By on June 9, 2012

During my week with the Toyota Prius c (reviewed previously by Alex) I averaged about 62 miles-per-gallon. On my standard suburban run to the kids’ school, the trip computer once reported 82 mpg, and topped 70 mpg a number of times. But drive the Prius c “normally” with the A/C on, and the gas engine gets a little noisy and fuel economy “plummets” into the low 50s, as attested by the trip computer for my wife’s stints in the car and by the EPA (53 city, 46 highway, 50 combined). If a car achieves much better numbers only when driven in a special way, does it count? Or, if the engine somewhat noisily struggles under moderately heavy acceleration, should the car not be recommended at all?

The special method for getting the most out of a full hybrid is fairly simple in theory, but not always so simple in practice. A feathery foot on the go pedal is only part of it, and the easiest part at that (if one can ignore the faces in the rearview mirror). A light foot on the brake is even more important, as the entire point of a hybrid is to recoup kinetic energy rather than burn it off through brake friction. The heavier your foot on the brake, the more the pads and rotors must be used to slow the car. The hard part: if a light suddenly turns red or someone slows dramatically in front of you, you might not have a choice. Unless you manage to anticipate these events well in advance, you’re going to waste energy. Skilled hypermilers learn to constantly scan far down the road.

One unexpected byproduct of this driving style: safety benefits even more than fuel economy. Driver training performed as part of the Japanese ReCoo program to reduce CO2 emissions ended up improving fuel economy by 4.4 to 8.7 percent and reducing traffic accidents by 45 to 51 percent.

The largest problem I found with the Toyota Prius c wasn’t among those noted by other reviewers, some of whom have panned the car. The way I was driving the Prius c, the 73-horsepower Atkinson-cylce 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine didn’t often make much noise. When I had to accelerate con brio, the 99-horse (combined gas and electric) powertrain delivered well enough (though if you want oomph remotely worthy of a “power” mode in a Prius you’ll have to scrape together another $4,065–$2,935 after adjusting for feature differences—for the original “liftback”). Road and wind noise were no more pronounced than in the average small hatchback. I wouldn’t have felt the need to remark on them at all if others hadn’t. And the hard interior plastics were dramatically textured in at least eight different ways (I lost count) by Toyota’s ADHD-afflicted designers, so they’re at least interesting. They don’t seem notably cheap compared to those in other sub-$20,000 cars. The 2012 Honda Civic’s interior bits are considerably nastier.

Instead, the most significant problem I encountered with the Prius c involved its ability to decelerate. A critical variable when hypermiling a hybrid: how quickly can the powertrain’s generator slow the car? In the case of the Prius c, the answer is all too often “not quickly enough.” If you’re moving along at 50+ miles-per-hour, then depress the brake to the extent suggested by the driving efficiency display (the most helpful I’ve yet experienced), the car hardly slows at all. You need over a quarter mile to bring the car to complete stop from a moderately high speed without relying to a significant extent on the friction brakes. When decelerating from 40 or less this isn’t nearly as much of a factor, but it remains a factor at all but the lowest speeds.

You’ll know if you’re braking too aggressively. The information display grades you, not only overall, but each time you accelerate and each time you brake to a stop. This might sound like a PITA, but it actually can make efficient driving into a video game. Not interested? There are other screens to choose from (one of which reports the dollars you’re saving).

The Prius c suffers more from this deceleration problem than other hybrids I’ve driven because of tradeoffs made by Toyota. The Prius c weighs over 600 pounds less than the regular Prius, and only about 185 pounds more than the slightly smaller, non-hybrid Yaris. This is partly because, compared to the regular Prius, it’s nearly 20 inches shorter, a couple inches narrower, and a couple inches lower. But Toyota also reduced the size of the hybrid components and the battery pack. The smaller battery pack doesn’t only have a lower capacity. It also cannot charge and discharge as much electricity per second. (Toyota told Alex that the difference was about a third.)

The upshot: to go more than 70 miles on a gallon I had to anticipate any need to stop well in advance. This required a fair amount of luck. I couldn’t have any light go yellow when I was too far away to go through it but not far away enough to slow through regen alone. I couldn’t have cars ahead of me slow unexpectedly. I had to pay strict attention to what was going on well ahead of me at all times.

Unwilling or unable to make this happen? Then efficiency suffers even more in the Prius c than in other hybrids. Drive both the Prius and the Prius c like you would a regular car and they end up just a couple mpg apart in the high 40s to low 50s. In the interest of providing apples-to-apples comparisons, the EPA does just this, and ends up with similar numbers for both. As have other reviewers. The highest mpg logged by previous drivers: a mere 57.1.

But the Prius c does have a significant fuel economy advantage when hypermiling. The best I ever observed in the regular Prius was 66.4, and this with fewer complete stops than when I achieved 82.0 in the Prius c. Both figures were obtained on A/C-free trips where I never had to make heavy use of the brake. But even in typical suburban conditions the Prius c ends up with about a ten mile-per-gallon advantage when both are driven as efficiently as is practically possible.

So, should special performance dependent upon a modified driving style count? Or, in the interest of fairness and prevailing social norms, should a car only be evaluated when driven “normally”?

For what it’s worth, this question doesn’t apply only to the Prius c, or even only to economy cars. Back in 1985, I drove a car with a high-revving DOHC engine for the first time. The 112-horsepower 1.6-liter engine in the now legendary AE86 Corolla GT-S peaked at 6,600 rpm and redlined at 7,600. I went there. Repeatedly. This decidedly unnatural behavior (back when many engines peaked in the fours and the now-enshrined square-bodied Panthers peaked at 3,200) opened my eyes and radically transformed what I expected from a driver’s car. Enthralled, I took a friend to test drive the GT-S. He drove it, never taking the engine over 3,500 rpm, and couldn’t see what I thought was so special. As far as he could tell the GT-S drove just like a garden variety 70-horsepower Corolla!

