2012 Prius c – A Deeper Look at Toyota's City Car

2012 Prius c (Aaron)

After a brief, but fun jaunt in Toyota's newest Prius family member earlier this year, we got the chance for a longer, more involved test drive of this remarkable little fuel sipper and came away with a better understanding of the C.

The manufacturer says

Meet the 2012 Toyota Prius c, the smallest member of the Prius Family and the most affordable Prius ever. Its compact size makes it remarkably city friendly. Plus, its EPA-estimated 53 mpg rating in the city is the highest of any hybrid vehicle without a plug.


  • Manufacturer: Toyota
  • Year, Model: 2012 Prius c
  • Class, Type: Subcompact hybrid
  • Propulsion system: Gasoline-electric
  • Vehicle range: 450 miles
  • Base Price: $19,710
  • MSRP as tested: $25,140
  • Availability:
  • Now, nationally.


The Prius c is a car aimed directly at singles in the college crowd, but it's also become popular amongst retirees wanting to scale back their impact in their empty nest. In both cases, the diminutive C really delivers on both price point and fuel economy. For a family, however, it's cramped and unwieldy.

Back in July, we talked about our fast and furious test drive of the C on a trip down to sunny Florida. Our impressions were all favorable, but now we've had a little more time with the car, testing it in real world use. Plus, this time it was offered in the hottest color in its lineup, the aptly named Habanero orange. For the record, there are nine exterior color options to choose from for the Prius c, our last one being the much more sedate Summer Rain Metallic.

Fuel economy is definitely the C's top selling point. Especially at such a low starting price. The Prius Liftback is a few thousand more and offers much more room and versatility, but for the crowd the little C is meant for, those extra dollars and all that extra room aren't likely on the radar. Add to that the phenomenal 53 mpg city that the subcompact C is capable of and it's a no-brainer for the college and urban commuter crowd.

We took a short road trip (about 90 miles each way) in the Prius c loaner, taking along two adults and two children still in car seats. It was cramped, as expected, but even with all that weight in the car, the C managed a respectable 42 mpg on the highway. Not bad for a ride that is generally peppy - though I don't think I'd stretch that to "sporty" - and in a package that is part of one of the easiest to maneuver vehicles you'll ever drive and the Prius c really struts. Highway noise is somewhat loud, but not extraordinarily so compared to many similar-sized vehicles.

In everyday driving, around town and on the back country roads of Wyoming, the Prius c is a fun little ride. Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive allows for about five miles of all-electric driving when the battery has been given full charge. The intuitive display quickly gets you in the habit of using the "Battery" mode on the shifter, which engages the motor as a generator to both slow the car and generate electricity for the batteries, and to work the brakes to maximize regenerative output. Toyota has found a sweet spot in driver engagement to encourage this eco-friendly behavior. The payoff for all of this is the ability to glide, all electric, through town while on slow, surface roads. If you roll the window down, you can hear the weird Star Trek-like sound the car emits at low speeds to warn pedestrians of its sneaky electric-ness.

What we like

Great low-cost, entry-level hybrid, that is focused specifically on a market that will both accept the car as-is and delight in it. For the budget conscious, this car is a no-brainer.

Fun to drive for the everyday driver. Not as sporty or likeable as some higher priced vehicles, maybe, but the Prius c is definitely the most fun you'll have in a sub-$30,000 hybrid. The connectivity and dashboard options will make most of today's plug-n-play youth happy as well.

What we don't

Noisy on the highway and at highway speeds. On the freeway, expressway, or highway, you'll definitely hear what's going on outside the Prius c. It's very much meant for city driving.

Stiff and clunky on uneven roadways so those living in New York City or other places renowned for their horrible road surfaces may want to test drive this one before taking it home.


With the price point and great package the Prius c offers, those in its market will almost certainly love this car. It has its limitations, of course, but if the C fits your lifestyle as a college student, single driver, or retiree, then you're definitely going to want to look at one. It helps the pocket book in both up-front cost and costs at the pump.

Test Period Length and Limitations
The car was loaned to us for about a week and driven in rural, suburban, urban, and highway situations. A total of 432 miles were put on our test driver, many of them freeway for our mentioned road trip.

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