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Review of: 2016 Toyota Prius c 5dr HB Technology
2016 Toyota Prius C: Cheap, and it has its charms
By Jil McIntosh
Aug. 17, 2016
While the Toyota Prius has been updated for 2016, its little brother, the Prius C, soldiers on essentially unchanged.
Despite the name, it isn’t just a scaled-down Prius, but instead, is essentially a Yaris hatchback with a hybrid drivetrain. It seems to be a fairly popular model in Japan, where it’s known as the Aqua. It was introduced here for 2012, along with the larger Prius V wagon, when Toyota decided to expand the lineup.
The Prius C comes in three flavours: the base model, which at $21,235 is Canada’s least-expensive hybrid; the Upgrade Package at $22,265; and my tester, the Prius C Technology, at $26,890 before freight and tax.
Pros & Cons
- + Good fuel efficiency
- + Navigation system
- + Comfortable front seats
- - blind spot monitoring not standard
- - A few cheap interior touches
- - Off-the-line responsiveness
The Yaris’ pedigree shines through in the Prius C’s styling, although without the new Yaris’ Lexus-style gaping grille. I think the C’s a cute little thing overall, with good proportions and a slippery, wind-cheating shape.
The two lower trim levels get 15-inch steel wheels, while my Technology tester added 16-inch alloy rims. Other extras that show up courtesy of the Upgrade or Technology packages are a backup camera and variable intermittent wipers instead of fixed ones, while the Technology trim exclusively adds a power sunroof and LED fog lamps.
Unlike the cohesive outer wrapper, the cabin is more of a mixed bag. The seats are comfortable for a compact car, even the two outboard rear ones, although the middle seat is an afterthought where you don’t want to ride. The rear seats fold for extra cargo space, but you have to get the Upgrade or Technology for them to drop 60/40, as opposed to the whole seatback falling forward on the base model.
You also need at least one of those packages to get a driver’s seat height adjustment, better-quality cloth upholstery, and cargo cover. The Technology Package also exclusively adds heated front seats.
Other than the centrally-mounted instrument cluster, which I’ve never liked on any car, the Prius C’s controls are big, simple, and very easy to use, and there are numerous cubbies for dropping small items.
But the dash itself could look better, as it’s clad in too many types of textured plastic, and the panel gaps are uneven. While that shouldn’t necessarily be a deal-breaker on the car overall, the Prius C does look like something that’s been around just a bit past its “best before” date as far as interior styling goes.
Technology’s the name of the trim, which naturally means there’s more of it than in the base level. In this case, on top of the standard features, you get navigation, satellite radio, advanced voice recognition, six speakers instead of four, backup camera, pushbutton start, and proximity key. This top trim also adds a pre-collision warning system, lane departure alert (but not blind spot monitoring), and automatic high-beam headlights.
In addition to all the regular functions, the infotainment screen and the instrument cluster screen can display various graphs and charts about the hybrid system’s fuel efficiency and whether the car’s running on gas or battery. The cluster screen can be operated by “tracer” controls, originally designed to mimic the controller on an iPod, as well as the climate control temperature, and a matching circle on the opposite side to operate the stereo.
Like its larger siblings, the Prius C uses Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system, although it’s powered by a 1.5-litre engine instead of the Prius’ 1.8-litre. By itself, the gasoline engine produces 78 horsepower, but when combined with the electric motor, it can spin out a maximum of 99 ponies. It’s hooked to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and uses a nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery for its hybrid powertrain.
Those numbers don’t sound all that impressive on paper, and it gets wheezy when you ask it to accelerate hard. It also doesn’t have much in the way of steering feel, and the turning circle is wider than expected. And yet, despite all of that, I like getting in the driver’s seat. Maybe it’s the compact footprint and that hatchback practicality, combined with an inner-city-car hybrid system that lets you silently slink along for quite a ways on the battery alone.
If the Prius C has an Achilles’ heel, it’s when it’s sitting beside its larger Prius sibling at the pumps. The difference is minimal, but it actually gets worse mileage, rated at a combined 4.7 L/100 km against the bigger and more powerful Prius’ official rating of 4.5 L/100 km. (Over a week with it, I averaged 5.6 L/100 km.) The published numbers are still good, but you can’t compare the two cars and expect the C’s smaller dimensions to produce a correspondingly smaller fuel bill.
As with the full-size Prius, the Prius C doesn’t get plugged into a wall outlet, but recharges its hybrid battery through regenerative braking, capturing the heat energy otherwise lost in deceleration and storing it as electricity. It switches seamlessly and automatically between gasoline, electricity, or a combination of the two, depending on what’s needed at the time. There is an EV (electric vehicle) button on the console, but I’ve never figured out why Toyota adds it. The intention is that you can use it to run the Prius C solely on its battery at low speeds, such as in a parking garage, but the car will do that by itself anyway, and if conditions aren’t right or you press the throttle a bit too hard, the EV mode simply shuts off and the car reverts to regular hybrid operation.
If you want to get into a hybrid at a rock-bottom price, the $21,235 base model is the cheapest you’re going to find, from any manufacturer. The larger Prius ranges between $25,995 and $29,330.
I know a compact footprint shouldn’t always automatically translate to a lower price, but between that and my car’s dated-looking interior, it felt pricey at almost $27,000. I’d probably opt for the Upgrade Package model, at $22,265, although it’s missing heated seats.
It’s also hard to place a value on hybrids, because it’s more about saving the planet than one’s wallet. According to Natural Resources Canada and its published fuel figures, you save $566 a year in gas in a Prius C compared to a Yaris Hatchback and its traditional gasoline-only engine. But even if you assess the cheapest Prius C against the priciest Yaris trim level, it’s still going to take you four years for the gas savings to make up the purchase difference. It’s all in what’s important to each driver.
While nowhere near to being a great car, the Prius C has its charms nevertheless. It’s sized just right for tight city spots, and it’s fun-n-funky, but perhaps its best attribute, at least in the lower levels, is its price. If you’ve always wanted a hybrid but have to do it on a budget, take this one out for a test.