I’m not getting paid for this, I’m simply excited about this car. It’s hard to believe that a car can actually achieve a 3.7 L/81 mpg city fuel economy rating. The Prius c is the best fuel-efficient vehicle – a smaller version of the hybrid that started us down an auto electrification path that’s finally gaining consumer acceptance and marketing momentum.
A base MSRP around $20,950 also makes the Prius c the lowest-priced new hybrid you can buy. It’s surprisingly roomy on the inside due to clever space-saving design features, and it can seat four or five adults with a surprisingly high level of comfort.
Other than also having a full hybrid powertrain, the Prius c actually shares very little with the original Prius, now called Prius Liftback, or the larger new Prius v.
In addition to its smaller all-around exterior dimensions, the Prius c has a smaller gas engine (1.5 litre), gas tank (36 litre), hybrid battery pack (144 volt) and electric motors (45 kW).
Yet because the Prius c is considerably lighter (248 kg, which is over 500 lbs.), it performs as well or better than its bigger brother. It also handles better, is easier to park and doesn’t feel much smaller when you get inside.
The Honda Insight stands out as the most direct competitor for the Prius c. It’s also a hybrid and although it’s very close in size, it’s a little longer and heavier and not quite as fuel efficient. Oddly enough, it’s very likely that competition in this market niche will be good for both vehicles.
Standard equipment in Prius c includes automatic climate control, a Bluetooth hands-free connection for mobile phones and auxiliary audio connections. An optional Technology Package adds a navigation system, 15-inch aluminum alloy wheels, push button start, a “Smart Key” system, advanced voice recognition with text-to-speech connectivity and an advanced audio display.
A “Premium Package” is also available, and it includes the Technology Package plus 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels, a power moonroof, fog lamps and upgraded seats with Sof-Tex upholstery. You also have to get this top trim package in order to get heated front seats.
The highly aerodynamic, bullet-like shape of the c comes with interesting wavy character lines and a belt line that rises to the rear to emphasize motion. Its sculptured body is wider below the beltline and has well-defined, muscular rear fenders that give it a small but stocky, athletic stance.
A claimed 0.28 coefficient of drag is very impressive for a car this size.
While the cabin materials are mostly plastic, it isn’t cheap looking. There is an interesting grainy texture to the finish, and different colours and subtle lines crisscross through some of the panels. The overall effect is a clean, good quality experience. While I’m not a fan of the centrally positioned instrument panel, this one is different as it’s offset to the driver’s side. Hopefully, the next redesign will move it all the way back in front of the driver, where it belongs.
Other niggles with the cabin include the placement of two drive-mode switches on the floor by the park brake, and non-adjustable shoulder-lever seat-belt anchors.
On the plus side, there are lots of handy storage spots, and above-average-height drivers should feel comfortable behind the steering wheel, which is smaller than the norm and is flat on the lower part of its rim.
There’s more room in the rear than you might initially think as the seat cushion is larger than usual. This is because the hybrid battery pack and gas tank are both located under the rear seat. As you might expect, the rear seatbacks fold down to increase the cargo area, and they offer 60/40 split flexibility.
In addition to the usual front, side and side-curtain airbags, there’s a driver’s knee airbag and front seat cushion airbags, which help position an occupant properly for a collision. Unlike the other Prius models, Prius c does not come with active head restraints on the front seats.
One of the best handling small hybrids we’ve driven, the Prius c has a surprisingly nimble and balanced feel that’s difficult to achieve when a heavy battery pack has to be hauled around. With more oomph from the power-train, especially on kick-down, it might even claim sporty status. Great fuel economy, however, is the priority here, as the two optional (push button) driving modes offered are Eco and EV.
Eco softens performance to conserve (even more) fuel, and EV allows maximum use of its pure electric drive mode at low vehicle speeds. On the road, the powertrain is very quiet in operation, even though the hybrid system is constantly switching from gas to electric or using a combination of both.
A graphic showing what’s going on under the hood can be the selected view on an instrument panel screen. The Prius c is not as bouncy as other small cars can be on the highway and has a nice stable feel, even at speeds over 100 km/h. Although the steering is on the light side, handling is predictable and it stays relatively flat in corners.
A savvy commuter champion, the Prius c is super fuel-efficient, highly manoeuvrable, has all the latest electronic connectivity stuff and, best of all, it’s a bargain-buy eco-friendly hybrid.