New Car Review: 2012 Toyota Prius C

Habanero (Orange) 2012 Toyota Prius C with trees in background
The 2012 (and 2013) Toyota Prius C.

There's a school of thought that says hybrid owners like to call attention to their eco-friendly ways. If true, some say it explains why radically-styled hybrids like the Toyota Prius (well, it was radical until it became a best-seller) outsell "stealth" hybrids like the Honda Civic Hybrid, which looks...exactly like every other Honda Civic.

So what do you do when the Prius styling is beginning to become mainstream, and you're introducing a smaller, lighter, even more economical Prius...one that's less expensive, to boot? How do those people call attention to themselves?

Well, you could paint a huge number of them (including the ones sent to automotive journalists) bright orange. Toyota calls the color "Habanero". I call it "Orange Sherbet With Artificial Coloring".

2012 Toyota Prius C
Rear three-quarters view of the 2012 (and 2013) Toyota Prius C.

But that's surface stuff...and there are 8 other colors in which you can get a Prius C, all much more subdued (including Absolutely Red). What matters here is that, as well equipped versions of the standard Prius approach and even break the $30,000 mark, Toyota has now brought hybrid technology to the entry-level (or near entry-level) market, with a base price of $18,950.

As with the standard Prius and wagon-like Prius V, there are trim levels...One, Two, Three and Four. One's very basic. Spartan, really, although Toyota's smart enough to realize that Bluetooth and USB need to be standard even on the lowest-levels. Bonus points there. But if you want rear seats that fold down, a cargo area cover or cruise control, you want the Prius C Two ($19,900).

SmartKey, moonroof and nav? That's the Prius C Three ($21,635). Alloy wheels, heated mirrors, fog lamps and heated SofTex-trimmed seats? Well, my friend, you want the Prius C Four...base price $23,230. But the moonroof from the Three is now an extra-cost option.

And that's how our test vehicle came. With the option box checked for the moonroof and a boost to 16-inch alloy wheels from the standard 15s. With $760 for delivery, the bottom line was $25,140.

While standard Prii at top trim levels are approaching Lexus-like luxury, a loaded Prius C Four...doesn't. If that looks like a lot of hard black and gray plastic above...it is. The accomodations are a lot more like a Yaris than a Lexus, or even a Prius.

On top of that, the Prius C is slow....very, very slow. Toyota admits to 11.5 seconds 0-60. And to do that requires standing on the gas...which isn't the best way to squeeze every mile out of the gas in the tank. It also makes a whole lot more noise (rather unpleasant noise at that) than motion. Plus, weight savings dictated as little sound insulation as possible. There's a ton of wind and tire noise in the Prius C. It's probably the loudest ride we've had in TireKicker's four-year history.


The objective is hybrid-level gas mileage at a reasonable price. And there, we can't argue with the Prius C. Driven gently (which infuriated the people behind us at stop lights), we actually saw 56 mpg on one in-town errand run. The EPA estimate is 53 city/46 highway, which puts it behind only the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt on the TireKicker's Top Ten Fuel Savers list...at a price far lower than either of those two.