Toyota provided the Prius c with insurance and a tank of gas (which still registered 20 percent full after 450 miles of driving).

Michael Karesh operates, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

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80 Comments on “Toyota Prius c: Should Allowances Be Made For Cars With Special Needs?...”

  • avatar

    Hey, I’d be totally happy to get 48 mpg on my commute driving normally. That’s about 12 mpg better than I get in my Fit. With the miles I drive that would be sufficient for the Prius C to make up the price difference over a conventional B-class car in 3 years or so. (Which is why it’s very likely to be my next car, assuming you can find any on dealer lots without big surcharges by then.)

    • 0 avatar

      The big surcharges may be around for a while. In New York City, and in Southern California, the Prius C is the new “must have” vehicle … especially wanted by young females and environmentalists.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a Prius C for a week, and it got about 63mpg for the duration, without any hyper-miling, mostly in the suburban sprawl around Los Altos and Cupertino on 25-40mph roads.

      My daily commuter (a standard Prius) has averaged about 55mpg over the last three years in the same conditions.

      Both cars, imho, fare EVEN better in suburban conditions than in tight city traffic – probably because you can keep the car in the sweet spot between 35-40mph and not lose a lot to stop-and-go.

  • avatar

    The EPA tests are a joke, and every automaker tries every trick in the book to beat them to their advantage (accessories installed at dealers, no spare tire, hard tires, sneaky software calibrations that expire in 5000 miles, etc.).

    Why not have something simple, but accurate: steady state MPGs at a few speeds? And maybe one simple routine of stop and go?

    • 0 avatar

      Constant mph/rpms might be one of the easiest fuel consumption ranges to bench mark. So many variables as we all know battery powered cars suffered in colder climates along with temperature, preceptiation, both rain and snow cause parasitic drag.

      My 2000 Saab 9-5 will see 44-45 mpg at highway cruise averaging 60 mph. In Ohio’s winter 35-36 mpg is not uncommon. That is 50 miles of highway during my 58 mile commute. Run the AC and you’ll see a 2 mpg drop. Of course my counter parts in surburia might see 20 mpg. But because of constant mph/rpm I can make tire pressure changes, alignment, or engine performance/fluid changes and see their result.

      • 0 avatar

        How many more times do you need to be told that you’re full of it before you’ll stop repeating that same laughably bogus claim about your Saab’s MPG?

      • 0 avatar

        “How many more times do you need to be told that you’re full of it before you’ll stop repeating that same laughably bogus claim about your Saab’s MPG?”

        I don’t know why you’re so skeptical.

        I’m hopeful that Norm contacts someone at MIT, which can assemble a team of scientists and engineers who could determine how Norm managed to end up with a car that consistently violates the laws of physics. (I’m betting that it’s powered by pixie dust and guided by angels.)

      • 0 avatar

        I have another car with 2.4l engine plus aftermarket turbo that is seeing similar results of the mid-40’s. My heavier, automatic transmission 04 9-5 wagon is slightly off the fuel economy pace, so it’s no fluke.

        No hybrid car is going to tow dolly another car worth 4,200 lbs through the hills of MA and TN and see 23.5 mpg like my 9-5 can. That’s double what a pickup truck will do.

  • avatar

    Full disclosure: last October I bought a new Prius (the original, not the c) and have since put over 21000 miles on it.

    To answer your question, I don’t think any special consideration should be made for cars that can benefit from “special” driving techniques.

    That being said, I love my Prius. I love the techie side of it (I have the solar roof option which still makes me smile every time I get in the car and hear the little solar powered fan whirring). I sometimes sleep in my car on road trips, and I love being able to set the climate control for the desired temperature and then go to sleep without the engine running.

    I love the space. I’ve been able to pick up full sized vintage bicycles and toss them in the hatch, seats down, hatch closed, with no disassembly of the bicycle.

    I attached a hitch and I tow a cargo trailer with it. I don’t get too crazy, but to get my lawn tractor to the shop, to schlep one of my motorcycles, or to move one of the boats around the driveway, the Prius is great.

    And yes, I “prepaid” for fuel economy. I spent $29k for a car and don’t even have leather, and the plastics are a bit cheap, and to some folks, the car has an “image” that is disagreeable. Whatever. It’s neat car that gets great mileage, and like every other new car today, if cared for, it will last a long time.

    I drive 40000 miles a year, so I believe my payback period will hit much sooner.

  • avatar

    The MPG numbers you report are absolutely amazing, hypermiling or not. Is it possible you were given a special hand-picked car by Toyota?

  • avatar

    The only way the numbers can have meaning is if all cars are tested under the same conditions, i.e. level playing field, even if test methods are somewhat flawed.

    I once owned a hybrid and am familiar with hypermiling techniques but judging by the hybrids that I see flying down freeways well above the speed limit it’s clear that many owners are taking no steps whatsoever to maximize fuel economy. Sure, just for giggles you can post 70-80mpg numbers every now and then but few owners are prepared to drive that way consistently, all the time, every time.

    • 0 avatar

      I think you are exactly correct.

      Now, there’s nothing wrong with testing both cars with the special driving practices as well, and compare those results, too.

      In a way, that’s the goal of the hwy & city test cycles.

  • avatar

    If a car requires me to drive in a way that ticks off all other drivers, and doesn’t allow me to get in and drive normally in order to achieve greater efficiency, it is a failure. If I wanted to have to feather the gas pedal and make people angry every time I’m going uphill, I’d buy a 1993 Buick Century and save twenty grand.*

    * My observation in upstate NY is that Prius drivers in our part of the world are the people who used to drive an old, pristine Century at 10-20 mph below limit…only now they do so more smugly.

