by Jared Rosenholtz
Released in 2012 as a cheaper version of the Prius, the c offers a simpler option in the subcompact hybrid segment, priced between $21,530 and $22,955. Only two trim levels are available, each powered by the same 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine, paired to an electric motor that produces 99 hp and 83 lb-ft of torque. A full suite of safety features is available from the entry-level model, and although the top-end variant only upgrades the infotainment system, it is the better choice between the two. With excellent fuel efficiency and a surprisingly roomy cabin, the Prius c is a good option for those seeking a reliable small car as their urban daily driver. It doesn't fare quite so well in terms of acceleration and passing on the highway, due to the modest power output. Honda's Fit and Chevrolet's Bolt EV both give better performance overall. With talks of the Prius c being discontinued in 2020 in favor of the new Corolla Hybrid, we would wait for this much-anticipated release, or consider the standard Prius instead.
For 2019, Toyota has trimmed the Prius c line-up down from four to two trims, changing the naming from numerical values to alphabetical names, L and LE. Along with the name change, features have been reshuffled, but the basics remain the same. A few paint colors have also been cut from the line-up and a few have been added, along with a new two-tone interior color scheme. The optional sunroof and bigger 16-inch wheels from the old range are no longer available. Other than this, the Prius c remains otherwise unchanged.
With no exterior design changes to its 2019 range, the Prius c still offers LED low- and high-beam headlights, LED taillights and daytime running lights. A black roof rail accent, matching wheel arch moldings and silver-accented protective cladding are present. Standard 15-inch alloy wheels with an 8-spoke design in dark-gray paint, a body-colored rear spoiler, and color-coded shark-fin antenna give this small car a sporty edge.
Smaller than most of its rivals, the Prius c is 162.4 inches in length, 68.6 inches wide and stands at 59.6 inches tall, while the wheelbase is a compact 100.4 inches. These dimensions are not significantly different from its main rivals, the Honda Fit and Chevrolet Bolt EV, although the Chev offers an inch more here and there. Its curb weight of 2,530 lbs is lighter than most others in its class, no doubt contributing to the excellent fuel economy. The Prius c has modest ground clearance (at 5.5 inches) although higher dimensions in this regard are not a major requirement for this segment.
Exterior paint colors for the Prius c are limited to a variety of blue, gray and white shades, with one vibrant red alternative. Seven colors in total are available, with five options at no additional cost: Black Sand Pearl, Blue Streak Metallic, Absolutely Red, Magnetic Gray Metallic and Classic Silver Metallic. Additional costs apply for Blizzard Pearl white and Tide Pool Pearl blue, priced at $395 each.
The Prius c is equipped with a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine developing 73 horsepower and 82 lb-ft of torque, paired to an electric motor for a combined power output of 99 hp, routing power to the front wheels. The motivation behind the powertrain is to provide a fuel-efficient vehicle. The Honda Fit produces at least 130 hp from a 1.5-liter engine; by comparison, and the fully electric Chevrolet Bolt EV offers double the power output than the Prius c. However, as far as hybrid subcompact cars go, the Prius does just fine in city driving. Highways and trips that require strong acceleration and higher speeds don't come naturally to the Prius c, and the engine protests vehemently when pushed hard. With a top speed of only 105 mph, performance is not a strength for this little car. Standard front-wheel-drive is expected in this segment, with no rivals offering any alternative.
As a hybrid vehicle, the Prius c combines a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine with an electric motor, and pairs it to a continuously variable transmission. The result is a meager 99 hp combined. Acceleration in traffic and urban driving conditions are adequate for a hybrid, but it remains far from sporty - this hatchback doesn't like the idea of an enthusiastic sprint to top speed. With its silky smooth transmission, it glides from traffic-light to traffic-light, where the engine happily goes along with minimal demands. Pushing down hard on the accelerator results in an alarming hum from the hybrid powertrain. The Prius c is not a proficient vehicle for overtaking slower traffic on highways or at higher speeds - as the engine simply lacks outright power.
Smaller than the standard Prius, this hatchback offers agility and a nimble sense of handling around town. Light steering makes it perfect for navigating parking spaces or negotiating busy traffic conditions. With a short wheelbase, the Prius c picks up a lot of bounce and the suspension makes for a firm, possibly too rigid, ride. The low-rolling-resistance tires don't provide good grip, but despite this, it still feels composed. The Prius c features regenerative braking that seeks to convert energy from deceleration into battery power. Here the Prius c excels: the brakes are well-modulated and reassuring. Overall the Prius c is adequate for grocery runs, school trips and going to work and back, as not much is required in terms of performance or exertion for exceptional or sporty handling.
