2012 Prius c - eXtreme Efficiency on a Budget

2012 Prius c

A subcompact car made for city driving, the Prius c is an excellent answer to the age-old question of budget versus efficiency and will appeal to singles and couples who primarily drive or commute in city driving situations. For the budget conscious, this car wins on two fronts: price and fuel savings.

The manufacturer says

"The Prius c is an urban-friendly vehicle with an engaging driving experience and hatchback utility."

Specs:

  • Manufacturer: Toyota
  • Year, Model: 2012 Prius c (trim level 4)
  • Class, Type: Subcompact hybrid
  • Propulsion system: Gasoline-electric
  • Vehicle range: 450 miles
  • Fuel(s): Gasoline (no plug-in)
  • Base Price: $19,710
  • MSRP as tested: $23,990
  • Availability: At dealerships now.

Overview

The Prius c is sold in four trim levels, labeled, conveniently, one through four. The base model (c1) includes the standard safety and driving features expected of a car in 2012. It also includes a few extras not often expected in a car of this segment and price point:

  • Vehicle Proximity Notification System
  • Tire pressure monitoring
  • USB port with iPod jack
  • Hands-free phone, phone book, and music streaming via Bluetooth

With each trim level, the extras get more and more plush. A c2 has a 6-speaker stereo system (instead of 4), much better upholstery, full seat adjustment options including lumbar on the front seats, fold-down split rear seating for added cargo versatility, and more. Well worth the extra $1,000. The c3 and c4 upgrade to a much more advanced connectivity and user experience system with a 6.1-inch LCD display screen for navigation and more connected access (including Toyota's Entune), HD radio, smart key with pushbutton start, a telescoping/tilt steering wheel, etc. All at under $24,000.

The Prius c is roomier than expected and surprises with its headroom (a person of 6'3" sits easily) in the front seats. Rear seating is more cramped, but still liveable for short trips and occasional use by adults. The Prius c seats 5 in total and has more cargo space than expected thanks to its hatchback design.

The look of the c makes it obvious that this little car is based on Toyota's popular compact, the Yaris. Its advanced now-generation Toyota hybrid technology, however, gives it an impressive EPA city rating of 53 miles to the gallon. The c is made from the ground up to be a fuel sipper that excels in urban environments and under the driving method most favored by younger people, which Toyota engineers call "Sprint-Cruise." This means it's responsive on the starting line (stop light) and accelerates well and with a decidedly sporty feel until the driver lets off to "cruise" at speed. It's tiny size and 100-inch wheelbase on a stiff suspension mean a sporty feel to the drive and handling as well.

Finally, the tiny 1.5-liter aluminum 4-cylinder engine has 16-valves and puts out 99 horsepower. In true Toyota fashion, spark plugs, oil filter, drain plug, and fill spout are all easily accessed so the DIY home maintenance mechanic has an easy time of doing most routine maintenance tasks if desired.

What we like

Great low-cost, entry-level hybrid with a laser-like focus on its intended market: young urbanites and suburban drivers who can't afford an expensive car or to pay for expensive gas. It also does well with older retirees living in the same situation.

Very nice for the price point in both fit and trim. While some auto reviews have besmirched the Prius c for its "cheap interior," they are comparing it to cars that have a price tag well above the c's and that are aiming for markets outside of that intended for this smallest of the Prius line.

What we don't

Noisy on the freeway which is forgivable in some respect since the car is made for city driving (the "c" stands for "city" after all), but which is still a negative that many owners will notice eventually.

Clunky on uneven roads because of its stiff suspension and tiny size, the Prius c makes bumpy roads seem bumpy rather than smoothing them out. It's capable on pavement of questionable value, but lets you know about every bump you find.

Conclusions

Given the price point and remarkable aspects of this little car, it's definitely a winner. Singles and couples will find it to be a great daily driver and very efficient city car that's both easy on the pocketbook for the monthly payment as well as at the gas pump. Most will find the $1,000 difference between the base model and the c2 to be well worth the extra money given the uptick in comfort level and amenities it provides.

Test Period Length and Limitations
We drove the Prius c as part of a Toyota ride and drive press event in Del Ray Beach, Florida. Toyota provided flight and accommodations for the trip and we drove c's in all four trim levels while there. Total driving time in all models was about three hours and total time in the c4 reviewed above was about an hour.

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