  • avatar

    Funny, I had the sam ride with my brother in my rx-7. “it’s o.k, i guess”. “dude, you’re shifting at 5k. The rev limiter is 4000 rpm away”.

    As for the prius: should Tiger Woods have to hit a heavier ball because he knows how to swing a club better than other golfers. Keep the tests consistent. Those who buy the cars and learn how to use them will derrive an unexpected benefit. Those who don’t learn will at least get close to the epa numbers, and hopefully not take to the internet in droves trying to expose the hybrid conspiracy, and/or file a lawsuit.

  • avatar

    Consumer Reports just ripped the Prius C to shreds and put it on their “do not recommend” list for basically being a cheap penalty box on wheels.

    • 0 avatar

      I was thinking very much of CR’s verdict when writing this review. In my opinion they’ve greatly exaggerated the weaknesses of the car, perhaps to prove their car-guy-ness. (CR’s test crew are truly car guys, and perhaps it irks them that many people assume the opposite.) Alex named the Prius c among his favorite current cars. If it was such a penalty box, do you think Alex (who owns a Jaguar) would even consider it?

      CR also observed slightly worse fuel economy in the Prius c than in the regular Prius, suggesting that their driving style was more aggressive than that of the average driver, and far more aggressive than the average Prius driver. Even if they weren’t hard on the accelerator, they were likely heavy on the brake, which is the Prius c’s Achilles’ heel.

      I certainly understand the need for apples-to-apples comparisons, but also believe that if a car can perform extraordinarily well when driven a particular way, this deserves mention.

      • 0 avatar

        I have logged a little over 3000 miles on my Prius c. This is a good balanced review. Thank you! I think the observation on the braking “Achilles’ heel” is missing something. When I am traveling over 35 mph and approaching a stop, I “downshift” to the “B” position and allow the engine brake to slow down the car and recharge the battery. I love it! As I get closer to the light or stop sign, I lightly apply the brakes and it is super efficient! If the light changes, I simply shift back up to “D” and lightly apply pressure to the gas pedal!

        By the way, over the entire 3000 miles, my average mpg is about 51. Highway mileage from Las Vegas to St. George Utah, roundtrip using cruise control and a/c at 65 mph…..53 mpg! Road trip to Southern California, same parameters, 49 mpg.

        The car is not for everybody and is a little noisy, but we love it!

      • 0 avatar

        At least there’s consistency – they ripped the 2012 Civic to shreds too – justifiably so, too.

        And the Prius C(heap) out-hybrids any of Honda’s hybrid offerings, even if it’s less capable than its larger sibling.

      • 0 avatar

        Glad you mentioned that about CR, Michael. When a character named Bob Knoll ran their car operation, it was the era that created the indelible impression that CR’s judgment of cars was in the Stone Age. It’s much less useless now, and I say this as a longtime subscriber.

      • 0 avatar

        The Civic shredding is less justifiable when you consider that they continue to recommend the Corolla and the Sentra. There’s no way the 2012 Civic isn’t a more desirable car than either of those.

      • 0 avatar

        I own a 2010 Prius liftback, and drove a Prius C just to see what it was like. Your report is right on. I didn’t think the C was particularly noisy, especially for an econobox, and I like the steering feel better than my car.

        If the C had been available when I got my car, and both it and the liftback were selling at MSRP, I still would have bought the regular Prius, because I use it for everything. It has more room, and it’s a little quieter on the interstate. If I were buying it just as a city car, I’d take the C, regardless of what CR says.

    • 0 avatar

      There’s no such thing as a Consumer Reports “do no recommend” list. There’s a “Recommended” list and a “Don’t buy” list for products with a performance or safety issue, as well as a “Recommendation suspended” list for products with a suspected safety problem that hasn’t been proven. The Prius C is not on any of these. It scored merely in the middle of “Good” on their scale, so it wasn’t recommended. CR suggested a used Prius would be a better way to go, but did NOT put the Prius C on any list that would suggest you should not buy it. They just didn’t put it on one that suggests it deserves first consideration.

      Suggesting they were particularly aggressive seems silly to me. Every car gets several loops on their city and highway tests with different drivers and all are run without using the air and the highway tests are at a constant 65. Plus, the Prius C’s city mileage was much better than the Prius’, while the steady-rate highway mileage was several MPG lower, completely shooting down the theory any brake usage was the reason for the difference. Try the Prius C’s much less aerodynamic shape for the reason there.

      Considering there are lots of nice small cars out there, I don’t see why Toyota should get any special points for making a small car that can get extra MPG when driven in a way that most people don’t drive. Where’s the incentive to improve if CR will recommend a car based just on MPG? Many folks say “but Toyota’s saving the world.” I say, make a hybrid Sienna and Sequoia before we worry about a hybrid Yaris. We’d save a lot more gas that way.

      • 0 avatar

        “Good” is the same as “mediocre” in CR’s evaluation. The Honda Insight (which I couldn’t wait to get out of during my test drive) scored a point higher, also “good,” and in the text they call it “mediocre.”

        No doubt you’re correct on aero and highway mpg. But they observed 37 mpg in the city for the Prius c. They do call this “stellar” and note that it’s the best they’ve ever observed. But I think the figure would have been higher still with a driving style that was easier on the brakes. I can understand why they wouldn’t do this to keep things equal from car to car, though. But, as the review asks, if a more relaxed driving style results in even more stellar mpg numbers, should this count in the decision whether or not to recommend a car?

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t see why it should.

        For one thing, you seem to be assuming that anyone even glancing in the general direction of a Prius C cares about and only about mileage. But CR’s Recommended list is meant to be a jumping-off point for anyone looking for a new car to lead them to vehicles that offer a good overall balance of safety, reliability, comfort, and safety. It’s meant to recognize cars that are likely to please most buyers. Many people considering a Prius C in their initial shopping probably are still looking for some comfort as well as the ability to pass when needed.

