Initially, Toyota couldn’t build enough of the Prius c to satisfy demand in the U.S.
|Engine: 1.5L four-cylinder with hybrid powertrain makes a combined 99 hp
Fuel economy: 53/46/50 MPG City/Highway/Combined
Price: Starts at $19,890 or $24,170 for the most expensive model
People were so hungry for the latest Japanese hybrid chic product that some dealerships actually started finding excuses to tack on nebulous fees just because they could. In some cases, the price gouging added thousands to what was supposed to be the smallest and most affordable Prius ever.
Of course, supply caught up with demand and every single crooked dealer who suddenly discovered new fees felt guilty as they hauled home suitcases of cash to light their Cuban cigars. OK that last part is nonsense. Everyone knows Cubans are off limits. They were actually Nicaraguan, but I digress.
That was early 2012 and more than two years later, I still hadn’t taken time to drive a Prius c. With that in mind, I spent a week with one to satisfy a burning curiosity: what compelled people to pay the premium?
Small Can Still be Practical
Growing up in Southern Colorado, I developed an appreciation for two varieties of vehicles: Subaru Outbacks and Subaru Foresters. At the time, people were also inexplicably infatuated with the Hummer H2 and dilapidated Ford Explorers, so the Prius started out as a pariah in that part of the world to say the least. Someone on my block owned one and she paid her penance as people sent her sideways glances.
It isn’t hard to see who won that exchange and for good reason. Subaru adapted by selling cars that use significantly less gas and the Hummer – a sauropod in its own time – is long gone from production lines.
Nevertheless, I harbor a love for large vehicles that is admittedly grounded in little more than nostalgia. For that reason, I approached the prospect of driving a Prius with a negative predisposition. It won me over.
Part of that is because parking couldn’t be much easier. One morning, I found myself squeezing between two Hummer H2s that were considerately parked to spill into the space their owners agreed to “share” earlier that morning. Thankfully, the Prius c is small like a Tokyo capsule hotel, so things worked out just fine.
If you’re thinking there’s no way I found two Hummers parked like that, you’re absolutely right. But I did deal with obnoxiously tight parking spaces without breaking a sweat.
In spite of how small it is, the Prius c is also reasonably practical because unlike a smart fortwo, it isn’t small enough to make carrying life-sized object impossible.
In fact, I satisfied another innately Coloradoan curiosity: does it dog?
You see, everyone who lives in Colorado and owns a Subaru Outback – so everyone – also has at least one dog that they take everywhere. Remarkably, the Prius c can accommodate a fully-grown golden retriever provided you flatten the rear seats.
At this point, it’s worth mentioning that there are four available models: the Prius c One, Two, Three and Four. The Two introduces a 60/40 split rear seat that, in theory, could allow up to three people and one disgruntled canine to come along for the ride.
In any case, there is enough space for medium-sized dog or roughly anything else of that proportion, although an extended trip would be out of the question with live cargo.
But that’s sort of the point with this car. With a combined 99 hp coming from the hybrid powertrain, highway passing is possible but painfully slow. It’s also especially noisy at highway speeds, but again that isn’t what Toyota designed it for. With expectations in check, it really isn’t horrible.
Most Efficient Prius Without Plugging In
As with all Prii (the plural term Toyota coined for the Prius), the little hybrid is especially easy on gas. According to Uncle Sam, it is supposed to offer 53 MPG in city driving, 46 on the highway or 50 on average. In other words, you should be able to drive the same number of miles per gallon as a normal Prius or eight more than the family-sized Prius V.
Generally speaking, the Prius in any variety has a reputation for achieving promised fuel economy without particularly careful driving. I averaged 46 MPG after commuting to and from the AutoGuide.com office for a week along with a couple of regrettably long highway stints.
Ostensibly, the higher speed trips pushed my average below the promised mark. Then again, 46 MPG is really nothing to scoff at and I drove with the same hard throttle, hard brake mentality you would expect from a New York City taxi cab driver. After all, the car I had was painted in an appropriate hue for doing exactly that.
Simple Model Breakdown
Most people want a car that they need to think about as infrequently as possible. If that sounds familiar then Toyota has you pegged. There are four models available, each with a simple list of features.
The base “One” trim costs $19,890 including delivery and predictably slots it as the least expensive Prius money can buy. Stepping up to the “Two” trim brings the aforementioned rear seat division along with cruise control and a six-speaker stereo for an extra $1,000. A touch screen, navigation and push-button ignition for $22,575.
If you want to go all out, the “Four” comes with SofTex heated front seats that honestly don’t feel anything like real leather and 15-inch alloy wheels. In that case, Toyota will charge $24,170 barring other options. The taxicab yellow paint comes with no extra charge regardless of model selection.
Toyota’s smallest Prius is surprisingly practical and ownership comes with the peace of mind that you’re never going to spend much on fuel. It has enough space to handle weekly household errands aside from the odd occasion where you might want to rent a moving van anyway. You’re better off skipping the base model because it lacks cruise control and sustaining highway speeds with such a skimpy powertrain is a chore. Otherwise, it’s easy to see why people were gaga over the Prius c.