The Toyota Prius C was a fine little hatchback when it debuted back in 2012, but time is a cruel mistress. The car has been outdone and outclassed by a myriad of other products, including some from within Toyota's own ranks. It seems the automaker agrees, as it's ditching the model at the end of this model year. Still, you might be able to snag a deal on a spacious and fuel efficient little hatchback if you keep your eyes peeled.
Our tester was a Prius C LE, the top of two available trims. Standard features on this model include LED projector headlights, LED taillights, automatic climate control and navigation. The only two options on our car were Tide Pool Pearl paint for $395 and floormats for another $264. All in, this one stickered for $24,534.
Senior Editor, Green, John Beltz Snyder: Last time I drove the Prius C, I had a bit of fun with it. This time around, I had hoped to repeat the experience, as it'd quite possibly be my last stint in the pint-sized Prius. Alas, weather and traffic thwarted my plans to joyride the little hybrid. Instead, I used it like I would a normal car: commuting, grocery runs and taking my son to soccer.
As such, the weirdness of this car stuck out a bit more. The steering wheel is made out of a material that feels like hard, dense and somewhat rough rubber, almost like the grippy coating on the palms of some types of work gloves. While it was easy to grip, it made my hands restless. Also, not having an instrument panel directly in front of me was weird, especially at night. Having to look to my right to check my speed — a trait common to all Prius models — is a little annoying. Having no lights directly in front of me, while presumably better for night vision, is a little disorienting.
But now that the inexpensive Corolla gets a hybrid powertrain, Toyota doesn't need the Prius C, and is sunsetting it. I might have been a little sad, but since the Corolla Hybrid is better than the Prius C in so many ways, I'm shedding no tears over this one. Let's just hope they put the hybrid powertrain in the Corolla Hatchback at some point.
Assistant Editor Zac Palmer: It's difficult to recommend the Prius C to folks anymore. As John said, now that the 2020 Corolla Hybrid exists at a nearly identical price point with significantly better fuel economy, this dinosaur just doesn't measure up in 2019. I'd normally defend hatchbacks, but this one is just meant for folks who want the cheapest, most fuel efficient car money can buy.
There's an inkling of fun hiding in the handling, largely thanks to this car only weighing about 2,500 pounds. It's all about fuel economy when it comes to the right pedal, though. Don't expect anything, and you might be slightly less disappointed after putting your foot down.
The interior on our top trim LE model was about all one could expect from this budget vehicle. However, the steering wheel feels as though it's coated in a plastic akin to high-grit sandpaper. I'll forever be confused how this material was the final choice. It didn't feel good at the start of my commute, and was quite bothersome after an hour of holding onto and turning the wheel.
With Toyota slashing the Prius C from the lineup, you might be able to snag a good deal. If absolute space efficiency and a cheap cost of ownership are your only two priorities, then this might be worthy of a test drive. However, I'd wait for the Corolla Hybrid to roll into dealerships, and drive home in a far superior car.
Associate Editor Joel Stocksdale: Just like Zac, I can't find any reason to recommend the Prius C to anyone. It's very likely the slowest car for sale in America. I felt like I had to floor it everywhere to keep up with traffic, and highway on-ramps were always a little nerve-wracking. The engine has a coarse thrum nearly all the time, and the CVT has all the old rubber-band feeling of older, less advanced CVTs. What did help make up for the slowness was the fact that I was still getting around 40 mpg without trying.
Then there's the interior, which is full of very cheap plastics and plain, outdated displays. The driving position is strange, too, and I never quite felt comfortable behind the wheel. It's not especially quiet on the highway either. It really feels like it's 15 to 20 years older than it is.
An even bigger problem than feeling slow and outdated, is its price. The base Prius C starts at $22,460, and ours came in at $24,534. While I personally don't like the way the regular Prius drives, it offers more power, better fuel economy and a nicer, roomier interior for a base price of $24,700. That's only about $2,300 more than the base Prius C, and less than $200 more than the one we tested. That's just within the Toyota family. There are many other compelling hybrids, particularly the arch Prius rival Hyundai Ioniq. It offers fuel economy and space on par with the regular Prius, but with a more fun driving experience, and it starts at just $23,320, less than our tested Prius C and only about $900 more than the base one.
The one thing that makes me prefer it to other Prii (I still think the official plural is dumb) is the ride and handling. The steering is reasonably responsive and weighted well, and body lean isn't too bad. It also doesn't feel floaty like the bigger Prius models. In the end though, the Prius C is too little for too much.