        For another, CR’s test scores already heavily weight fuel economy, along with braking, acceleration, and emergency handling. The Prius C did have some pluses over the Yaris in a few other categories, but acceleration and emergency handling were markedly worse in the Prius C, while braking was only slightly worse in the Yaris. The Prius C got higher for front comfort, climate control and driving position, the Yaris much better for headlights. None of those are heavily weighted, they say. Yet the Prius C got a full twelve points higher overall than the Yaris. That tells me that the Prius C already got a big premium for fuel economy. Considering it still didn’t do as well as the Prius, a larger, more comfortable car, I don’t see why it should get any more of an adjustment. Plus, note that at $4/gallon even, 50 vs. 43 MPG equals $160/year for the average driver doing 12K/year. That’s a little under $14/mo. If it indeed could routinely do 60 MPG, that’d be pushing $27/mo. or $1,600 over five years and maybe would be worth more of a premium.

        I’d also note that the noise score is mostly composed of measurements in sones by electronic test equipment, so I’m not sure how much bias would come in to play.

        As for mediocre, well the definition is of only moderate quality; neither good nor bad. I’d say right in the middle of the scale qualifies for the use of that word.

  • avatar

    By definition, the top 3 results are at the top end of the bell curve. They aren’t close to the average, and they may be statistical outliers.

    In other words, most people probably won’t get 75-80 mpg often enough for it to impact the average performance of the car, particularly over longer distances. Just as you shouldn’t attempt to use a short winning streak at a casino to disprove a statistical average, you should also not use a particularly strong or weak one-off MPG performance to reach a general conclusion about the norm.

  • avatar

    Thanks for this article. It confirms my strong suspicion I could easily exceed the EPA numbers with the Prius c. Maximizing off throttle time, coasting, and earliest possible up shifting yields me solid mid 40’s with my 2000 Corolla, and it is rated at 38 highway by the formerly more optimistic EPA regimen in place in 2000.
    I’d guess/hope I could net 60’s routinely with the Prius C.

    • 0 avatar

      From my experience, hybrids do worse than other cars, relative to their EPA ratings. I have a 2010 Prius, and it averaged 47 mph for its first 19,000 miles, against an EPA combined rating of 50. I had a 2004 Jetta TDI wagon, manual transmission, which beat the EPA rating, using the current system, by a lot. I averaged about 44 mpg with the Jetta, for a similar mix of driving as the Prius, and the Jetta’s EPA combined rating using the current system is only 32. I also easily beat the EPA combined number with my manual MINI Cooper, but maybe under better conditions for good mileage than the other cars.

      Still, my Prius, while I don’t beat the EPA numbers, gets very good mileage, but relative to their EPA ratings, my other cars have done better, Of course, I don’t “hypermile.” I just drive it.

  • avatar

    Great article Michael and thank you for another valuable perspective.

    Regardless of the validity of the EPA fuel economy tests, it seems that we Americans want to have our cake and eat it too (and who doesn’t?)

    We all want government out of our lives, but few of us want to take any responsibility for the very important factor in achieving better mileage in any car: THE DRIVER.

    Seems like it’s always someone else’s job; the EPA, the auto manufacturer or oil companies.

    Bottom line is that any car can do much better if driven gently. Tremendous amounts of fuel are routinely wasted daily, especially here in LA, rushing up to red lights, screaming up hills and tearing away from stops.

    Such as waste. This argument of “not my problem” applies to a lot of issues that plague us as a nation. If we or the corporations don’t want more regulation, it is up to us to change our behaviors so that the government does not feel it has to impose it.

    This will piss many people off. So be it.

    • 0 avatar

      The fuel is not wasted. It is being used by people who are driving the way they want, to get where they want to go. They paying for the fuel with money that they earned (assuming they don’t work for the government) by engaging in voluntary exchanges with other people. That’s what free people do.

      It’s not up to us “to change our behaviors so that the government does not feel it has to impose it” but rather it’s up to us to bitch-slap the people in government until they get over the idea that any of this is any of their business.

      • 0 avatar


      • 0 avatar

        Gannet, It is a damn good thing that people did not have your attitude during world war 2. The US won the war because people chose to sacrifice for the good of the country. The attitude that “what I want is more important than anything else” is fairly new. It will also destroy the US. The people of the US have always been connected by a sense of community. That is gone. There has to be a sense of community for the country to function as intended. If people do not see their actions as impacting the community they take the attitude you have. By the way, when you “bitch slap the government”. Who are you going to hit? Are you going to look in the mirror and smack yourself upside the head? The people are the government, not some evil group that needs to be taken down.

        Let me ask you a question, did you ever do anything that was good for the US? Did you serve in the military? Did you run for office? Are you active politically? Or do you just lookout for number one and whine about how you deserve more?

      • 0 avatar

        Seriously Charliej.. seriously?

        You seriously think the reasonable response to..

        “I consider the added cost of fuel for driving in a manner with which I am accustomed to be a reasonable trade-off, and I resent the government trying to make that decision for me.”



      • 0 avatar

        Other people’s children die to protect the oil distribution lanes. Actions have consequences.

    • 0 avatar

      Yep. I agree totally about the personal responsibility. Not only do I see the bad habits you describe, I see people needlessly idling and getting in very long drive thru lines (e.g. 7+ cars in front of them) instead of stopping the car, getting out, and going inside. I live in California and gas is still >$4/gal in most place. The above lunacy was still going on when it was well into the $4/gal range.

      Besides the above, I see an INSANE # of monstrosity class (full-sized SUVs) like Tahoes, Navigators, Suburbans, Yukons and Escalades running around, usually being driven solo or w/minimal cargo and passengers, almost never towing anything.

