2012 TOYOTA PRIUS C REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Five-door light hatchback hybrid
Price: $26,990 (plus on-roads)
Fuel Economy claimed: 3.9 l/100km | tested: 4.5 l/100km
C for ‘Compact’. C for ‘City’. C for ‘Cool’? Well, maybe. Hypermiling can be its own kind of fun - like, “How low can this thing go?”
But if the Prius C lacks anything in sex appeal, it more than makes up for it in fuel efficiency. In the traffic-choked streets of the inner suburbs, it is this quality that is most appealing.
Quality: There’s no unnecessary weight anywhere in the Prius C - even in the interior. That means a cabin dominated by plastic surfaces.
While the fit and finish is good, the texturing is coarse and the grey plastic door trims look a bit drab. Switchgear and controls feel durable, and ergonomically things ‘work’, but the centrally-mounted instrument panel can take some getting used to.
We’re also not crazy about the cheap-feeling ‘pleather’ seat-trim of the i-Tech.
Comfort: Trim material aside, the front seats are pretty comfortable, and stayed that way even on a longer two-hour highway stint.
Outward vision is good although over-the-shoulder visibility is compromised by the thick-ish C-pillar.
There’s a surprising amount of rear leg and knee-room, as well as decent under-thigh support from the relatively deep seat squab.
However, with a roofline that’s 55mm lower than the Yaris, there’s a real shortage of headroom. Anyone above average height will find their scalps uncomfortably close to the roof liner.
Equipment: The i-Tech comes with a substantial amount of standard equipment to justify its pricetag. You'll find luxuries like sat-nav, proximity key, reversing camera, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, a USB audio input, power folding mirrors, climate control and cruise control.
The Prius C also comes equipped with a comprehensive trip computer, which displays an array of information about the hybrid powertrain and the energy consumed.
Externally, the Prius C i-Tech gets LED headlamps, 15-inch alloy wheels and a larger hatch spoiler.
Storage: Being a compact car, you’d expect a tiny boot. But being a hybrid, you’d expect storage space to shrink further due to the need to accommodate the battery pack.
The Prius C however preserves boot space by mounting the hybrid battery pack under the rear seats, which leaves a decent 260 litre luggage area with the rear seats in place.
In-cabin storage is good, with door bins in each front door, a lidded centre console bin, a proper glovebox, two front cupholders, one rear cupholder, a small storage shelf above the glovebox and a deep recess at the base of the centre stack.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: The Prius C’s 1.5 litre Atkinson Cycle petrol four-cylinder engine is augmented by an electric motor, and the whole powertrain unit has a combined output of 74kW and 111Nm.
In an era of potent small engines, it’s a little underpowered by modern standards. But, while there’s sufficient urge there for everyday city driving, the Prius C is engineered first and foremost for efficiency.
And in this, its performance is remarkable. Even without attempting to drive in an eco-friendly manner, we managed to see an average consumption of 4.5 l/100km on the trip computer after a week of motoring.
That’s appreciably close to Toyota’s 3.9 l/100km claim, and with a lighter touch on the accelerator and greater use of EV mode, we’ve no doubt the Prius C would record fuel consumption figures in the low fours in real-world conditions.
And in that most frustrating of environments - peak hour traffic jams - the Prius C is in its element, and at its most miserly.
In stop-start traffic, it sips fuel only when the hybrid battery gets depleted or the cabin temperature gets too hot.
When stationary or crawling under light throttle, the petrol engine stays off.
In these conditions, a dedicated electric-only EV mode keeps the internal combustion engine from firing up - but with a range limited to just two kilometres. (And travelling above 40km/h will also cancel EV mode and fire up the petrol engine. )
Refinement: The Prius C is quite noisy inside, particularly at highway speeds. Compared to the regular Prius, road noise, tyre roar and engine noise are quite noticeable.
On smooth city road surfaces it’s fine, but can get overbearing on long jaunts.
Suspension: For the most part, the Prius C handles quite well. With the weighty hybrid battery pack mounted just ahead of the rear axle, it’s weight distribution is relatively even.
Combined with a nice tight turning circle, and responsive steering, it handles quite well around tight city streets and carparks.
Steering ‘feel’ and ride quality could do with some work though. There’s not a lot of feedback through the steering wheel, and sharp bumps can transmit quite a jolt through the cabin.
Braking: The Prius C is braked by discs up front and drums at the rear, as well as a regenerative braking system that converts forward motion into stored electrical energy.
Braking feel is fairly linear for a regenerative system, and the Prius C pulls up easily in an emergency stop.
ANCAP rating: Untested
Safety features: Stability control, traction control, hill-hold assist, ABS, EBD and brake assist are all part of the Prius C’s standard-issue safety suite.
Occupant protection is provided by seven airbags (front, front side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee), three-point seatbelts for all passengers and pretensioning front belts.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years, 100,000km vehicle warranty. The hybrid battery is warranted for eight years or 160,000km, whichever occurs first.
Service costs: Under Toyota’s Sevice Advantage scheme, the Prius C i-Tech costs $130 per scheduled service for the first three years or 60,000km of ownership. Service intervals are set for every six months or 10,000km.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Fiat 500 Twinair ($22,990) - Fiat says its tiny 500 Twinair consumes the same amount of petrol as a Prius C, but in practice its 900cc two-cylinder turbo needs to be worked hard and fuel consumption suffers.
It’s a lot more basic than the Prius C and it can’t match the spec level of the i-Tech, while as a two door it’s also far less practical than the Toyota. It is, however, far more eye-catching. (see 500 reviews)
Volkswagen Polo 66TDI ($21,490) - Thirstier than the Prius C with an average fuel consumption of 4.7 l/100km, the diesel Polo is nevertheless a delight to drive and very well-built.
The Polo 66TDI is also much cheaper than the Prius C i-Tech, but optioning up to a similar level sees the retail price for the VW balloon to $25,890 - and you still don’t get sat-nav or keyless entry. (see Polo reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
If you care about reducing your carbon footprint, it is perhaps the ONLY choice - unless of course you have the cash to splash on the $48,800 all-electric Mitsubishi i-MiEV.
Around town it will run on the smell of an oily rag, and being able to use EV mode to waft along in peak hour without consuming any petrol at all really does fill you with a sense of smug self-satisfaction.
The price of entry is rather high for a light hatch, we’ll admit, but for its technology, features and hybrid efficiency, there’s more to the Prius C i-Tech than meets the eye. And yes, for a troubled planet, it is both ‘car’ and ‘solution’.