Designed to offer Toyota’s hallmark hybrid technologies in a smaller, urban-friendly package, the all-new 2013 Toyota Prius c will come to the marketplace with an MSRP of $18,950. And while it won’t be the least-expensive hybrid on sale in the U.S.—that title goes to the $18,350 Honda Insight—the Prius c will set a new benchmark with the highest EPA city mileage of any plugless vehicle in the U.S. That expected rating of 53 mpg city will then be complemented by marks of 46 mpg highway/50 mpg combined, a fairly dynamic driving experience, plenty of technology, and a versatile interior, all in a strikingly designed car that’s some 4 inches shorter than a Honda Fit.
Following the same template introduced on the original Prius liftback, Toyota will offer the Prius c in four basic grades. All, of course, rely on the latest version of the automaker’s Hybrid Synergy Drive, which in this case combines an efficient 1.5-liter I4 with intelligent variable valve timing, a permanent-magnet AC synchronous motor that can make 60 hp, and a 144-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack to realize a total output of 99 hp. That might not seem like much in the way of pep, but should deliver satisfying performance in a vehicle that weighs about 2,500 lbs.
On the safety front, each Prius c also features nine airbags and Toyota’s Star Safety System, which is a suite of technologies that includes Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction control (TRAC), Anti-lock Brake System (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist (BA), and Smart Stop Technology (SST).
Then, the Prius c Grade One, with it’s sub-$19,000 starting point, adds standard content like an automatic climate control system, remote keyless entry, a 3.5-inch multi-information display, Bluetooth capabilities, a USB-enabled audio system and a tilt/telescopic steering wheel with controls for the audio and climate systems, the multi-information display, and Bluetooth functionality.
Moving up to Grade Two—priced at $19,900—adds a six-speaker sound system, variable intermittent windshield wipers, a 60/40 split fold-down rear seat with adjustable headrests, cruise control, engine immobilizer, center console with armrest and storage compartment, and a cargo-area tonneau cover.
Beginning at $21,635, the Grade Three model includes a significant upgrade in the tech department, showing off standard content like Toyota’s Display Audio System with Navigation and the automaker’s Entune infotainment and connectivity setup. In the mix here are a 6.1-inch touchscreen, advanced voice recognition, a three-month trial subscription to XM Satellite Radio, HD Radio with iTunes tagging, and access to real-time info about traffic, weather, fuel prices, sports scores and stock prices. In addition, drivers will be able to enjoy mobile apps like Bing, Pandora, iHeartRadio, MovieTickets.com and OpenTable.
On the options menu for Grade Three will be a power tilt/slide moonroof with a sliding sunshade ($850), as well as 15-inch, eight-spoke alloy wheels ($390).
The range-topping Prius c Grade Four will open at $23,230 and introduce heated, Softex-trimmed front seats, color-keyed heated power outside mirrors with turn signal indicators, and integrated fog lamps. The 15-inch, eight-spoke alloy wheels will be standard as well, while on the option list will be the power moonroof ($850) and 16-inch eight-spoke alloy wheels ($300).
Since the Prius c will be the first subcompact hybrid on the market, direct rivals will be hard to come by. Drivers shopping for hybrids priced under $20,000 are limited to the Prius c, Insight and Honda CR-Z, and the latter—with its base price of $19,545 and sporty-ish demeanor—really isn’t aimed at the same buyers. It’s not that the CR-Z is any kind of pocket rocket, but its two-seat interior will keep it off the shopping lists of families or those with more than one friend. Also, its EPA ratings trail those of the Prius c by a hefty 18 mpg city/7 mpg highway/13 mpg combined.
The Insight is a better match, but not by much. Even though the Honda is more than a foot longer than the Prius c, it has less cargo space with its rear seats up and it also trails the Toyota by a large margin in terms of fuel economy. The Insight’s EPA line of 41/44/42 lags the Prius c by 12 mpg/2 mpg/8 mpg.
On the other hand, the Prius c will carry an unavoidable—and large—price premium against the typical next-gen small cars, and potential buyers will have to weigh that against the Toyota’s equally large EPA benefits. Here’s how the Prius c stacks up against the most fuel-efficient models of the newest mainstream subcompact hatchbacks, all with automatic transmissions.
Vehicle MSRP Length Cargo space* MPG
Prius c $18,950 157.3 inches 17.3 cu. ft. 53/46/50
Ford Fiesta $16,065 160.1 inches 15.4 cu. ft. 29/40/33
Hyundai Accent $14,695 162 inches 21.2 cu. ft. 30/40/33
Chevy Sonic $14,765 159 inches 19 cu. ft. 25/35/28
A couple of notes here: Toyota has yet to release official cargo figures for the Prius c with its rear seats folded flat.
Regardless, the Prius c certainly looks like it will be well-positioned to gain volume for Toyota once it goes on sale next month.