hp/125 lb-ft
Weight: 2500 lb
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 53/46 mpg
Base Price: $18,950