Toyota Prius C car review
Robert Pepper’s 2015 Toyota Prius C car review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and rating.
In a nutshell: The Prius C is a practical small car that is also a hybrid, for which you pay a premium you won’t recover.
2015 Toyota Prius C i-tech
PRICE : $25,990 (+ORC) WARRANTY : 3 years / 100,000 km SAFETY : 5 star (34.38 / 37, tested in 2015) ENGINE : 1.5L 4 Cylinder & electric motor with synergy hybrid drive POWER : 54kW @ 4800rpm (petrol) 45kW (electric) TORQUE : 111Nm at 4000 rpm (petrol) TRANSMISSION : CVT DRIVE : Front-wheel drive BODY : 3995 mm (L); 1695 mm (W), 1455 mm (H) TURNING CIRCLE : 9.8 m WEIGHT : 1140 kg SEATS : 5 TOWING : N/A FUEL TANK : 36 litres SPARE : FULL-SIZE THIRST : 3.9 L/100km ADR81/02 combined cycle FUEL : 91 RON UNLEADED
BACK IN 1997 the concept of a hybrid was new. To draw attention to the technology Toyota opted not to make a hybrid out of an existing model, but to launch a new vehicle called the Prius. The “hybrid” part means the vehicle is powered by both a petrol engine and an electric engine.
Now the Prius family has grown – there’s the c for compact, on test here, the larger v (often now seen as a taxi), offering seven seats, and the original Prius which is somewhere between the two.
The Prius is no longer the only Toyota hybrid as there’s also Camry version too, and several other manufacturers offer hybrids, notably Lexus with their SUV range, and Honda have options too. Overseas, Toyota offers a plug-in Prius and a Kluger hybrid too.
There are two Prius c models. The base model is the Prius c, and above that there is our test car, the Prius c i-Tech.
Our car is orange, which is the only really remarkable styling point. You wouldn’t know it was a Prius as it doesn’t have that characteristic sloping rear roofline which was designed for better aerodynamic efficiency – the shape with the least drag is a teardrop. Still, the Prius’ exterior styling is modern, but no different to any other car in its class. Your view of the styling depends on whether you want people to know you’re driving a Prius or not.
How it works: There’s a normal petrol engine, a 1.5-litre four-cylinder unit driving the front wheels. There’s also an electric motor which can also drive the front wheels, powered by a battery. The battery is recharged by the front wheels when coasting or braking, or by the petrol engine (which can act like a generator).
The Prius can operate in the following modes:
- Petrol power to drive
- Petrol power to drive and recharge the battery
- Electric power to drive
- Petrol and electric power to drive at the same time
- Petrol and electric power at the same time, plus battery recharge
- Using braking or coasting power to recharge the battery (regeneration)
In other words, pretty much every combination of electric and petrol engine can be, and is used. Here’s what the in-car display looks like (more photos in the gallery below):
In practice, at very low speeds the Prius will operate purely on electrical power. Acceleration almost always sees both petrol and electric motors work in concert for extra power. As soon as you brake or coast the petrol engine cuts and the battery is recharged, otherwise it’s often the petrol engine working but sometimes on the flat the electric takes over for a while. It is all seamless and smooth, you just drive as you would normally.
Room & practicality
The Prius c does interior storage very well. There’s a glovebox, small but useful centre console, storage areas above the glovebox, above the steering wheel and in front of the drinks holders which are sensibly postioned ahead of the gearshift.
The Prius is a small car, and is hampered by the fact it has to carry a battery which is located under the rear seats. Other small/medium cars (for example – Jazz and i30, etc) can tumble the seat base forwards for more room, but no so the Prius. But you otherwise don’t notice any difference to a non-hybrid, as there’s no other unusual use of interior space.
Up front the seats are comfortable, as are the rears, for the class of vehicle. Boot space is about average, and easily accessible. There’s a removeable parcel shelf too.