      I guess gas is too cheap for them.

      I know countless people who can’t be bothered to even measure their mileage, let alone do things to ensure they still get decent mileage (e.g. proper tire inflation or buying lower rolling resistance tires).

      People don’t need to wait the the government to do anything. They can easily go buy a more efficient vehicle.

      Hybrid and plug in take rate per in the US was still only 3%. That means that almost 97% of light vehicles sold in the US are uselessly wasting fuel when idling and throwing away all their car’s kinetic energy as useless heat and brake dust.

      When I tried to point out the issue of personal responsibility in comments at, my comments would get thumbed down. :(

      • 0 avatar

        Most of us won’t be caught dead in a hybrid. Not only does the highway fuel economy of a hybrid only matches my less expensive used Saab 9-5 5-speed, cold weather fuel economy suffers and no towing make a car limited at best. There are just too many hybrid drawbacks to change cars to save a few dollars at the pump when it’s $3.49/gal.

        If I really want to save over the car I spend time on the 70 mpg motorcycle. And that is only $140/mo for 6 months a year.

      • 0 avatar


        But you have the magical super-economy 9-5 that evidently Saab only made one of. In the real world, there is no question that a Prius of any variety is going to use 1/2 the fuel of a 9-5. Note that I am a former 9-5 pilot myself. Heck, if I set the cruise control at 55mph on a flat highway on my pig of a Grand Cherokee it will show 35mpg – for a while….

      • 0 avatar

        Cold weather FE suffers across ALL cars, not just hybrids.

        I haven’t followed Norm’s mythical Saab mileage claims, but I’ll take the word of those who responded.

      • 0 avatar

        NormSV650, the latest surveys I’ve seen indicate a rapid increase of acceptance of hybrids. I don’t think the majority (50%+) of people “would consider” a hybrid right now, but that threshold will be passed very soon. I think the actual number of people who dislike them as much as you suggest is quite small.

      • 0 avatar

        Look at the acceptance of hybrids in Japan, they are well on their way to a 100% hybrid market. Of course, Japan imports all its oil.

  • avatar
    VA Terrapin

    Mike Karesh wrote: So, should special performance dependent upon a modified driving style count? Or, in the interest of fairness and prevailing social norms, should a car only be evaluated when driven “normally”?

    I’m not sure what the point of these questions are. If cars only counted when based on “fairness and prevailing social norms,” cars won’t count when exceeding 80 MPH or going 0-60 under 9 seconds. Driving a car on a street like you’re driving it balls out on a track can get you lots of angry stares from civilians and arrested by the cops. You can even get your car confiscated.

    Why does the Prius and Prius C get this special type of contempt compared to other cars that deviate from the norm?

    • 0 avatar

      +1. I really don’t care whether a car should be “recommended”. When did TTAC become Consumer Reports? I like the reviews here because, while they are judgmental, the reviewers are usually very good about presenting the data, and their personal biases, leading to that judgement. So you have to go easy on the brakes on the Prius c? Fine with me, that’s how I drive anyway, because I don’t particularly enjoy doing brake jobs.

      I suspected Toyota got the price on the c down by cheaping out on the battery, and that seems to be the case. And that’s OK, as long as we understand the ramifications. So it’s not the car for everyone. Just like every other car ever made.

      Aside from the existential angst, another great review, Michael!

      • 0 avatar

        I told my neighbor that every time he stepped on the brakes, it was like throwing a dime out the window. One week later, he smacked me upside the head.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    I know some Prius owner who shuts off the a/c while waiting at a light and they turns it on again when traffic starts to move, this way he gets higher than avg mpg’s in hot/humid So Fla

    • 0 avatar

      The current Prii have an “Eco” setting that alters the AC programming as well as the powertrain programming.

      • 0 avatar

        That’s one of the things I find annoying about my Prius. I’d like to have the AC get really cold but still use the eco throttle model. I am a long way from a hyper miler but I like eco mode because it gives a finer level of control when at low speeds so I can move in traffic using electric only more easily.

        My other main gripe is the dash display being unreadable in daylight if you switch the headlights on, which I am required to do for a long stretch of road for safety reasons.

        Otherwise I recommend it unreservedly – it’s a great car. The money I save in gas every month over the Avalon almost pays for itself too, but I do have a very long commute.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Another great “around town” car that I can’t see any compelling reason to own as a primary vehicle.

    • 0 avatar

      Both Prii are absolute perfection in the role they were designed for – delivering amazing fuel economy in heavy stop and go traffic. I imagine the Prius C would be utterly wonderful in LA, ATL, or NYC. Actually I know the Prius is great in ATL as Hertz has given them to me as rentals there twice – the A/C on those things is AMAZING. If you are going long distances across New Mexico, buy a VW TDI. Or a Panther and an oil well. :-)

      Different horses for different courses and all that.

  • avatar

    In answer to the headline, IMHO, no. In order for any sort of comparative results to have any hope of objective consistency, all cars need to be subjected to the same demands in such a test.
    I love this article because it reveals that the real world results support intuition. I have been scratching my head over how could the hundreds of pounds lighter, less powerful, smaller motor Prius C be so close to its bigger brother in EPA tests?

    • 0 avatar

      Same thing obviously puzzled me. The answer appears to be “not enough battery.” So why not fit it with a higher throughput battery? Probably because it’s weight, cost, and fuel economy would get even closer to those of the regular Prius.

  • avatar

    Thank you Michael. Your thorough and positive review has convinced me to take this car off my short list of “unexpected need” next cars. Used Prius standard is still on the list.

  • avatar

    Easily a Prius I would have no problem owning. I have nothing against the other Prii and don’t find them to be satan like most enthuisasts do, but I like this little car, regardless if it was a Prius or not. Interior isn’t bad for the price and the fuel economy is a huge selling point. My dealer hasn’t been able to keep them in stock.

