There was a time not so long ago, while the American economy was in a slump and oil prices were rising seemingly unchecked, when an ultra-affordable hybrid would have been a smart bet for a carmaker. That was the set of circumstances that spawned the Toyota Prius C, a hatchback based not, as its name would suggest, on the Toyota Prius but on the smaller Yaris. We are now several years and at least a few economic climates removed from that moment, yet the 99-hp Prius C persists in much the same form as when it was introduced to the United States in 2012. There may be some customer for whom the Prius C’s extreme affordability and simplicity will be the right fit, but you won’t catch us recommending it ahead of a Hyundai Ioniq—except, perhaps, for a demolition derby.
What’s New for 2018?
The Prius C’s design was tweaked this year, matching popular crossover design cues with the addition of black plastic exterior cladding and roof rails. Some active safety equipment is newly standard, too, including forward-collision warning with automated emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and automatic high-beams. Two new exterior colors joined the lineup this year, too: Sandstorm and a light-blue shade called Tide Pool Pearl.
Trims and Options We’d Choose
Even in its highest trims the Prius C is quite affordable, and it benefits greatly from the added features in upper trim levels, so we’d pick the second-from-the-top Prius C Three model. That trim, which starts at $23,750, includes:
• Push-button start and remote keyless entry
• Entune audio system with navigation services
• Forward-collision warning, automated emergency braking, and lane-departure warning
The C’s Three trim doesn’t have any available options or packages, so the exterior paint color is the only way to customize it. Choosing Moonglow, Tangerine Splash Pearl, or Tide Pool Pearl adds $395 to the cost of a Prius C, but all other paint colors are available free of charge.
The anemic Prius C has nothing to offer in the way of driving enjoyment and struggles to achieve cruising speeds in a timely fashion. Its hybrid powertrain is not efficient enough to make up for those significant concerns.
With a measly 99 total system horsepower, it’s no surprise that the Prius C feels sluggish. A continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) and front-wheel drive round out the Prius C’s only powertrain, and the CVT does nothing to quicken the C’s pace. It can spurt off the line with relative haste, reaching 30 mph from a standing start in 3.3 seconds during our testing, but the Prius C needs more than 11 seconds to reach 60 mph. Highway passing maneuvers are best avoided, as the C needs an interminable 8.3 seconds to accelerate from 50 to 70 mph. The Prius C’s acceleration performance is remarkable only for its failures.