Capable of fuel economy ratings of 48/43/46 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles, this is undoubtedly the reason why the Prius c is still in demand. It bests non-hybrid hatchbacks such as the Honda Fit (where gas mileage is 29/36/31 mpg). The Prius c offers a range of 437 miles for each full tank of gas, which is in the top ranking of its segment. When compared to the fully electric Chevrolet Bolt, however, the comparison seems almost unfair with the Bolt attaining 238 miles between charges. Using regular unleaded gas, the small 9.5-gallon fuel tank won't be too costly to fill up, and with good ratings for fuel economy, the Prius c has achieved what it was designed to in this regard. It was also awarded the IntelliChoice title for Fuel Costs in a Compact Passenger Car for 2019.
With only two trim levels, the Prius c doesn't have much to offer by way of luxury cabin appointments. High-quality cloth-upholstered seats prove to be very comfortable, even for long hours spent behind the wheel, slogging through traffic. The front seats are roomy enough for taller passengers, whereas the rear is comfortable but not particularly spacious - adults nearing the six-foot mark aren't going to find the space agreeable. Easy-to-use LATCH car seat tethers are available in the back seat, and a user-friendly infotainment system is included. An over-reliance on hard-plastics in the cabin is a bit of a drawback, as some rivals offer a more plush interior; despite this, ergonomics are good and the available controls are easy to access, intuitive and well placed.
Marketed as a five-seater, the reality of the interior is that it is better suited to four adults, or at least, three children in the rear. The front seats on both trim levels offer a spacious and supportive environment, with cloth seats that can adjust six-ways for the driver, and four-ways for the front passenger. Very similar to what rivals offer in terms of headroom and legroom, the Prius c is surprisingly roomy up front, for a tiny hatchback. The back seat is more restrictive, although it does offer easy access to two full sets of LATCH car-seat restraints. The driving position is good with excellent forward and side visibility, thanks to large windows and slim pillars.
The interior is humdrum, to say the least, with one color option for the cloth seating, a combination of black and gray two-tone fabric. Only the center console with armrest is composed of soft-touch materials, while the remainder of the cabin is characterized by hard-plastics in bland black.
With 17.1 cubic feet behind the rear seats, two or three mid-size bags or small suitcases should fit. The Prius c is ideal for a week's worth of groceries or five or six bags of shopping at a time. One large suitcase could fit, which is more than what the Chevrolet Bolt can take. Folding down the rear seats opens up even more space.
Interior storage space is limited, with two cupholders upfront, a small center console and a glove box as the main small-item stowage spaces. The front seats are also equipped with seatback pockets, but not much more.
The entry-level Prius c is equipped with automatic climate control, remote keyless entry, power windows, and cruise control. A 3.5-inch TFT multi-information display provides the outside temperature, a clock, fuel economy statistics, trip distance, and Eco savings information. The Toyota Safety Sense pre-collision system is standard, which includes pedestrian detection, lane departure assist and automatic high beams. An integrated backup camera is included as standard. On the top-of-the-range model, a smart key system is added to operate the front doors and liftgate. It also enables remote illuminated entry. Push-button start is standard on the top-end LE trim.
Infotainment offerings are substantial. The base model features a 6.1-inch touchscreen with AM/FM radio, CD player, Aux and a USB connection to the four-speaker sound system. It includes advanced voice recognition, hands-free phone connectivity, Bluetooth streaming, and phonebook options, as well as Siri Eyes Free. Regrettably, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not supported.
On the upper range model, the Entune Premium Audio suite is standard, which installs a high-resolution touchscreen with split-screen capabilities, HD radio, and six-speaker sound. Navigation is included, as is predictive traffic with a weather overlay function. Operating the infotainment system is simple and effective, with good graphics and logical menu design.
Scoring high on the JD Power predicted reliability scale, the Prius c is awarded 4.5 out of 5, one of the highest ratings available, which ranks above average and among the best. There has been one recall issued for this vehicle, with certain 2019 models prone to failure of the DC converter module. However, reliability is generally high and it was awarded IntelliChoice's Lowest Maintenance Costs in the compact car segment for 2019. A three-year/36,000 mile full warranty applies, and a five-year/60,000 mile powertrain warranty is provided. Finally, a five-year/unlimited-mile corrosion warranty is also available, as well as two-year/unlimited mile roadside assistance.
The overall crash test rating for the Prius c is noted by the NHTSA at four stars out of five, with accompanying four-star scores in all tests. The IIHS awarded the Prius c scores of Good in most tests, with some tests scoring Acceptable marks.
All Prius c models are equipped with an integrated back up camera and cruise control, as well as the Toyota Safety Sense suite. This includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert, and automatic high-beams. Fully equipped with nine airbags (a large number for a small vehicle, including a driver knee airbag, and front seat-mounted airbags), the Prius c also has a vehicle proximity notification system, hill start assist, and whiplash-injury lessening front seats. The Star Safety System is also a standard feature on all models. This adds vehicle stability control, traction control, ABS braking, and smart stop technology to the list of driver assistance systems.
