Toyota Prius C
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Overall

Of all the hybrids in Toyota’s vast stable, the Prius c is the only one that’s really made to be fun to drive.

Drivetrain

A 99-horsepower (net) gasoline-electric combo and accompanying continuously variable transmission deliver some impressive fuel consumption stats.

Since Prius equals Hybrid in most people’s minds, it made sense for Toyota to capitalize by turning it into a whole family of vehicles. Although diminutive in stature — 19 inches shorter than the standard Prius hatchback — the Prius c comes up big in minimizing fuel consumption, registering 53 mpg in the city and 46 mpg highway. By comparison, the regular Prius’s numbers are 51/48. The combined city/highway number for both is 50 mpg. A major part of the Prius c’s desirability is its attractive styling and practical hatchback shape. The front end does carry traces of Toyota’s Yaris, but overall the “c” is easy on the eyes. And other than a steeply sloping roofline that might discourage tall types from accessing the rear portals, there’s a generous (for its sub-compact-ness) amount of usable storage space, either with the split-folding back seat in the up or folded-flat position. The rest of the interior is pleasing and straightforward, other than what must be the most unusual dash/control panel layouts ever designed. The upper-level speedometer, fuel gauge and optional electric power display are askew of the steering wheel, while the infotainment screen and ventilation settings are enveloped by oddly formed plastic trim pieces. The Prius c’s powertrain consists of a 73-horsepower 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine coupled to a continuously variable transmission and assisted by a 60-horsepower (45-kilowatt) electric motor. The net output is a scant 99 horsepower, compared to 134 horses for the larger Prius hatch and wagon. The 144-volt battery pack and fuel tank are positioned beneath the rear seat to maximize interior space and lower the c’s center of gravity (for better weight distribution and road holding). Additionally the c’s driver can switch between Normal, Eco and EV operation. The Eco mode takes some of the starch out of the standard throttle and climate control settings to save energy. Meanwhile the EV mode allows the car to run on solely electric power for not much more than a mile and at less than 25 mph, making it ideal for typical work commutes and other going-nowhere-fast situations. Prius c trim levels are named, cleverly enough, numbers One, Two, Three and Four. The lowest-numerical model includes climate control, tilt-telescopic steering wheel plus the usual power-operated features. From there, content (and pricing) increases to include heated front seats, keyless start and a moonroof to a premium sound and navigation system.

Base price (incl. destination): $19,750 (2013)
Type: Four-door compact hatchback
Engine (hp): 1.5-liter DOHC I4 combined with 45-kilowatt electric motor (99)
Layout: Front engine, front-wheel-drive
Transmission: Continuously variable
MPG (city/hwy): 53/46
Safety: Front airbags; front-/rear side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; driver’s knee airbag; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control
Weight (lb.): 2,500