The Toyota Prius family is growing. While the Prius lineup was limited to just one model for more than a decade, recent years have seen the addition of a larger Prius v and a smaller Prius c, which was designed for drivers interested in a smaller hybrid. Unfortunately, the increasing number of Prius models means that it's getting a little difficult deciding which one is right for you, so we've explained the differences for shoppers who want to buy a new Prius.

         

Exterior

The differences between a Prius, a Prius c and a Prius v are easy to spot from the outside, as each car is positioned to fit in a different part of the market, meaning that they all offer distinctive shapes and sizes.

The Prius c is the smallest member of the Prius family. Compared to the other two, it offers a more traditional hatchback shape, with no side window behind the C-pillar at the rear corner of the car. Additionally, its styling isn't as distinctively Prius as the standard model and the Prius v. In fact, the Prius c's shape is so traditional that its hybrid badges are often the only indication that it's even a hybrid car.

The standard Prius is the brand's midsize model. It still features the same familiar profile that we've come to know since 2004, with one long, flowing arch shape serving as the car's roofline. While the standard Prius and the Prius v share much of their front end, a big difference is in back. That's where the Prius uses a more dramatically sloped window than the upright glass in the Prius v.

The largest Prius is the Prius v, which is essentially a standard Prius with an enlarged cargo area. Think of it as a hybrid station wagon and you're on the right track, as the Prius v is designed for families who can't quite fit all of their gear in a traditional model. Maybe the biggest way to differentiate it from the standard Prius is the roofline, since the Prius v ditches the traditional arch shape in order to fit its enlarged cargo area.

         

Interior

While there are differences in the interiors of the three Prius models, it can be hard to tell each one apart. Not surprisingly, the Prius c is the smallest, and it's also the most basic. It's the only one with a floor-mounted gear selector, for example, and it utilizes the least expensive dashboard materials. The Prius c is also the only model with circular air vents, as opposed to squared vents in the larger models.

The difference between the interior of a Prius and a Prius v largely relates to size. The Prius v offers more cargo room: 34.9 cu ft, compared to just 21.6 cu ft in the standard Prius (the Prius c checks in at 17.1 cu ft). The other major difference is that the Prius' dashboard and console are designed to give a flowing cockpitlike feel, while the Prius v offers a large gap between the console and the dashboard for drivers to place a purse, a bag or some other small item.

                  

Mechanicals

The three Prius models share two engines: one for the Prius c and another for the Prius and Prius v.

The Prius c, of course, uses the smallest powertrain: a 1.5-liter hybrid 4-cylinder that makes a combined 99 horsepower. The other two models include a 1.8-liter hybrid 4-cylinder that produces 134 horses. There's also a Prius Plug-In Hybrid based on the traditional Prius, but we suspect most shoppers interested in the plug-in won't easily confuse it with other Prius models, given its unique powertrain.

Of course, you're probably more interested in fuel economy than hp. If that's the case, here are the numbers: The Prius c returns 53 miles per gallon in the city and 46 mpg on the highway for a combined average of 50 mpg. The standard Prius also gets 50 mpg combined, though its city and highway numbers are 51 mpg and 48 mpg, respectively. Finally, the larger Prius v returns 44 mpg city/40 mpg hwy for a total of 42 mpg combined.

         

Features

The Prius c starts at around $20,000. It comes standard with automatic climate control, power accessories, a center-mounted touchscreen display and Bluetooth. Upper-level models add features such as cruise control, remote keyless ignition and entry, a navigation system, a larger touchscreen, alloy wheels and heated seats. A power sunroof is optional on higher-level Prius c models.

A traditional Prius starts at around $25,000. Standard features include 15-inch alloy wheels, a rear wiper, cruise control, keyless ignition and entry, Bluetooth, a large touchscreen and automatic climate control. Higher-level models boast a navigation system, a rearview camera, automatic headlights, 17-in alloy wheels and a JBL sound system. Drivers can also add a long list of safety features, ranging from adaptive cruise control to a precollision alert system, a lane-departure warning system and a head-up display.

The Prius v starts at around $27,500. Standard and optional equipment largely mirrors the regular Prius, though the Prius v also offers an available automated parallel-parking system. Unfortunately for families, optional third-row seating, available in Japan, isn't offered in the U.S.

         

Technology

Once again, technology improves based on the size of the Prius that you choose. For instance, the entry-level Prius c doesn't offer any collision alert systems or warning gadgets, such as lane-departure warning or adaptive cruise control, both of which are available on the standard Prius. It also doesn't feature the standard Prius' available solar-roof option, which can use solar power to keep the car cool and lessen the burden on its air-conditioning system.

The standard Prius offers a long list of available safety gadgets, but it still can't trump the Prius v's available automated parallel-parking system. Both models come with options like adaptive cruise control, precollision alert and a lane-departure warning system.

All Prius models offer Toyota's Entune infotainment system as available equipment. Entune is one of the most comprehensive new infotainment systems, offering apps that let drivers do just about anything, from checking traffic and weather to ordering movie tickets and making dinner reservations. Entune also lets drivers use Pandora Internet Radio to expand their musical variety.

         

Safety

Each Prius comes with a wide variety of safety equipment, including front-side airbags, side-curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes and a driver's-knee airbag. As mentioned, the standard Prius and Prius v also offer a long list of available safety technology, ranging from adaptive cruise control to a lane-departure warning system and a precollision alert system. Also available is the brand's Safety Connect emergency communication system, which calls emergency workers in the event of a collision, helps to locate a Prius if it's stolen and offers other emergency and roadside assistance.

In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash tests, Prius models performed fairly well. The Prius c earned a 4-star overall rating, comprised of 4-star scores on front- and side-impact tests and 5-star ratings in the agency's rollover test. The standard Prius also earned four stars overall, though it scored five stars on NHTSA's side-impact test. The larger Prius v, meanwhile, earned five stars for overall crash safety.

The nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reached similar conclusions. In most tests, the Prius c earned a Good rating, though it was rated Poor in the new small-overlap front assessment, which is a test that's proving difficult for most small cars to ace. It was the same story for the larger Prius v, although it's worth noting that the standard Prius earned an Acceptable rating in the small-overlap front test: still not perfect but better than many rivals.

Conclusions

So, which Toyota Prius is right for you? Not surprisingly, it largely depends on your needs.

We still think that the regular Toyota Prius remains the best all-rounder in the car's lineup. It combines the excellent fuel mileage of the Prius c with much of the Prius v's practicality, and it offers a long list of high-tech gadgets that rivals many luxury cars.

But that doesn't mean that we find faults with the Prius c and the Prius v. On the contrary, both are excellent cars, but we'd recommend them over the standard Prius only for drivers with more specific needs.

For instance, if you're looking for an entry-level hybrid to fit a tight budget, go with the Prius c. Same deal if you live in a compact city, as the car's smaller size might help you squeeze into a tight parking space. And if you need the extra room provided by the Prius v, then by all means, go for it. It's an excellent choice, though its fuel-economy sacrifice compared to the standard Prius means that you'd better really get your money's worth from the larger cargo area.

In the end, Toyota's expanded Prius lineup helps tailor the popular hybrid to meet more drivers' needs, and our explanation of the differences between each Prius will help you find the right model for your situation.

author photo

Doug DeMuro has a wide range of automotive industry experience, from work at a Ferrari dealership to a manager for Porsche North America. A lifelong car enthusiast, Doug's eclectic vehicle purchases include a Porsche 911 Turbo, an E63 AMG wagon, an old Range Rover and a Mercedes Benz G-wagen.

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