Toyota’s Prius c has established itself solidly as the third-best-selling hybrid being the lowest price Prius, and the highest mpg car “without a plug” sold in America.
The subcompact c is a full hybrid and one of four Prius “family” members, the others being the regular “Liftback,” the wagon-like Prius v, and the Prius Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle.
If you are wondering about the nomenclature, the lower case “c” stands for city, which Toyota says is its ideal habitat, but this is essentially just a small hatch with decent utility that’s usable anywhere such a car would make sense.
Motivating the Prius c is a version of Toyota’s “Hybrid Synergy Drive,” its proprietary name for its full hybrid technology pioneered in the original Prius.
Like the last (second) generation Prius, the base engine is a 1.5-liter four cylinder Atkinson cycle design. In this case, it’s an updated version.
Compared to the 1.8-liter in the Liftback, the Prius c offers 25 less horsepower, or 73 total, with 82 pound-feet of torque.
This of course is augmented by a seamlessly integrated electric motor and fed through a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
A 144-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack resides under the rear passenger seat, near the center of the vehicle and low in the chassis.
Output for the total HSD system is 99 horsepower for a vehicle weighing 500 pounds less than today’s Liftback which is classed as a mid-size vehicle based on interior volume.
The little c is based on the Yaris platform. Its outward dimensions are around four inches longer than the Yaris and it’s quite similar to the first-generation Prius which was launched in the U.S. in 2000.
The Prius c is a tiny car, but well constructed as can be within its class. The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety awarded it a Top Safety Pick after crash testing it.
Its body used lightweight, high-strength steel “extensively” not just to lessen the curb weight for economy, but to make a respectable crash cage.
High-tensile-strength steel is used to better enable ability to absorb and disperse impact energies. Also helping things are nine airbags, but the car has received mixed reviews regarding it crashworthiness in the IIHS small overlap test.
Where Toyota made big gains with the Prius c over its original attempt more than a dozen years ago is fuel economy. The Prius c is EPA rated at 53 mpg city/46 highway and 50 combined compared to the first model’s 42/41/41 rating.
Inside, the interior has some inexpensive plastic, and does lag behind others in the subcompact class like the Ford Focus and Hyundai Accent.
The dash and layout are designed to appeal to the so-called millennial generation.
Standard for all trim levels is automatic climate control, a full color TFT Multi-Information Display and remote keyless entry with illuminated entry, tilt-telescopic steering wheel with integrated switches for audio, climate and Bluetooth hands-free phone capability.
On The Road
Driving the Prius c is within what one would expect of a Toyota city car. Of course it can be driven coast to coast if desired, and the car verges on being fun to drive, but it’s best suited as a local runner.
A high level of torsional rigidity afforded by the Prius c body structure allows the suspension to be more optimally tuned for ride and handling.
Its excellent fuel mileage returned is within range of the EPA estimate assuming one drives at a legal pace, avoiding jackrabbit starts, and keeps a steady hand.
The Prius c is not especially powerful however, and this is one area where those who feel they need more than the minimum daily allowance of horsepower supplementation will want to search for other alternatives.
Of course, if they do, they will be hard pressed to find a less expensive car offering such efficiency. So, it is a trade-off, and one which many feel is more than worth it.
Other safety features – as found on all 2014 Toyotas – is the “Star Safety System.”
This package includes Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), Anti-lock Brake System (ABS), Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist (BA), and Smart Stop technologies.
The Prius c comes in several trim levels from One through Four.
Suggested retail prices, unchanged from 2013, range from $19,080 for the Prius c One to $23,360 for the Prius c Four. Destination charge for each is $810, so the base effective starts at $19,890 and the price range effectively extends to $24,170.
For a more detailed look at the Prius c, see also our 2013 full review with video of essentially the same car.