  • avatar

    Great article Michael. I don’t find it surprising that the Japanese ReCoo program reduced accidents so much, as you describe you need to pay attention to driving, particularly what is up the road.

    I think the approach you have taken is spot-on, which is to point out the car’s driving characteristics which can let the reader decide whether it suits them. To refer to your other example, I don’t think anyone would be interested in a test of the Corolla where you only took the car to 4500rpm on the basis that other cars only rev that high. You probably wouldn’t drive the car at 70mpg normally, but the ‘hybrid game’ is an option.

    I think the car itself is still interesting, getting the same mileage as the normal Prius which is still a lot better than other cars in its place, is nothing to sneeze at. Did you get a chance to drive the car in congested stop-go traffic, where most braking would be within the regen range? At the other end of the range I don’t imagine the car would be very suited to the highway even in the 60-70mph range (80mph is licence-toxic out here).

  • avatar

    “Skilled hypermilers learn to constantly scan far down the road.
    One unexpected byproduct of this driving style: safety benefits even more than fuel economy.”

    Show of hands please. Who here was taught that paying attention farther ahead than the end of your hood is how you’re supposed to do it, and that the “safety benefit” is not an “unexpected byproduct”, but is in fact the whole point? I’m guessing the answers will skew heavily toward early middle-aged and older, as actual “plan ahead” driving training seems to be utterly absent in every yournger driver I find myself talking to.

    • 0 avatar

      Bingo. 30 years ago, went to traffic school after getting my second ticket. The CHP officer who taught the class challenged us to take our foot off the gas when the car two vehicles ahead showed brake lights, without using our brakes. Been doing that ever since, and I just about never have to brake on the highway, no matter how bad traffic is.

      • 0 avatar

        I tend to touch my brakes very lightly in that situation just because I assume the guy behind me ISN’T paying attention and needs to see MY brake lights.

  • avatar

    Let me preface this by saying that I’ve consistently been a Prius-basher for just about everyone that buys one. Since their introduction. In fact I’ve bashed hybrids pretty consistently and never even considered one, albeit a brief consideration of a Escape Hybrid (then I drove it). For most I feel/felt that a used Civic HX, biodiesel powered vehicle or some other car could get comparable mileage for much less negative environmental impact (from the batteries). I’d go so far as to say I was a hater. That said.

    I may actually buy my wife a Prius C for her next vehicle.

    When they were introduced I thought “oh great, a hybrid Yaris that they’ll double the price on”. Yet, not so much. I’ve been eyeing them and it sounds like if driven properly, they’ll return some stellar numbers for the price of a loaded up Elantra. We’re looking at Sonatas and Outbacks, which are great but. We have three kids and for the majority of the time, it’s going to by my wife and the kids in this vehicle. My vehicle is a low mileage V8 powered 4 wheel drive Quad Cab Dodge Dakota. Mostly I drive my Surly Long Haul Trucker bicycle, however.

    What I’m getting at is, the original Prius for us didn’t make sense. It was smaller and more expensive than everything else we are looking at while having the only benefit of getting better mileage, which becomes lightly relevant considering wifey only puts on 15k/yr. A family friend has one and my wife didn’t “get” it either. Smaller, more expensive, less powerful for.. ?

    The c, however, changes things. Now we’re at about the same price as the Sonata for something that gets better mileage and meets all the needs. Sure, the Sonata will definitely be more comfortable and fun to drive. Yet my wife’s favorite car ever was her ’99 Escort SE wagon that she had when we got together, because “I felt like I was close to the kids, and I never went to the gas pump”.

    In summary, I can’t believe I’m seriously considering a Prius – but I am. This thing makes complete sense, finally.

  • avatar

    I wonder who these hypermilers are, and why none of them live in southern California. Every Prius I’ve seen was tailgating me, waiting for a chance to pass me at 15 mph over the limit. Most of the drivers are female 20/30-somethings just like the one ones who did the same thing in Toyotas and Hondas. I’m sure many Prius drivers are looking for fuel economy, but the majority under 40 apparently bought them for eco street cred and drive them in an impatient, get out of my way manner, because their time is so important and they have places to go and things to do. For real slow driving, look for a 55+ driver of a shiny ten year old car with no dents.

  • avatar

    I use my Prius for all manner of hauling. I average 15,000 miles per year. I have people to see and sh…”stuff” to do. I will run out of life expectancy before the world runs out of oil.

    Therefore, I drive directly and .. yes, quickly. This article was right to bring up mileage aspects of the Prius C, but it should be known that people buy hybrids for any number of reasons. For example, I wanted to have more freedom.

    I define freedom as having more room in the car, being able to go 500 miles on a tank of gas if I need to, and being able to count on my car to be ready when I am. I did not buy my car so that I could become “that guy” who blocks traffic.

    And, with all due respect…

    What’s with all the whining about fast Prius drivers? When I bought mine 8 years ago, I kept hearing complaints that as a group, we drive too slowly.

    That is, when I wasn’t hearing complaints that as a group, we don’t appreciate our own cars because we drive too fast, and why oh why would we buy a Prius and then not drive to maximise mileage?

    [SARCASM]Oh woe with shame is me![/SARCASM]

    Yes, I’m one of those who’ll pass your @ss in a moment’s notice. Driving slow in the left lane? Yes! Yakking away on your cell phone? Yes! If you’re in front of me with a minivan or an SUV, blocking my view of the road or the sky? Yep! Got the donut tire on the front driver’s side…for the 4th day this week? Oh yeah, I’m passing you as soon as I have an opportunity, and that’s just how it’s gonna be.

    In my Prius. With the radio blasting and the AC set to 73. And while I’m doing it, I’m STILL burning less fuel than you! I did not see this mentioned in the article above (that I can do all this and STILL save fuel), so the car is doing its job.

