If you’re looking for uber-economical basic transportation, the 2018 Toyota Prius c should probably be high on your list. For starters, it gets an estimated 46 miles per gallon in combined driving, which is, needless to say, a lot higher than most other cars on the road. And sure, that’s 6 mpg lower than a regular Prius, but then the Prius c’s price tag starts at nearly $5,000 less, representing a discount of roughly 20 percent. At the same time, you still get the reassurance of comparably excellent reliability and the same two years of complimentary maintenance.
Yet, the little c isn’t just a budget alternative to its bigger Prius brother. It’s also important to think of it as an alternative to other subcompact hatchbacks. In that regard, it’ll be a little easier to forgive its smaller size, lower-quality cabin, noisy interior and less advanced infotainment. And, compared to such cars as the Honda Fit, Kia Rio and Hyundai Accent, you’ll find that it delivers superior fuel economy and standard accident-avoidance tech.
In the end, the Prius c is far from perfect and probably not for everyone, but there’s enough to like to make it an appealing alternative to both other hybrids and subcompact hatchbacks.
What’s New for 2018?
The Prius C gets revised styling for 2018. Standard equipment now includes alloy wheels and a backup camera on every trim level.
What We Like
Stellar fuel economy; standard safety tech; appealing price for a hybrid; hatchback convenience
What We Don’t
Firm ride by Prius standards; really slow acceleration; subpar interior materials; noisy
The front-wheel-drive Prius c is powered by a 1.5-liter gasoline inline 4-cylinder and an electric motor teamed with a battery pack. Total output is 99 horsepower, which is as little of an amount as it sounds. As such, the Prius c is one of the slowest cars on the market.
On the up side, the Environmental Protection Agency rates the Prius c at 48 mpg in the city, 43 mpg on the highway and 46 mpg in combined driving. That’s great, but the bigger Prius is considerably better.
Standard Features & Options
The 2018 Toyota Prius c subcompact hatchback comes in four trim levels: One, Two, Three and Four.
The entry-level One ($20,600) comes pretty well equipped with 15-inch alloy wheels, bi-LED headlights, automatic high beams, forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, a backup camera, automatic climate control, cloth upholstery, a single-piece folding rear seat, a 6.1-in touchscreen, a USB port and a 4-speaker sound system with a CD player, an auxiliary audio jack and a media player interface.
The Two ($21,400) adds cruise control, a height-adjustable driver seat, a front center console bin/armrest, a 60/40-split folding back seat, a cargo cover and a 6-speaker sound system.
The Three ($22,900) adds proximity entry and push-button start, and a higher resolution 6.1-in touchscreen that includes integrated navigation, Entune smartphone apps, HD Radio and satellite radio. A sunroof is optional.
The Four ($25,000) tacks on LED fog lamps, the sunroof, heated mirrors, heated front seats and SofTex vinyl for the seats and steering wheel. 16-in wheels are optional.
The Prius c comes with standard stability control, nine airbags, antilock brakes, a backup camera, automatic high beams, lane-departure warning, intervention and forward-collision warning and automatic braking.
In government crash testing, the Prius c received four out of five stars for overall, frontal, side and rollover protection. The nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Prius C the best possible rating of Good in all crash tests except the small-overlap front crash test in which it received a second-best Acceptable rating.
Behind the Wheel
The Prius c doesn’t have the smooth ride of the regular Prius. They’re different cars underneath, and the Prius c’s Yaris genes don’t do it any favors. It’s not as quiet at cruising speeds, either, and is massively slow even by the Prius’ modest standards.
But while we unexpectedly found the steering too heavy (heavier still with the Four’s optional 16-in wheels), it’s reasonably precise for a car of this nature, and body roll is kept within acceptable limits. We also love the tiny turning circle, which makes U-turns a breeze. The regenerative brakes may feel strange if you’re a hybrid novice, but you’ll get used to their inconsistent feedback in time.
Inside, you’re greeted by hard plastic. That may be expected for a subcompact car, but more recently redesigned entries have started to add a few more soft-touch and low-sheen surfaces. The Prius c is also priced in the $20,000 range, meaning it could be cross-shopped with compact cars with comparatively premium cabins. The standard 6.1-in touchscreen is also small and less integrated than those in other Toyota models. Really, the Prius c has been around for quite a few years now without a complete redesign and it very much seems like it inside.
Other Cars to Consider
2018 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid — Hyundai is trying to beat Toyota at the game it invented. The Ioniq offers superior fuel economy to the Prius c at a similar price. The Ioniq is also available in plug-in and electric variants.
2018 Honda Fit — True, it isn’t a hybrid and can’t match the Prius c fuel economy. However, the Fit is still very efficient, plus it’s quicker, far more spacious and generally more refined.
Used Chevrolet Volt — The Volt is a plug-in hybrid — and that means regular access to a charging station is important. If you have that, you might want to consider a used Volt, which offers impressive fuel economy and a range-extending gasoline engine that kicks in once the electric motor is out of juice.
Used Toyota Prius — If the Prius c doesn’t seem like enough, keep in mind that the regular Prius starts under $25,000 and comes well-equipped. Used models are even less expensive, so you might be able to get a 1- or 2-year-old Prius for about the same money as a new Prius c.
The Prius c Three is definitely the best deal. For under $23,000 with shipping, you get keyless access with push-button starting, a navigation system and Toyota’s Entune infotainment system. Like every Prius c, you also get standard accident-avoidance tech that is rarely included at this price point.