The 2019 Toyota Prius c soldiers into another year without a full redesign, making it the oldest hybrid on the market. Sure, it got a styling update last year that included some curious SUV-like fender flares, but 2019 only sees a simplification of its trim levels. We wouldn’t exactly call it stale, but the interior’s abundance of hard plastic and tiny infotainment screen in particular make it obvious that this little Prius hatchback is increasingly behind the times.
That doesn’t mean you should write off the Prius c. In fact, if you’re looking for uber-economical basic transportation, it should probably be high on your list. The primary reason is that 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 that should only equate to about $100 per year in fuel savings. When you consider the Prius c’s price is about $2,000 less than a base Prius, you’re definitely still saving money. At the same time, you still get the reassurance of comparably excellent reliability and the same two years of complimentary maintenance.
Yet, the little Prius c isn’t just a budget alternative to its bigger Prius brother or other hybrids like the Honda Insight and the Hyundai Ioniq. 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, the Kia Rio and the 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, definitely behind the times 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 2019?
The Prius c gets new trim levels for 2019. There are now only two and they’ve been renamed, with the new L and LE corresponding with the former Two and Three trims, respectively. This results in extra standard equipment and a slightly higher base price, as well as the discontinuation of certain higher-end features like a sunroof, simulated leather upholstery and heated seats. A number of paint and interior colors have also been discontinued.
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; noisy; subpar interior materials
$21,530 — $22,955
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 better.
Standard Features & Options
The 2019 Toyota Prius c subcompact hatchback comes in two trim levels: L and LE.
The base L ($21,530) comes pretty well equipped with 15-in alloy wheels, LED headlights, automatic high beams, forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, cruise control, a backup camera, automatic climate control, a height-adjustable driver seat, cloth upholstery, a 60/40-split folding back seat, a cargo cover, 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 LE ($22,955) adds proximity entry and push-button start, and a higher resolution 6.1-in touchscreen that includes integrated navigation, Entune smartphone apps, and a 6-speaker sound system with HD Radio and satellite radio.
There are no factory options.
The Prius c comes with standard stability control, nine airbags (front, front-side, side-curtain, driver knee and front seat under-seat airbags), antilock brakes, a backup camera, automatic high beams, lane-departure warning, and forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking.
In government crash testing, the Prius c received four out of five stars in all crash tests. 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 also much louder at cruising speeds and is massively slow even by the Prius’ modest standards.
But while we unexpectedly found the steering too heavy, 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’s most noticeable inside.
Other Cars to Consider
2019 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.
2019 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. Oh, and much cheaper.
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 LE is definitely the best deal. For less than $23,000, 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.