On the inside
I was hoping the Prius would have all sorts of super tech, considering it is a hybrid, but no. The infotainment system is very old, and it took us a while to sync a phone to Bluetooth, something I am usually able to do within sixty seconds. Once that was done it took the car several minutes to reconnect to my Samsung S5 after startup… not a problem I’ve ever had with any other car, including other Toyotas.
One of my testers says “the infotainment system was difficult to operate and impossible to see in sunlight.” There is satnav, but it’s quite basic. There’s a single 12v socket, but two USB power points, one in the infotainment unit and the other to the left on a storage ledge.
That aside, everything else is easy to use, and fairly robust. Quality can be summarised by another comment – “cheap, shiny black plastic that immediately gets covered in dust and fingerprints.”
Summary – the interior works well enough and has all the basic functions, but don’t expect a lot of interesting tech.
Performance, ride and handling
Around town: The Prius C is a little less than four metres long so is a small city car. You want such cars to be nimbly zippy, but the Prius isn’t. It is an acceptable handler, albeit with some body roll, but certainly lacks verve because the bigger problem is power, or lack of it. There are very few cars today which are underpowered, but this is one of them, and that’s with just the driver aboard. Add more people and it’s an issue as you find yourself with your right foot close to or on the floor more often that should be the case. This is not a car that can take a load.
The turning circle of 9.6m isn’t bad, but not as good as say the Yaris which is 9.4. There’s a reversing camera and good visibility all round, making it easy to park.
Freeways and rural roads: This is not the car you’re looking for if you intend to venture out of the city into the country. Not only does the battery not really get a chance to charge or drive the wheels so you don’t benefit from the hybrid efficiency, but the lack of power starts to get show. One tester commented that the car had “insufficient power for safe overtaking manoeuvres” on rural roads.
Once up to speed on freeways, however, the car is quite, comfortable and easy with little road noise. There’s standard cruise control which is simple to use.
EV mode: This is where you run the car purely off the battery, and never use the petrol engine…in theory. But there’s a catch. If you accelerate at anything other than the gentlest of gentle rates then the car will complain of “excessive acceleration” and bring the petrol engine in. You also cannot force the engine to charge the battery. About the best I ever saw was 85% or so full. It would be nice to force a charge in advance of a run on electricity only. And once you top around 40km/h the car switches out of EV mode, saying “excessive speed”.
This Prius is not a plug-in (such models exist but are not sold in Australia) which means you cannot top up the battery at home, it’s only charged by the car itself.
If you start the car in the morning it will always cut in the petrol motor very soon after you start to warm it up. That means you can’t use the electric engine to sneak quietly away without waking up the family.
How far can you drive in EV mode? Toyota claim up to 2km. Possibly, but we started with a full-ish battery of 80% and then drove between 20 and 40km/h around suburban streets. We managed 1.2km before the car warned us the battery was low, and then at 1.6km the battery was down to 15% so the petrol engine cut in. The test was repeated on another day with similar results.
There is an ECO mode button. Don’t bother. All it does is deaden the throttle response… which you really don’t want, and fiddle with the aircon settings to improve fuel economy by a negligible amount. Toyota is not alone in the ECO-button madness, but to find an ECO button on a small Prius is faintly ironic.
Overall, EV mode is fine as far as it goes, but the Prius really needs a bigger battery and more manual control over its modes to be more interesting and useful.
Pricing & Equipment
The base model Prius c is $22,990 and above that there is the Prius c i-Tech for $25,990 – both prices exclusive of onroad costs. The extra $3000 buys you satnav, alloy wheels, LED headlamps, premium seats/trim, a larger rear spoiler and privacy glass. Our view is save your money and spend some of it on a proper mount for your navigation device.
Prius c, like all new Toyota vehicles, is covered by Toyota Service Advantage. The capped price is $140 for each of up to six scheduled services in the first three years or 60,000km.
You do pay extra for the hybrid, and you will not see that money returned as a saving. As an example, the comparatively sized Yaris ranges from $16,490 to $24,940 over three models. We also did a fuel consumption comparison between the Prius c and a Hyundai i30 that you can read here.