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Toyota Prius C: Hybrid still looking good, efficient as always

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For a vehicle that’s in its seventh year of production, the Prius C’s automotive Botox is wearing well, with only some minor nip and tucks for 2018. This hybrid hatch received a big front and rear styling injection last year, so Toyota will likely keep it around a year or two longer.

Unlike its bigger sibling, the Prius Liftback, the Prius C got the better looks in the Toyota hybrid family. It has a small wagon-ish, rounded nose and just enough side panel creases and kinks to distance it from its sibling.

Exterior Likes

I liked the new eight-spoke alloy wheels and blackout accents on the roof rails, side rockers and around the wheel openings. The Prius C’s regular (non-split) rear hatch window combined with conventional taillights, bumper and spoiler distance it from the nerdy designs (in this author’s opinion) of other hybrids in the segment. Certainly, there are aero styling considerations needed for hybrids/EVs, but the less geeky the better.

Powering Up

The motivation for the Prius C is a small 1.5-L 4-cylinder engine with 73 horsepower mated to a 60-hp electric motor. Since electric hp does not translate the same as gas, the total system output is just 99 hp. Toyota indicates that the hybrid system features a continuously variable transaxle, a nickel-metal hydride battery, a power control unit (inverter), a DC-DC converter, and a step-up converter.

A hybrid control computer governs the integration of gasoline engine and electric power depending on driving demands and selected drive mode.

Drive Modes

There are three drive modes: Normal, Eco and EV. Normal is for everyday driving; Eco reduces energy consumption by cutting back on the climate control system and reducing throttle response; the EV Mode allows the Prius C to be driven solely by electric power for up to a mile – even further if you’re at the top of a big hill.

Prius’ gas tank holds 9.5 gallons, but I only filled up once during my week with the car. I achieved about 415 miles on that first tank, but I was wearing heavy shoes that week, so you’ll probably do better.

Drivability

If you’re expecting the Prius C to drive/act like a regular car – time to reboot. Acceleration is leisurely, so plan ahead. When I did press to get speed, it was surprisingly noisy.

Overall, the Prius C was nimble and provided some communication with the road. For short in town trips and tight parking it works well. For long highway trips its just adequate. For aggressive driving the suspension set up and small 15-inch, low rolling resistance tires are just not the best combination, but that’s not what you’re buying this car for anyway. The standard Hill Start Assist Control is a nice feature.

Interior Space

Typically, the interiors of hybrids and EVs feature way out, futuristic interiors containing center dash “monopods” or dashes that look like they’ve been “vacu-sealed,” thankfully Prius C does not fit any of those descriptions.

The interior has a more conventional look, but due to weight and cost considerations, it’s not very plush. The heated seats are thin, ditto for carpet, and there are lots of hard (lightweight) plastics (and shockingly) areas of painted metal not seen since the days of the Chevy Chevette.

Seat comfort is average, but you can fit four six-footers inside with enough headroom and just enough foot room. There are some tech bright spots, including a 6.1-inch touchscreen with Navi and a USB port multi-information display in the center of the dash, back up camera, and relocation of the awkward dash-mounted drive selector to the center console. My test car, a Four version, came with automatic climate control; power windows, locks, mirrors; keyless entry, and cruise.

As for storage, there are bins and cup holders for small stuff along with 17.1 cubic feet of available space behind the second row. 

The Prius C is approaching the twilight of its lifespan as it’s the oldest hybrid in an increasingly crowded model line. While it still has some warts, the big issues have been worked out. It’s certainly not a car for everyone, but it does present a relatively low-cost entry to hybrid ownership that may suit many buyer lifestyles.