    My observation is the same now as it was 130,000 miles ago in 2004. On the road, nobody’s happy with the Prius or its drivers EXCEPT the Prius drivers, fast or slow.

    I think everybody’ll get along better if we all get used to the idea that you’ll be reading my license plate more often than I’ll be reading yours!

    Lest you think I’m dangerous, or if you’re just wondering which one I am, I’m the one who was NOT talking on the cell phone while passing you. And I used my turn signals so that you knew my intent. Immediately upon passing you, I moved over to let EVEN FASTER traffic pass me on the left. After moving over (now in front of you), I maintained my passing speed to put safe distance between you and I so that you would not have to step on your brakes.

    Even with the points made in the article and comments above, I would definitely be interested in a Prius C. But for now, I need the size of the “classic” Prius.

    • 0 avatar

      Your just being smug.

      Kyle and his family are moving to San Francisco. The only way Stan can get his best friend back is to convince everyone to start driving hybrid cars. Just as everyone starts to feel really good about what they’re doing for the environment, scientists discover a stormy, dark mass accumulating over the town.

    • 0 avatar

      Great post, ZoomZoom. You are pretty much describing me, another Prius Classic driver who “makes good time,” but is conscientious about the task of driving.

      People who say “why is that Prius passing me? I thought people bought those things to save gas” just don’t get it. A Prius gets better mileage than about anything else out there, no matter what. I like that.

  • avatar

    I’m eagerly waiting for capacitors to be incorporated into hybrids/EVs to handle quick charge/discharge/high frequency duties. A capacitor in this car would likely fix the low brake regeneration limit.

    Similarly, if an EV used a capacitor for some of its energy storage, that portion could be charged quite quickly which could dramatically improve one of EV’s glaring shortcomings.

  • avatar
    Tree Trunk

    You have to drive a Prius a special way to get the best out of it, what can I say but welcome to the club!

    Want to get the best acceleration out of your Ferrari,the offroad performance from your Wrangler, towing from your diesel truck etc. well you better pay attention to what you are doing.

    All those vehicles as well as the Prius will do their job OK if driven without much care or attention, but a knowledgeable driver that is paying attention will enjoy superior performance.

    Our Prius will gets about 45MPG if driven without any attention to the mileage 55MPG with a little care and up from there if driven thoughtfully.

    Seems a little wired at an enthusiast website that people are complaining about having to pay a little care to what they are doing behind the wheel to get the best out of their machine…

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly my point, Tree Trunk. For fair comparisons magazines and the EPA must drive each car the same way. But specialized vehicles typically performed best when driving in a special way.

      Hybrids maximize what they’re good at (even more than other cars) when driven with a light foot, especially on the brake.

      Cars like the S2000, RX-8, FR-S, and the old Corolla GT-S require that you keep revs much higher than in the average car. People unwilling to modify their driving style regularly write these cars off as weak.

      CR routinely pans the Wrangler because of its on-road performance. And they’re right in that the Wrangler shouldn’t be bought by people who are simply looking for transportation any more than a Lotus Elise should. But evaluate all vehicles off-road, and it’d fare better.

      Ultimately, the problem is that buying the right car and getting the most out of it requires more mental effort than most people care to expend.

  • avatar

    great article. go easy in any car and you’ll get good results. just means you’ll piss a lot of people off. i drove all gentle like in my 06 civic and achieved 5.5L /100kms by sticking to the speed limits (or below) and doing mostly highway miles on a recent trip. transports were passing me. old ladies in tempos were passing me. but I hit my target and will go back out there again and surpass it.

  • avatar

    Can’t resist adding to all of this talk about braking with the Prius. Minimizing brake use is imperative to city MPG’s. I could imagine driving one and never using the friction brakes. Oozing around in Denver traffic, (after all it oozes in any case due to traffic volume) it is amazing how much the use of brakes can be minimized. Any use of brakes equals use of fuel. As to “pissing other drivers off”, I feel bad about that, but being angry is their choice. I only “impede” others when there is a red light ahead and I am coasting. Something about the ever gradual deceleration really makes an occasional driver very uncomfortable. They are free to move left, accelerate and then use their brakes hard to get to the red light and stop. It is amusing how many do just that. IMHO, they are driving with their hearts, not their head.
    It is also amusing that a factor like battery charge/discharge through put could have such a profound skewing of results on a proscribed testing regimen.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve noticed the same behavior very often. Many people rush to get to a light that is already red. This even though, if the light is already red (or will clearly be red before you can get there), it can actually be faster to glide slowly up to it–it might then change to green before you’re at a dead stop.

      • 0 avatar

        Well, I don’t hypermile… but I do use common sense. There’s no point charging a light that will be red when you get there.

        I do check the mirrors and all to be sure I won’t prevent somebody from reaching the left-turn only lane before that light goes green. After all, what good does it do to save a teacup of fuel if I cost someone else two teacups? And drive them slightly crazy?

  • avatar

    Wow. So you’re saying people are made to buy an overpriced smugmobile that must be driven with more attention paid to it than the bus from the movie “Speed” in order to come anywhere near the MPG anyone with a TDI Jetta can achieve any day of the week? Why would anyone do this to themselves? Unless you’re the kind of masochist that gets off on denying their base urges like excitement and replacing that surprise and delight with driving around very slowly, looking like a tool, and boring everyone you know to death by regurgitating efficiency figures around the dinner table. Talk about living by the seat of your pants!

    I drive a 2012 Rav-4 V6 4WD Sport that hauls ass, puts a smile on my face, and gets me 30 MPG. How about that?

