Full 2012 Toyota Prius c Review
What's New for 2012
The 2012 Toyota Prius C is an all-new model.
The Toyota Prius is undoubtedly the poster child of hybrid vehicles. While it wasn't the first hybrid sold in America, it is the most popular and recognizable among the green car segment. Likely bolstering this trend will be the 2012 Toyota Prius C. The "C" stands for city, as this smaller and lighter Prius is touted by Toyota as "an urban-friendly vehicle with an engaging driving experience [and] hatchback utility." While we generally disregard manufacturer positioning statements like these as marketing speak, it's actually a pretty apt description.
The 2012 Toyota Prius C represents the fourth model in the family, joining the conventional Prius (now referred to as the liftback), the Prius Plug-in Hybrid and the larger Prius V. Compared to the Prius liftback, the new Prius C measures about 19 inches shorter lengthwise and 2 inches shorter in height and width, making it slightly bigger than the subcompact Toyota Yaris. It's also more than 500 pounds lighter, which is particularly advantageous for fuel economy and handling.
Under its skin, the Prius C utilizes a similar hybrid powertrain, but with less Prius to push around, it too, has been downsized. The gasoline engine has been reduced from 1.8 liters of displacement to 1.5, and the dual electric motors are also smaller, with reduced output. Combined, the system produces 99 horsepower, compared to the liftback's 134 hp. This all contributes to the Prius C's very impressive fuel economy rating of 53 mpg city/46 mpg highway and 50 mpg in combined driving.
It's worth noting that this is little different from the regular Prius liftback's 51/48/50 mpg rating. However, the C's sticker price starts in the $19,000 range, about $4,000 less than the Prius liftback. And for this outlay you still get a fairly roomy interior, decent utility and improved driving dynamics.
On the downside, the Prius C isn't quite as refined. The ride quality is a bit harsh at times, for instance, and the interior has an overabundance of hard plastics, giving the C a definite economy-car feel. But overall we think the 2012 Toyota Prius C's strengths outweigh its weaknesses. It handily beats its closest competitors in terms of price, it's ahead of the Honda CR-Z and Insight in terms of fuel economy, and it has a nice price advantage over the regular Prius. If you're looking for a budget-friendly vehicle with superior fuel economy and a city-friendly size, the Prius C should work out well.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Toyota Prius C is a subcompact hybrid that is offered in numbered trim from One to Four. The base Prius C One comes with 15-inch steel wheels, automatic climate control, power windows, remote keyless entry, a folding rear seat, a 3.5-inch multifunction display, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player with a USB/iPod interface.
The Prius C Two adds cruise control, a height-adjustable driver seat, a center console storage bin and armrest, 60/40 split-folding rear seats, a cargo cover and a six-speaker sound system. Upgrading to the Prius C Three gets you a 6.1-inch touchscreen with navigation, keyless ignition/entry, satellite radio and voice control. Also included is Toyota's Entune smartphone integration system that adds Bing search functions, streaming Internet audio and traffic, sports and stock information. Alloy wheels are available as an option.
The range-topping Four adds alloy wheels, heated mirrors, foglights, faux leather upholstery and heated front seats. Options for the Four include 16-inch wheels and quicker-ratio steering. A sunroof is available on both the Three and Four.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2012 Toyota Prius C is powered by a similar hybrid powertrain as its bigger Prius siblings, albeit downsized a bit. A 1.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine produces 73 hp and 82 pound-feet of torque, while a pair of electric motor/generators supply an additional 60 hp. The gas engine acts as a main propulsion source as well as a generator to charge the nickel-metal hydride batteries. The electric motors also contribute to propulsion and charge the battery under deceleration. Combined power output comes to 99 hp and is sent to the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
In Edmunds performance testing, the Prius needed 11.3 seconds to reach 60 mph, which is quite slow even for a subcompact car.
Of course with any Prius, the most important numbers relate to fuel economy, and the Prius C does not disappoint. EPA-estimated mileage stands at 53 mpg city/46 mpg highway and 50 mpg in combined driving, making it the most economical non-plug-in hybrid on the market.
Standard safety features on all 2012 Toyota Prius C models include stability control, traction control, antilock brakes (front discs, rear drums), hill start assist, front-seat side seat cushion airbags, a driver knee airbag and side curtain airbags. In Edmunds brake testing, a Prius C came to a stop from 60 mph in a better-than-average 118 feet.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Prius C the highest possible rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset, side and roof strength tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Inside, the Prius C features a sleek, modern design with a mix of the familiar as well as the unconventional. Centrally located gauges are mounted high atop the dashboard, which can be a bit odd at first, but makes for easier reading. To its detriment, the cabin's plastics are several steps below the materials you'll find in other subcompacts like the Ford Fiesta and Hyundai Accent. The cloth seat upholstery is nothing special, but it's certainly better than the optional "faux leather." It may be made from eco-friendly materials, but it's probably the cheapest-feeling material we've felt covering a car seat in quite some time.
In terms of comfort, the Prius C presents a mixed bag, particularly for taller passengers. The driving position is slightly compromised by the lack of steering wheel tilt and telescoping travel, and the tall, upright dash can be hard to peer over. The front passenger may also take issue with the glovebox that intrudes into the footwell. Backseat occupants will likely fare better, as there's ample head- and legroom for adults, and the fully flat floor allows for even more flexibility.
The base Prius C One's rear seat folds down as one piece, but Two and above feature a 60/40-split for greater passenger/cargo versatility. With the seats in position, the trunk can hold up to 17.1 cubic feet, which is about what you'd expect from a hatchback in this class.
Thanks to smaller dimensions, a lighter weight and optimized locations of its hybrid components, the 2012 Toyota Prius C delivers a livelier driving experience than its stablemates. Acceleration is slow, but the C's power is perfectly acceptable for around-town driving and getting up to highway speeds. Around corners, this hybrid remains fairly flat and composed, and the optional quick-ratio steering noticeably improves responsiveness, serving up a level of alertness and sportiness that is sorely lacking in other Prii.
As expected, fuel economy is outstanding. Outside of a plug-in hybrid, you're not going to do better than with a Prius C. An unfortunate downside to the economy-focused mission, however, is a noticeable degradation in ride quality. Road imperfections are met with an uncharacteristic harshness and, combined with detectable amounts of wind noise, give the Prius C a budget-car feel.