The Prius c has been around since 2012 and upon release featured prominently as a good hybrid option. However, by 2019 it almost seems out of place amongst competition such as the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt and the forthcoming Corolla Hybrid. Even the standard Prius has more to offer in terms of a more comfortable cabin, better performance and more interior space. So, despite the excellent reliability ratings, a high number of safety features and rather good fuel economy statistics, if budget is not your biggest motivating factor, you'd fare better to look at other options. If you are searching for a cheap, low-cost vehicle to do basic school runs or grocery shopping, then yes, the Prius c might be worth it, and at the end of its lifespan, you're bound to pick up a great deal.
The base model Prius c is priced at only $21,530 excluding a destination charge of $930. The fully-loaded LE variant has an MSRP of $22,955 (also excluding destination). Price is one of the biggest factors keeping the Prius c relevant. The non-hybrid Honda Fit costs at least $5000 less. By contrast, the Chevrolet Bolt all-electric EV is priced at $37,496 - substantially more than the budget-friendly US price of the Prius c.
The 2018 range has been trimmed to only incorporate two models - the base L model, and the fully-loaded LE. With both options based on a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine paired to an electric motor, differences between trim levels are based on interior features alone.
The Prius c L model boasts a color-keyed rear spoiler and shark fin antenna, 15-inch alloy wheels and silver accented body cladding. Inside, cloth seats are present, with automatic climate control, power windows, and remote keyless entry. A 6.1-inch touchscreen is standard, with four speakers and a basic AM/FM radio, CD and Bluetooth audio package. The full Toyota Safety Sense package and StarSense suite of braking and electronic controls are equipped on the base model.
For the fully-loaded Prius c, the LE model adds only upgrades to the infotainment system, by upgrading the same 6.1-inch touchscreen to a high-resolution display with split-screen capabilities. High definition radio feeds through to a six-speaker sound system, and navigation with predictive traffic and weather overlay are also included. Remote illuminated entry, a smart key system, and push-button start round out the LE package.
There are no additional packages available for the 2019 Prius c.
If you are convinced that the Prius c is the right hybrid hatchback for you, then go for the top-of-the-range LE trim, featuring the better infotainment system with a high-resolution touchscreen, navigation, traffic and weather overlay by means of the Entune Premium App. Whilst there are no other powertrain options available, it makes no sense to stick to the base model, for only $1,425 less. Overall the Prius c offers value-for-money to the city-dwelling driver whose fuel consumption is their main concern.
This comparison is significant as the Honda Fit is a non-hybrid hatchback competing in this segment, offering a much cheaper base price. The Honda offers four trim levels, each available as either a manual or CVT and provides better outputs from its 1.5-liter engine: 130 hp as opposed to the Prius's 99 hp. The Prius is only available in two trim options, with main differences being its infotainment system. The Honda offers a much more dynamic and engaging drive, with a more powerful engine, offer stronger acceleration and higher speeds, which the Prius c simply can't match. The Prius c is a valid option if the buyer's focus is on fuel economy and city driving, where a strong engine is not required. Otherwise, the Honda is a superior option, with gas mileage that is admirable for the segment.
Another important comparison in terms of superior fuel efficiency is to compare the Prius against its full-electric rival, Chevrolet's Bolt. At first glance, the Bolt EV presents an exorbitant price premium at more than $15,000 to the Prius c. However, the Bolt is fully electric and uses no gasoline. Therefore it can achieve an equivalent 119 mpg on the combined cycle. It also offers a powerful 200 hp engine, larger infotainment screen, and standard navigation, satellite radio and keyless entry on even the most basic model. To its credit, Prius c offers better interior space, with a little more room and much more comfort. Buyers would have to choose whether they want the convenience of a hybrid, or live within range of quality recharging, which can serve an electric vehicle, but as far as we're concerned the quality and drivability of the Bolt make it the superior choice.
A comparison to the standard Prius is important since the Prius c has lost some of the benefits it brought the market in 2012. For a little more than $2,000 more than the c, the regular Prius offers a base model with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 121 hp. Despite being a more powerful vehicle, it returns better fuel economy than the Prius c, at 58/53/56 mpg. It's larger too, with better road manners and around ten cubic feet of cargo volume more than its smaller counterpart. Although head- and legroom is much of the same in both vehicles for the front and rear, the standard Prius also has a nicer overall cabin ambiance. Available in all-wheel-drive on two of its trim levels, it makes no sense to downscale to the Prius c when the Prius costs only a little more.