Test Driven: Toyota Prius C (9/10)

Toyota Prius C: Small Car, Big City

This was my first time driving a Prius of any sort, although I have driven other hybrids. The Prius is special though because society has made into the poster child for the green car movement. The Prius C is the newest, smallest member of the Prius family, and it is selling like hotcakes right now. Like many car guys, I have always had a good deal of contempt for the Prius over the years for various reasons, but I figured it would be a good idea to at least go try one out for myself before closing the book on the car for good. What lay ahead tuned out to be an interesting experience.   

The Prius C is about the same size as a Ford Fiesta or a Chevy Sonic in its dimensions, so it shares their practicality. The one I drove was the mid range C-2 model, meaning it was decently equipped but lacked some of the more fancy options available. It was nice inside the car, if maybe a bit plain styled. Toyotas have never really been about excessive style though; they are simple cars that are effective at achieving a set goal. For the Prius lineup that goal is fuel efficiency above all else, and I was surprised to see how focused every aspect of the car was on achieving this. I had always thought Prii were basically normal cars with a hybrid power train and low wind resistance, but the focus of this car actually goes much further than that.

The Prius C is not what I would call a “do everything” sort of car. Looking at it you may think it could be the sporty member of the Prius lineup, but it couldn’t be further from it. The controls are loose and uncommunicative, the chassis is soft and has tons of roll, and the gas pedal is a bad joke. I rolled onto Route 1 and it took 10-15 seconds for it to get to 60mph with the pedal on the carpet. The performance is awful, almost to the point of being unsafe in the real world, but it is all by design. As said before, the Prius C is meant for the single purpose of fuel efficiency.

I believe there was some psychology at play during the design process of the car. By making it perform horribly they force the driver to accept the car for what it is. There is no temptation to try and drive the Prius fast in any way, and that makes you relax and just concentrate on driving as economically as possible. When driving the car as it was designed you will find that the seats are quite comfortable and the driving posture is excellent. The car seems to float along the road on its soft suspension, and the steering is very light and forgiving as well. Toyota has also really gotten the hybrid system to work seamlessly in this car; if I wasn’t listening for it I didn’t realize when the engine kicked in. The whole experience of driving the Prius C is effortless. The steering wheel is even shaped like a sideways oval to allow more room for the driver, and for some reason it all just seems so right in this car. I found myself just relaxing and enjoying the smooth ride.

For all this relaxing you will be rewarded with an average of 50mpg in the Prius C. It fulfills its purpose of using the least amount of fuel possible, and the whole car’s design goes into doing this. All of this focus does however make the Prius C useless for anything else though, and that includes helping the environment. The battery on all Prius models does far more damage to the environment in its production and disposal process than the emissions from any normal car through its life cycle. So, those of you wishing to save the world should look elsewhere, maybe a bicycle shop. If gas mileage is your main concern though, then this car is phenomenal.

The main customer base for the Prius C will be younger people living in urban areas. Such customers are very cost conscious, live in areas where traffic and parking are tight, and spend a lot of time driving at slow speeds. As a package it is hard to think of a better car for someone in that situation, but at around $19k for the base model (and into the mid 20s for the 2, 3, and 4 models) the Prius C is a few thousand more expensive than its main competition. It does achieve far better mileage though, and I have even heard of people driving around for 5 hours in the urban sprawl on less than a gallon of gas. So, the extra cost of the Prius C may be worth it to many buyers if they can justify the price premium with fuel savings over time.

The Prius Family

As for myself, I feel that I have found an understanding with the Prius C. It is surely not my sort of car, but I can respect it for being so focused on achieving a specific goal. It is a car with purpose at the end of the day, much the same as the cars I like, but in a different direction. The Prius C definitely has its practical merits for anyone who buys it, offering the same useable package as its competitors, but with significantly better mileage. I finally feel like I “get” the Prius lineup now, so although I would never buy one for myself I can identify with those would. It was a different experience than I am accustomed, but it was an experience nonetheless. I would happily recommend it to anyone whose mindset matches the car’s, and to anyone living in a city as well.

WoM Score: Toyota Prius C “Two”

Primary Function: MPG: 2
Secondary Functions: Practicality(2): 2…… It’s small, but for a city car it can fit a lot. Beats the Scion iQ and Smart car
Visual Appeal: 1
Build Quality: 2
Value for Money: 2

Final Score: 9/10

-Nick Walker

4 thoughts on “Test Driven: Toyota Prius C (9/10)”

  1. re: battery technology’s effect on the environment.
    The evidence suggests you are quite wrong here. In fact, the math (as complicated as it is) suggests that even with the awkward supply chain currently in place, the hybrid specific technology erases just 1 year of the efficiency gained by the Prius (see : http://ec.europa.eu/environment/integration/research/newsalert/pdf/257na2.pdf). Thereby giving the owner a net environmental benefit on top of actual fuel costs saved.
    As supply chains improve, newer battery technologies are implemented, and recycling improves, this net gain will only increase.


    1. Until the battery is used up and needs to be disposed of. Toxic waste does damage, and despite some recycling ability we aren’t able to properly deal with this problem yet.


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