Car Reviews

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 :TOWING : N/A FUEL TANK : 36 litres SPARE :  FULL-SIZE THIRST : 3.9 L/100km ADR81/02 combined cycle FUEL : 91 RON UNLEADED

Editor's Rating

85%
The Prius c is a pleasant enough compact car that does little wrong, but nothing enough well to stand out. The hybrid technology is interesting but doesn't offer much real-world efficiency saving unless you spend many, many hours in tight urban areas, so it is very unlikely to justify the significant price premium. You'd only consider this car if you specifically want a hybrid for the city as opposed to a normal small car, but should that be the case then the Prius c offers practical but not exciting nor value motoring.
85

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.

prius-range

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.

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Design

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). 

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On the left, a 1.5L petrol engine. On the right, an electric motor. The battery is under the second row of seats.

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):

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This shows the petrol engine (top) powering the generator, which is charging the battery as well as driving the front wheels. The petrol engine is also driving the front wheels. The battery is around 70% full.

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. 

IMG_2366
The ECO mode isn’t worth using. The EV mode is described below, and the other button partially disables the electronic stability control system.

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.

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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.

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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.

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One seat pocket, and one drinks holder. The centre seat is uncomfortable, like most cars and especially small ones.

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. 

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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.

 
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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”.

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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.

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Prius transmission. There is no means of selecting a gear because it’s a true CVT. The B mode is for extra engine braking, use it when descending steep hills. It doesn’t seem to charge the battery any quicker.

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. 

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Parking isn’t a problem. Still have to pay for it though.

Safety

The Prius c has a 5-star rating, tested in 2015 and scored 34.38 out of 37.   It has all the basics of stability control and side airbags, but no new active safety such as AEB.  There are three child restraints, and two ISOFIX mounts in the second row.  Impressively, the spare wheel is full-sized.
 
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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.

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Prius c gallery


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Tasha Kostolany
Tasha Kostolany
4 years ago

I have had my Prius C for almost a year now and I consistently get over 50 miles MPG with real life data saving me hundreds of dollars in gas a year. The car performs flawlessly well made like most Toyotas and I expect to get years and years of good driving from it based on Toyota’s reputation of making great cars.

This review is a hack job. It’s true that the car won’t do a lot of power passing on the highway. I personally don’t care about that and find that I get over 50 MPG a whole lot more important. I feel I have enough power to pass if I have to. If you need power — buy something that gets 20 MPG. I’ll put my hundreds of dollars — thousands over years in the bank, thank you very much

Robert Pepper
4 years ago

Hi Tasha – thanks for your considered post. The extra money you pay for a hybrid compared to the equivalent normal car is not cost-effective for most users. I will post an article detailing the maths. Yes, you are saving some costs in fuel…but consider your extra capital costs.

If you have maths that shows you are financially ahead compared to purchasing say a Prius I would be very interested to see that detail.

Power – the Prius c is simply down on power. It’s not a problem in the suburbs, but accelerating onto freeways (especially uphill), or with a load…you feel it. Whether or not this concerns readers is up to them, I just report the finding.

Vehicles with electric engines are normally very quick off standstill, but not the Prius c. I suspect the battery isn’t very big, and indeed I can’t find a torque figure for the electric battery whereas normally manufacturers are only to happy to brag about it.

I think the Prius c is a fine hybrid, but it’s only a car you’d buy because you want a hybrid, not because it is a logical choice. Many small-car buyers very much buy with head not heart, we’re not dealing with sportscars or the like here. The question is – will the hybrid save me money over the car’s lifetime and my analysis for an average user says no. But very happy to look at alternative figues.

petey53
petey53
4 years ago
Reply to  Robert Pepper

The Prius c will definitely save a lot of money over the car’s lifetime when compared to a comparable diesel or petrol car. If you get rid of the Prius c long before that lifetime is up, then you might miss out on most of the savings. See my comments on Robert’s comparison with the Hyundai i30.

Robert Pepper
4 years ago
Reply to  petey53

It *may* save money. For many owners I suspect the answer will be no.

petey53
petey53
4 years ago
Reply to  Robert Pepper

If kept for the car’s lifetime of 300,000 – 400,000 km, the Prius c will definitely save a lot of money for all owners. You calculated a break-even vs the diesel i30 of 140,000 km. After that, you calculated the Prius c would save about $400 every 20,000km. That’s a saving of $3200 by 300,000 km, not counting low maintenance and repair costs. It is true that if you don’t drive the thing, you won’t save money and you would be best to get the cheapest car that meets your needs.

