The 2012 Toyota Prius C provides many of the advantages of the Prius, but in a more conventional small-car package that many shoppers might prefer. It also has a lower price tag, with a simpler presentation overall and fewer tech options than the Prius liftback, although the Prius C's EPA Combined fuel economy rating of 50 mpg is just as good as that of the standard Prius. Considering its city rating of 53 mpg, the Prius C has the highest mileage of any car that doesn't plug in. Even compared to non-hybrid small-car models, the Prius C offers a roomy, versatile interior package, with a comparable level or performance and perkiness.
The 2012 Toyota Prius C comes in four different trim levels--labeled One, Two, Three and Four. The base-model Prius C One starts at just $19,710, while a completely loaded Prius C Four totals $25,140.
On all Prius C models, a version of Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive provides power to the front wheels. Under the hood there's a 1.5L 4-cylinder engine, paired with an electric motor system, an advanced planetary gearset, sophisticated controls and a more compact nickel-metal hydride battery pack. Total power for the hybrid system is 99 hp. Just as with other Toyota hybrids, regenerative braking captures some energy, using it to aid efficiency when accelerating or cruising, and it's a 'full hybrid' system--meaning that the Prius C can run for short distances, at low speeds, on electric power only.
The Prius C includes an EV Mode, which lets you drive it using only electricity, for about a half mile. Overall, the Prius C isn't sporty--and it doesn't provide a Power mode as in other Prius models--but it's quick enough for any everyday-driving needs, for passing or confident lane changes. Maneuverability is the Prius C's strong suit, and around town and at low speeds it's quite enjoyable to drive. Ride quality is also quite good from the MacPherson strut front suspension and tuned torsion beam rear setup. 15-inch and 16-inch wheels are offered, and with the available alloy 16-inchers, the Prius C gets a quicker steering ratio that might add to that observation.
Hybrid models often weigh more than comparable gasoline-engine models, but thanks to the extensive use of high-strength steel the Prius C is on par with standard subcompacts, at about 2,500 pounds. That also adds to the safety provided by nine standard airbags, electronic stability control and Brake Assist, among other features.
As a 5-door hatchback, the Prius C includes seating for five, with split rear seatbacks that can be folded forward to expand cargo capacity. Cargo space is an impressive 17.1 cubic feet.
All Prius C models include power windows and locks, a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, automatic climate control, a center console with sliding armrest, and a multi-information display with various functions for tracking and improving upon fuel economy. The Prius Two steps up to push-button start, upgraded upholstery, a fold-down rear armrest, cruise control, keyless entry and seatback pockets. Prius C Three models get Bluetooth connectivity, a navigation system and a more sophisticated Display Audio system with HD Radio and six speakers, while Prius Four models get heated front seats, leatherette upholstery, fog lamps, alloy wheels and a garage-door opener.
Prius C Three and Four models include Toyota's new "Entune" interface, which connects to smartphones and brings Bing and Pandora apps, along with a 6.1-inch touch screen and voice commands.