Toyota Prius C 2015

This week I test drove the updated version of Toyota’s compact petrol hybrid hatchback, the Prius C. Now before I get started, a bit of a disclaimer upfront – when I’m in Japan, I use the Prius C quite a bit as my own form of transport through a car sharing service, so I’m quite familiar with the first couple of revisions of the car. So when Toyota announced the second update to the car a few months back, you can imagine I was quite interested to see just what they had improved in this small car.

The Prius C has been the number one selling car in Japan for years now, but it’s struggled to catch on in Australia, with Toyota selling just under 800 models in the last 12 months alone. Compare this to the Toyota Yaris which it’s based on – the Yaris sold to nearly 9,000 buyers in the same period. So what has Toyota changed to make it more attractive?

First of all, the design has been revised and made a little more sporty and classy at the same time. On the outside you have a sharper front face, while the rear tail-light design has been revised with LEDs and given a more cursive look that looks much sleeker than what it was. The radio antenna was supposed to have been changed to a shark fin design, but this has only happened in Japan; in Australia the Prius C soldiers on with the same rod antenna as before.

The car’s interior has been significantly facelifted to make it look more high quality, with more piano-black gloss highlights on the dashboard as well as dashes of silver here and there. The air conditioning controls have ditched their toy-like buttons and green monochrome LCD for bigger switches and a reverse-backlit LCD that fits with the theme better. The seats also get revised designs as well, but otherwise the rest of the interior is unchanged. The Prius C is essentially a slightly larger Yaris, so interior room is reasonable; the back seats are comfortable enough but might be a bit tight for longer trips. The seats are soft but again, on long trips you’ll begin to feel them. Rear storage is adequate with 260 litres of capacity when the 60/40 split rear seats are up.

There’s a single drivetrain powering this car and it’s unchanged in this revision – a hybrid system combining a 1.5 litre, 54 kW petrol engine and a 520 volt, 45 kW electric motor. Their combined maximum output is 74 kW. Toyota doesn’t provide a combined torque figure, so let’s go with the individual ones – 111 Nm for the petrol engine and 169 Nm for the electric motor. Drive is provided through Toyota’s ingenious Hybrid Synergy Drive planetary-gear CVT automatic setup to the front wheels.

So if you’re shopping for a car with even a hint of sporty driving, step away from the Prius C now – that’s not what it’s designed for. Toyota has admittedly made changes to improve body stiffness and response, and I noticed that the car is indeed slightly more responsive, especially in corner turn-in, but the improvements are definitely evolutionary in nature. The ride is compliant, relaxed and smooth, but demand power and the engine will quickly roar up to high revs and hold them there, droning on as the car builds speed reasonably quickly. It’s loud in an uncomfortable way and the car vibrates a fair bit, and the acceleration you wanted is still only adequate and not urgent in any sense. It’ll get you out of any trouble you might encounter at speed, but nothing more.

No, the Prius C is all about fuel economy. Officially, it rates at 3.9 litres per 100km in combined driving, but in the city it’s even better at 3.7 litres; on the highway we arrive in-between this at 3.8. In the real world, you’ll actually get very close to these numbers. Driving the Prius C like any other car in a combined environment, I typically achieved around 4.3 litres per hundred, but if you turn on Toyota’s Eco Score display, you can tailor your driving to what the car recommends and when I did this, I was able to hit the 3.9 litre figure pretty easily. With some prolonged driving at city speeds of around 50 km/h, I quickly knocked it down to 3.5 litres per hundred. That’s 29 kilometres for each litre of fuel – pretty impressive.

One thing I noticed though is that on short drives, like a quick trip to the shops nearby, fuel economy suffers because the car wants to warm up the petrol engine before relying on it. On quick trips of under three or four kilometres, fuel economy easily stretches above five litres per hundred, and may even hit the sixes or sevens depending on how hilly your roads are, so you need to drive somewhat more than this to get the advertised fuel economy figures on a regular basis. The Prius C also doesn’t like high speeds too much – prolonged driving at 100 km/h will see fuel consumption in the higher fours rather than the threes.

I should also mention the braking system because this has been a somewhat maligned part of Toyota’s hybrid technology. The braking system is also a hybrid one in a sense because the brake pedal activates both the friction disk brakes as well as the electric motor-based regenerative braking system. The car itself chooses the braking method best suited to the speed of the car and amount of stopping power you need, so as a driver you just press the brake pedal like normal to stop, but many drivers have noticed that when you slow down below 10 km/h, the regenerative braking disengages and the friction brakes pick up the slack. This is normal because regen brakes lose their effectiveness below this speed, but poor calibration has meant that this transition was quite uncomfortable, with the car usually stopping more quickly when the friction brakes engaged. Toyota has now recalibrated the braking system and in this revised Prius C, the braking system was almost perfectly smooth at any speed.

Feature wise the Prius C is quite well equipped, with climate control air conditioning, cruise control, proximity keyless entry, two USB sockets and a 6.1 inch touch-screen display with Bluetooth audio streaming and phone support all standard. It’s also well-equipped safety-wise with seven airbags, stability control and a reverse camera. The i-Tech variant adds to this with LED headlights on both the high and low beam, tinted heat-cutting glass, leather upholstery, satellite navigation, alloy wheels and a rear spoiler.
Pricing starts from $22,990 for the standard Prius C, with the i-Tech carrying a $3,000 premium. This is actually also a new change – Toyota reduced the price by $1,000 across the board with this revised edition of the car. That’s it for me this week.

August 15th 2015
Albert Malik