THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Best: Entry-level hybrid availability, new techs and treatment.
- What’s Worst: Top-of-the-line trim adds stuff and civility but there’s a lot of newer and bigger competitors available.
- What’s interesting: Cheap gas has cut Prius sales in the States for the past few years while regular gas-powered vehicles have improved their fuel economy ratings. Hybrid futures ride on the whims and winds of fuel prices.
When it comes to hybrids, Prius is still the most recognized name in the automotive industry.
And, with its small footprint, tight turning circle and nimble size, Toyota’s Prius c (the “c” is for “city”) has served as a pocket urban runabout and entry point to the Prius lineup for the past six years.
Compared to the regular Prius, the subcompact Prius c rides on a shorter wheelbase (-150 mm) and is smaller in most dimensions, including length (-480 mm) and width (-45 mm), although, curiously, it is also 20 mm taller than its bigger brother.
Elbowroom and passenger space is understandably a little tighter, as is cargo space (484 litres compared to the Prius’ 697 litres).
But those are all factors that eco-conscious bargain hunters have been prepared to live with for the sake of a roughly $5K reduction in comparative starting prices.
The Prius c was hauled into the automotive beauty salon for 2018, with a cosmetic makeover that includes styling updates to front and rear fascias for improved aerodynamics and a tweaked new look, edgier maybe but not quite as radical and polarizing as the angular Prius treatment.
New headlamp and taillight designs incorporate LED lighting this year. Revised interior fittings include a new steering wheel and a new instrument panels with updated HVAC controls. And Toyota also made the rear backup camera standard across the lineup for 2018.
Under the hood, the Hybrid Synergy Drive starts with the thrust of a 1.5-litre Atkinson-cycle VVTi gasoline-powered four-cylinder engine (73 hp, 82 lb/ft). An electric motor (60 hp, 125 lb/ft) takes its charge from a 19.3 kWh Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH) battery located low under the rear seat and adds its output to the tune of a 99 hp combined power rating.
Engine power is translated to the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that does its best to provide seamless acceleration.
Flog whatever power is available and this pocket hybrid feels almost tossable, managing handling challenges ably enough through electric power steering and a suspension system with independent MacPherson gas struts and stabilizer bar up front and a semi-independent torsion beam system in the rear.
Drivers can select EV/ECO mode settings but, frankly, I wouldn’t bother. EV mode allows for up to a kilometre of travel below 40 km/h if all the stars are aligned and you’re resigned to creeping around a parking lot. But the slightest prod of the pedal seems to awaken the gas engine.
ECO mode limits climate control drag on the engine but also adjusts throttle input. And this powertrain needs all the get-up-and-go it can muster.
This powertrain probably reaps most of its hybrid fuel econo gains from an idle-free start/stop system that seems to shut the engine off as soon as you even think about coasting to a stop.
Fuel economy is rated at a thrifty 4.9/5.5L/100km (city/hwy). Our real world average worked out to 5.7L/100km (comb), mainly due to a long highway haul that doesn’t really allow the hybrid features of this vehicle to come into play.
The Prius c comes with a palette of eight colours and three varying interior treatments depending on the customer’s choice of two trim levels.
The base Prius c model ($22,090) does display some of the expected entry-level traits – disc/drum combo braking, steel wheels and a scattering of hard plastics inside.
But a healthy standard equipment list includes automatic A/C temperature control, power door locks, power windows and powered heated mirrors, a 4.2-inch TFT Multi-info display, a sport steering wheel with HVAC/audio/info controls, along with a four-speaker AM/FM/CD sound system controlled via a 6.1-inch Display Audio central screen.
Last year, the Prius c also added Toyota’s Safety Sense C – a bundle of safety systems including the Pre-Collision System, Lane Departure Alert and Automatic High Beams.
Customers looking for a slight bump-up in equipment can opt for an Upgrade Package ($22,990), which includes a six-speaker audio system, premium fabric upholstery, cruise control, a synthetic leather instrument panel, tonneau cover, a rear centre console box and more.
And the 2018 Toyota Prius c Technology ($27,050), tested here, tops out with most of the above-mentioned features while adding a body kit, a Smart Key System with Button Start, navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, Sirius XM, advanced voice recognition and other connective/info techs.
Other enhancements include heated front seats with black Softex surfaces, a 60/40 second row and cargo tonneau cover, cruise control, power moonroof, LED fog lamps and 15-inch alloy rims instead of steel wheels.
Prius sales have diminished somewhat with the consumer shift from cars to CUVs and even gas-powered competitors have closed the fuel economy and affordability gap lately.
So there may be rumours about some long-standing Prius products sliding onto the endangered species list.
But for 2018, this “small car with big ideas”, continues to afford an entry-level hybrid choice in the smallish subcompact market segment.
2018 Toyota Prius c Technology
BODY STYLE: Five-passenger sub-compact hatchback.
DRIVE METHOD: Front-wheel-drive, CVT transmission
ENGINE: 1.5-litre Atkinson-cycle VVTi gasoline-powered four-cylinder engine (73 hp, 82 lb/ft) plus electric motor (60 hp, 125 lb/ft) for a 99 hp combined power rating.
FUEL ECONOMY: 4.9/5.5L/100km (city/hwy); as tested 5.7L/100km (comb)
CARGO: 484 litres
PRICE: Prius c Technology $27,050
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