Guest
Guest
4 years ago

Probably several months too late.. few points.

1) You can use EV mode from dead cold. Just press the EV button as soon as you start the car (within 3 seconds and as long as the battery is over 3 bars ~ or a true 50%) Also full electric mode above 40km/h (to 76kmh where the engine is constantly on since the electric motor even pumping 100+amps only results in very slow acceleration) if you maintain the throttle under half on the power bar display. It soon becomes a game to stay under half when you really don’t need to so the petrol motor doesn’t kick in. Btw, the EV mode is great if you want to move the car out of the driveway and don’t really want to start the petrol motor just to move is a few metres.

2) Eco mode will be a surprise to anyone new to the car so I can understand your dislike for this mode but drive it a few weeks and you realise you can be quite liberal with the accelerator pedal yet drive quite smoothly. The mode helps you stay under half the power bar without it being too sensitive.

3) The battery runs normally between 40% and 80% charge even though on the display, it may say it’s full. It’s there to make the battery last the “life of the vehicle” (whatever that means)

4) I found out of all the Prius, v and c, the c to be the most peppiest (if that’s a word). Being the rough size of the AE12x Corolla, size wise it’s well placed to tackle the small streets of Sydney.

5) B mode does charge things quicker but at the same time as the engine is forced to stay on for engine braking (cancels at light throttle). The thing is the battery charge bar isn’t very consistent with the exact charge (i.e. you can’t say 4 bars is 50% but at least 2 bar is 40% and 8 bars is 80%). This is where an OBD reader (like Scangauge) can tell you exactly what’s going on but these sorts of things a normal person wouldn’t do and nor should they.

Robert Pepper
4 years ago
Reply to  Guest

Hi Guest. Never too late for such informative posts. Thank you for taking the time to post.

EV mode – I found (as per the owner’s handbook) that the car will start from cold in EV mode, but it will quickly switch the engine on to warm it up for when it is needed. I would have preferred a creep mode so the car could be sneaked out of driveways, or driven in confined spaces where petrol fumes would be a problem. I couldn’t get very far before the engine started.

2. Eco modes in general are useless,not just on the Prius.. Fundamentally if the car is going to accelerate from 0 to whatever in a set time it will use the same amount of energy regardless of how it is set up. The driver changing their driving style is a much bigger factor.

3. The display never read 100%, only up to around 80% as you say.

4. The Prius is not, compared to other small cars, peppy. It is slow and unresponsive. Fiesta, Mini, Fiat 500 are all peppier. Even the i30 we compared it to is quicker and sharper. This is not a criticism as many people don’t care either way, the car is what it is.

5. Also what I found. Suspect the extra charging is cancelled by the fact the petrol engine is on for longer.

Alan
Alan
4 years ago

A bit late to the discussion too – interesting. I haven’t driven a Prius c yet, and may not now. I’m looking for a replacement for my Fiesta Diesel which has averaged 4.7 l/100 (documented) over 60,000km.

The difference I see is that the Fiesta has great get-up-and-go, and is fun to drive. It sounds like the Prius c maybe not be a suitable replacement for me.

There are no small diesels around now that Ford and VW have dropped them in Australia.

Robert Pepper
4 years ago
Reply to  Alan

Hi Alan.Do NOT buy the Prius C! May I suggest a Fiat 500? Not diesel but may suit is a whole lot of fun.

https://practicalmotoring.com.au/car-reviews/2015-fiat-500-pop-review/

Allen
Allen
3 years ago
Reply to  Alan

Do buy a Prius c.

Ross
Ross
4 years ago

I bought a 2014 Prius C for my wife to use for commuting 10k’s to work & shopping trips. I would have bought something else if I had known that fuel savings wouldn’t repay the extra cost, HOWEVER, my wife absolutely loves it! Slow yes, but it has something charismatic in it’s character.

Robert Pepper
4 years ago
Reply to  Ross

Hi Ross. I found a Toyota employee who felt the same way. We had a robust discussion on the topic and I offered to interview her for this site…so far, not heard anything!

Ross
Ross
4 years ago

Just to clarify my previous post. It’s a bit slow off the mark, but once away it holds it’s own. I did a run from Newcastle to Sydney on the M1 using cruise control. It held 110 kph up the long steep hill from the Mooney Mooney Bridge, which was creditable. By the time I got to Willoughby it had only used 4.1 litres per hundred kilometers.

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper