2012 Toyota Prius c Review: What Is It
With a lofty goal of making the Prius the best-selling nameplate in its portfolio by 2020, Toyota has expanded the depth of its iconic hybrid hatchback to include a larger, family-sized Prius v, a more electric Prius Plug-In and the smaller, more compact Prius c. While the Prius (now referred to as the Prius Liftback to prevent any confusion) and Prius v are very similar in terms of appearance and mechanical bits, the 2012 Toyota Prius c is easily distinguishable and is aimed at a younger demographic who drive in dense, urban areas. Up until now, most automakers wanted us to believe that gasoline-electric hybrid powetrains only made sense on larger vehicles, so we spent a week in a 2012 Toyota Prius c for this road test and review to see if Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive system made sense in a subcompact hatchback.
2012 Toyota Prius c Review: Pricing and Trim Levels
Known as the Toyota Aqua in Japan (where the car is built), the 2012 Toyota Prius c comes in four trim levels (One, Two, Three and Four) with a starting MSRP of $18,950 making it the second-most affordable hybrid vehicle in the U.S. (just $450 more than the Honda Insight). For this review, we had a Prius c Two which starts at $19,990, and it added in a few extra options for an as-tested price of $21,716 including destination. Even at this price, the new Toyota Prius c still comes in at about $3,000 less than a base Prius Liftback, but a fully loaded c can creep up to more than $25,000. The new Prius c definitely isn't the first subcompact to venture into the mid-$20,000 price range, but it might just be the most fuel efficient. Plus, those who can't imagine spending this much on a small car still have the slightly smaller Toyota Yaris from which to choose.
2012 Toyota Prius c Review: What It's Up Against
Not only does the 2012 Toyota Prius c go up against alternative-powered small cars like the Honda CR-Z, Honda Insight and Volkswagen Golf TDI, its low price keeps it in the ballpark of conventional subcompact hatchbacks like the Chevrolet Sonic, Kia Rio and Ford Fiesta. Toyota isn't breaking down the specific sales figures for each Prius model, so direct apples-to-apples comparisons with competitive cars will be difficult, but Toyota's goal of making the Prius its best-selling product within the next eight years is off to a promising start so far. In the first full month with all four Prius models on sale together, Toyota's plan for hybrid dominance seems on track as the Prius line-up surged ahead of the Corolla to be Toyota's second-best selling car of the month with 25,168 units sold... about 11,000 units behind the top-selling Camry but more than double what the Prius sold through the first four months of 2011. These impressive sales figures have resulted in the Prius increasing 55.7 percent in sales compared to last year with a total of 86,027 Prii sold to year to date. For those wondering how well the new Prius c is doing, the subcompact hybrid has been in high demand at Toyota dealerships since going on sale in early March.
2012 Toyota Prius c Review: Exterior
What's New for 2012:
- new model
- smaller dimensions than standard Prius liftback
- sportier styling fits in better with other subcompact hatchbacks
How It Looks:
For those who are curious, the "c" in Prius c stands for "city," and the car's small stature definitely helps to back this up. Compared to the Prius Liftback, the new Prius c is about 19 inches shorter, two inches lower and narrower and rides on a wheelbase that has been trimmed by six inches. To tie in with other Prius models (as well as other Toyota and Lexus hybrids), the Prius c has blue accents to the all of the exterior badging including the Toyota logos and the Prius c name badge. In addition to these blue accents, the overall dimensions and proportions still make it easy to see the family resemblance to the larger Prius models, but while the Liftback has become iconic for its unique aero-tuned, wedge-shaped design, the 2012 Toyota Prius c doesn't look much different from a regular subcompact hatchback. This is a good thing since Toyota isn't targeting the typical Prius buyer with sportier Prius c.
This car is aimed at a younger demographic that is usually made up of styling-conscious buyers, and the new Prius c does really well in this regard. While not as aerodynamic as its Liftback counterpart, the c brings a surprisingly aggressive design to the Prius line-up starting with the expressive new face. The Toyota Prius c uses scalloped headlights, a sculpted hood and a Mitsubishi Lancer-inspired grille to set it apart from other Prius models, but the biggest improvement Toyota made to this car was creating a distinct break between the hood and the windshield as opposed to the Prius Liftback's ski-slope front end. Even the rear view of the Prius c adds a more youthful appearance with the rounded rear wheel arches, liftgate spoiler and the vertical, clear-lensed taillights. About the only common styling cues shared between the Prius c and the other Prius models are the side window openings that all mirror the rounded roofline along the time and all feature similar up kick along the bottom edge at the rear of the car. The Prius c is available in a multitude of flashy design combinations including signature colors like Habanero (orange) or Summer Rain Metallic (light blue) and 16-inch alloy wheels on the top-of-the-line Prius c Four, but our Prius c Two test vehicle came in a bit more conservative painted in Super White with xx-inch steel wheels and hubcaps.
2012 Toyota Prius c Review: Interior
What's New for 2012:
- conventional shift lever
- spacious interior despite small footprint
How It Looks and Feels:
The cabin of the 2012 Toyota Prius c still has a bit of the quirkiness of the third-generation Prius Liftback like the rounded steering wheel controls and the offset instrument gauge cluster, but buyers cross shopping other subcompacts will appreciate the c's more conventional cabin design. Located in the center of the digital gauge cluster is a multi-page display screen that shows important info such as and it can even tell the driver how much trips saved and/or cost them in terms of actual dollars... no leaves or butterflies here! Another great part of the Prius c's interior is that it actually uses a real shift lever instead of the wacky gear selector used in the Prius and Prius v. Matching the blue accents on the outside of the car, the Prius c's cabin also gets some blue trim including blue piping on the instrument panel and door panels as well as a nifty little blue circuit board-looking trim sitting atop the gear shift lever. Looks aside, the Prius c still has plenty of room for five passengers (and a decent amount of cargo space rated at 17.1 cubic feet with the rear seat in place) thanks to the positioning of the battery pack under the rear bench seat.
2012 Toyota Prius c Review: The Extras
The biggest draw to the 2012 Toyota Prius c is its low price, but since there are always car shoppers out there looking to check every option box, Toyota caters to as many buyers as possible with a number of option packages. The Prius c Two we used for this review . Our test car did add about $975 to the total price with port-installed window tint, carpeted floor mats and an iPod adapter cable.
2012 Toyota Prius c Review: Powertrain and Fuel Economy
What's New for 2012:
- smaller engine
- downsized Hybrid Synergy Drive system
- low curb weight
How Does It Go:
Using a powertrain similar to the second-generation Prius, the 2012 Toyota Prius c starts off with a 1.5-liter inline-four Atkinson cycle gasoline engine while the Prius Liftback and Prius v both use a more powerful 1.8-liter engine. This engine is paired with the Hybrid Synergy Drive system which delivers a combined power output of 99 horsepower sending power to the front wheels through a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). The hybrid system consists of two electric motors and a 144-volt nickel metal hydride battery pack that helps the car return EPA fuel economy estimates of 53 miles per gallon in the city, 46 mpg on the highway and a rating of 50 mpg in combined driving. Normal, Eco and EV driving modes fine tune the Prius c to match a desired driving style with the Eco mode helping to conserve fuel by numbing the throttle response and limiting the climate control and the EV mode giving the car the ability to travel up to 25 miles per hour (under soft and calculated acceleration) for up to one mile.
2012 Toyota Prius c Review: How It Drives
Carrying the Prius name and sending 99 hp to the front wheels through a CVT, we didn't expect the 2012 Toyota Prius c to do anything except save money at the gas pump, but its 2,500-pound curb weight makes it surprisingly fun to drive. Not that the subcompact hatchback segment is overly exhilarating to drive in the first place, the Prius c might actually be a little more enjoyable than most of its rivals thanks to its low center of gravity that results from the battery pack being positioned beneath the rear seat. It is refreshing to have fun in a hybrid like the Prius c, but at the end of the day, this car is all about fuel economy. During our week with the 2012 Toyota Prius c, we put a little more than 200 miles on the car in mixed driving and averaged 54.4 mpg - this includes a 30-mile all-highway trip that returned 65.2 mpg. According to the fuel cost monitor, this week of driving cost us less than $12. One of the Prius c's biggest downfalls (which is common among most subcompacts) was the amount of wind, road and engine noise that makes its way into the cabin as well as various buzzes, whirrs and whines associated with the electrical components.
2012 Toyota Prius c Review: Is It Safe
All 2012 Toyota Prius c models come standard with safety features that include nine airbags and active front head restraints in addition to Toyota's Star Safety System that includes Vehicle Stability Control (SC), traction control, four-wheel anti-lock brake system, electronic brake-force distribution with brake assist and Smart Stop Technology brake override.
2012 Toyota Prius c Review: Final Thoughts
The 2012 Toyota Prius c is another groundbreaking car to wear the Prius name only instead of becoming the poster child for all hybrids like the original Prius, this car proves that small cars can benefit from hybrid technology in terms of fuel economy while maintaining a competitive MSRP. As the "baby bear" of the new Prius line-up, the 2012 Toyota Prius c will likely be "just right" for many buyers who don't need a mid-sized Liftback or the crossover-sized Prius v. Even better, the small size and low curb weight of the new Toyota Prius c help make it a surprisingly fun car to drive as well. With its youthful looks and stylish, hatchback design, the Prius c could have very well landed in the Scion brand as its first hybrid model, but instead, Toyota is hoping to use it to make the world's best-selling hybrid (more than two million Prius models have been sold worldwide over the last 14 years) the automaker's best-selling nameplate by the end of this decade.
2012 Toyota Prius c Review: Pros and Cons
- only subcompact to deliver more than 50 mpg highway
- best fuel economy for the price
- fewer styling quirks than Prius Liftback
- lots of cabin noise
- interior has awkward design and plenty of hard plastic
Toyota provided the vehicle for this review
Photos by Jeffrey N. Ross
You may also be interested in...
Autobytel Fast Five: Best MPG Hybrid Cars for 2012
Autobytel Fast Five: Most Affordable Hybrids for 2012
Fast Five: 2012 Cars that Get 50 mpg—or More
Top Safety Pick Update: Hyundai Azera, Toyota Prius c, Chevy Malibu Eco Make the Grade
Road Test & Review: 2012 Toyota Prius c
2012 Toyota Prius c: Video Road Test and Review