Overview: Introduced for the 2012 model year, the C is the smallest member of Toyota’s expanding Prius family, as well as the least expensive. It’s also the thriftiest around town, according to the EPA, although the standard Prius scores slightly higher ratings in the highway cycle. (We averaged 39 mpg in our last test of the C.) Shared underpinnings with the subcompact Yaris, rather than the other Prius models, mean that the C’s fuel economy is rooted in a smaller version of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive—a 1.5-liter engine and a 60-hp electric motor—delivering a combined output of 99 horsepower. The transmission is a continuously variable automatic, sending the system’s modest output to the front wheels. In addition to its normal gasoline-electric hybrid operation, the C can travel up to one mile as a pure electric (sub–25 mph), and it also offers an Eco mode, which seems odd in a car whose primary function is eco. The C’s powertrain is wrapped in a snappy, subcompact-hatchback package that’s been freshened for 2015. It’s available in four trim levels, conveniently labeled from One to Four and ranging in price from $20,365 to $25,300. That makes it about $5000 cheaper than the regular Prius.
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What’s New: Like its Yaris platform-mate, the Prius C’s cosmetics have had some attention for 2015, most notably a new grille reminiscent of the restyled Camry sedan. The freshened fascia sports LED projector-beam headlights, and LED lights have also been added at the rear. Upgraded materials improve the interior appearance, but perhaps the most compelling element of this freshening is the addition of three hot bright colors. Electric Lime Metallic (shown on this test car) may suggest the presence of performance that the Prius C simply does not possess, but its shimmering iridescence adds an element of visual fun.
What We Like: It’s hard to think ill of a car that can go so far on a single gallon of fuel—Toyota notes that the C scores the highest EPA city number of any regular (non-plug-in) hybrid. Even the basic Prius One is well equipped, and the upgrades to the upholstery make the interior a more comfortable place to be. And with its uninhibited new color choices—besides Electric Lime Metallic, there’s Tangerine Splash Pearl and Sparkling Sea Metallic—the C now has an eye-candy quotient many of its competitors lack.
What We Don’t Like: Acceleration in this Toyota can be charitably described as deliberate, and in Eco mode it becomes almost imperceptible. Beyond that, brake-pedal feel doesn’t inspire confidence, cornering is reluctant, and the steering is vague. The speedometer is still near the center of the dash, rather than in front of the driver; rear-seat space is snug; interior noise levels are a bit high at freeway speeds; and the center dash screen tracking mpg and the action of the hybrid system—the only source of driver entertainment in this car—is too small to read at a glance.
Verdict: We’ll defer to what we said in a previous review: “It has wheels and gets good gas mileage.”