    • 0 avatar

      Jetta TDIs typically have an MPG in the low 40s:

      Even driven “normally” a Prius c does about 10 MPG better. Driven with a lot of attention paid to it it’ll do 20-35 MPG better. Not even close.

    • 0 avatar

      Take a look at and see the real world mpgs and fill-ups for the cars in question. TDI Jetta average mpg is 38.6. Prius c average mpg is 52.6. This is over multiple cars, multiple fills, multiple geographical areas, yada yada! It is easy to generalize anything. Why let facts get in the way of a good rant!

      Does the phrase “different strokes for different folks” mean anything to you? You probably do have base urges that are met by your car, but not everyone does. People who drive hybrids do so for various reasons. Not the least of which is the smile on their face every time they pay for gas! Different strokes for different folks.

      • 0 avatar

        Better data than just a few months of a new car should be used to compared. Later models in comparison the better.

        A new tdi did travel from TX to DC getting 80+ mpg recently. But they are hypermilers and know all the tricks of the highway.

  • avatar

    No. I can hypermile the Land Cruiser (except the braking bit) and do much better than the advertised 12MPG. Same holds true for any car. I generally get over 30 in my Miata driving it “nice”. I wish we could come up with a better way to test.

  • avatar

    I’ve looked and and driven a friend’s Prius C (“Three”) and found it to be an entirely acceptable commuter car, which is not something I could have said about the original Prius.

    The C drives more like a (REALLY slow) normal car than like a science project, which makes it more attractive to me. The fact that it’s also more attractive is also attractive to me. (C what I did there?)

    I wouldn’t buy one, but I can easily understand why many will.

  • avatar

    “If a car achieves much better numbers only when driven in a special way, does it count?”

    I’m having a hard time understanding what this is about. What “special needs” and what “allowances?”

    If I look at Fuelly, the average MPG returned by Prius C owners is a touch over 52mpg. Beats the EPA estimates. Where’s the problem? Where’s the “special needs?” Toyota, as far as I can tell, doesn’t say anything about “60mpg in regular use,” so there’s no foul there.

    Now, if one was asking the question, which I haven’t seen asked, “what car is best for hypermiling?” then the answer is “how do you score “good” hypermiling? Getting a 50mpg car to do 70 is good, I suppose. But is getting a 30mpg car to score 50 “better?” What would your base be? The EPA estimates or what real people get?

  • avatar

    Probably the best reason for buying the C is the prospect of getting a really good trade in value when and if gas hits $5. I remember seeing Geo Metro’s on dealer used car lots when it last looked like it was going to hit $5. A used C might even sell over invoice if gas goes to $5.50

  • avatar

    I own a Prius “c” and based on my own experience, I have to say the review is fairly accurate. It certainly has caused me to alter my driving style, to spend as much time in electric mode as possible. I now drive slower than I did in the past, much closer to the speed limit. When pulling away from a stop light, generally I do one of two things, either I accelerate in electric mode (so very slowly) or (particularly if there is someone behind me) I accelerate “firmly” (not quite briskly but faster than slowly) and then when I reach a point close the speed limit I lift off (or feather) the gas pedal and let the car slip into electric mode. This is somewhat terrain dependent, easier to do when going downhill or when it is flat.

    So I do get the best mileage in either stop and go heavy traffic, or late at night when the streets are nearly empty and I can tool along in a right lane 10 mph slower than the speed limit. I am using the particular eco monitor that shows you your mileage dynamically for each time you start the engine and drive. I often get higher than 53 mpg; I think the highest I have gotten is 60mpg.

    The one thing I question about the review is its view of braking. I remember when we first started hearing about hybrid about twelve years ago, the energy recovery was characterized as regenerative braking. Now, my personal experience with hybrids has been that I seem to recharge the battery mostly when I am engine braking (lifting off the gas pedal bun not having applied the brakes). But I certainly notice that when I apply the brakes on the Prius c it is still recharging the hybrid battery. Isn’t that part of how hybrids are supposed to work, the electric motor spinning in reverse or some such thing, to generate electricity (not using brake pads or drums to generate waste heat, etc).

  • avatar

    With hybrids, at least Toyota hybrids, you get some regenerative braking, and thus, battery charging, when you let off the “gas.” I suspect they come up with an algorithm to make it “feel” similar to engine braking with a regular car. Then, when you step in the brake, you get more regen braking, and if you brake hard, you also have friction braking. Friction braking is used to get the car to a complete stop from low speed.

    When you put a Prius shifter in “B,” I’m pretty sure you are NOT getting additional regenerative braking. That mode operates by basically “shorting” the output of the motor-generator connected to the power splitter, and is intended to provide engine braking of the old fashioned variety, when the battery is fully charged from descending a long grade.

  • avatar
    V owner

    For what it’s worth: Bought a Prius V (5) in November ’11. Fuel economy average is 45.39 as shown below, high tank was 53 and low was 42 in the coldest part of the winter.
    The hybrid system takes a few minutes to fully warm up, so this hybrid’s mpg’s suffer when I just run down to the store and back, a longer run returns better mpg.
    It feels like a large car when driven, has plenty of carrying capacity. The Prius C sounds like an intriguing auto as does the upcoming Ford C Max, but we can’t own em all!
    Date Miles Run Gallons MPG

    1/30/2012 230 5.3 43.40
    2/10/2012 248 5.8 42.76
    2/28/2012 257 6.1 42.13
    3/9/2012 304 7.185 42.31
    3/15/2012 300 7.15 41.96
    3/27/2012 311 6.899 45.08
    4/11/2012 373 8.1 46.05
    4/25/2012 400 8.64 46.30
    5/11/2012 443 9.383 47.21
    5/19/2012 416 9.69 42.93
    6/4/2012 473 8.852 53.43
    6/15/2012 522 10.517 49.63
    6/25/2012 463 9.868 46.92

    Cumulative Average 45.39

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