2018 Toyota Prius C Review - An Unappetizing Value Choice

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey

Toyota likes to brag about its Prius “family.” Well, if the various Prii are grouped as such, the C may just be the black sheep.

Not the rebellious black sheep, but rather the underachieving kind. The kid with promise that went unfulfilled. Nice enough, at least makes an effort – but doesn’t quite have what it takes, nor has the ability to figure it out.

Take the 2018 version. Affording it a mild style update and new standard safety features isn’t enough to make up for the car’s shortcomings.

There will be those who say “well, it’s cheap and it’s fuel-efficient, so who cares if it’s not refined? You get what you pay for.” To which I say: Bollocks. There are plenty of cheap cars done well on the market, and you can get similar fuel efficiency from other hybrids for just a few grand more. You can also find fuel-sipping ICE cars for less money, although none match the EPA ratings of the Prius C.

So yeah, you may have to spend a little more on the sticker price and/or may not get fuel economy that’s quite as good, but perhaps that’s the price to pay for not being stuck for several years of payments on this little car.

You get what you pay for, indeed – here, it’s frustration from virtually all aspects. Acceleration is slow even by subcompact standards, as well as by hybrid standards. You’ll get there, eventually, but maybe not today. What’s your hurry, anyway?

The noises made by the hybrid powertrain are buzzy and not well suppressed. The ride is stiff.

There’s some good here, but not much. The steering has a nice heft, and the C is a little more tossable in a corner than it should be, although it’s still not something you’d ever want to autocross. Leave it to urban cornering and be happy.

The materials feel nice enough for the price point – Toyota has generally done well at making interiors in cheap cars feel acceptable, if not upscale. On the other hand, the infotainment system is outdated, as I’ve noticed in other recent Toyotas.

Headroom and legroom were acceptable up front and tolerable out back, and I appreciate hatchback utility.

I know I’m being harsh, but it’s not just that Toyota built a cheap car without working all that hard on making it feel less cheap – something the company has done well at times. It’s that for about $3K more (base), you can get the big-boy Prius, which has a nicer interior (in terms of materials, if not design), better top fuel economy numbers, and a better/quieter ride.

Another point to consider – my tester was a top-trim Four model, and with just two options plus fees, it rang the register at $26,293. That’s more than the base price for the three lowest-trim Priuses/Prii. Yes, it’s true a loaded Prius will hop over the $30K mark, but if you’re able and willing to layout $26K for the top-trim C, would the extra four grand over a few years be a deal breaker?

Even if it is, you’re still not really getting a “cheap” car, unless you go for the lower trim.

In addition to the 1.5-liter four-cylinder that pairs with the electric motor for 99 total horsepower, the Prius C has an electronic continuously variable automatic transmission. My test car came with 15-inch wheels, LED headlights, LED fog lamps, LED taillights, power moonroof, heated exterior mirrors, rear spoiler, automatic climate control, navigation, Bluetooth, cruise control, automatic climate control, USB, satellite radio, and heated front seats. Body side moldings ($209) and carpeted floor and cargo mats ($224) were the only options.

One shouldn’t sneeze at the 48 mpg city/43 mpg highway EPA numbers, but the C just requires too much giving in to mediocrity. The value shopper and the green car buyer both can do better. So, too, can the shopper looking for hatchback utility.

Sometimes the family “loser” gets it together, and there’s always the hope that the next C shows improvement. For now, however, the C is the one that causes its big siblings to look down at the ground when its name comes up.

[Images © 2018 Tim Healey/TTAC]

Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

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3 of 54 comments
  • Akear Akear on Jun 15, 2018

    Can Toyota do no wrong?

  • Road_pizza Road_pizza on Jun 19, 2018

    "It’s that for about $3K more (base), you can get the big-boy Prius, which has a nicer interior (in terms of materials, if not design), better top fuel economy numbers, and a better/quieter ride." And for about $3K more you can get what is BY FAR the ugliest abomination ever foisted upon an unsuspecting public, a vehicle that should be banned from the highways for being so hideous that it makes little children (and some adults) cry uncontrollably. Whomever styled the current Prius (and the person/persons that signed off on it) should be tried for crimes against humanity. It's that ugly.

    • Ttacgreg Ttacgreg on Jun 24, 2018

      Nice rant, and I get it. The oncoming view is growing on me because I have always liked squinty headlights on a pointy front end, but the rear is just whackadoodle awkward. Gag. That said, much to my surprise., I have gotten genuine compliments from people who like the looks of my '16 I consider to be like a bulldog. Ugly outside but still fun to own.

  • MaintenanceCosts If you trust that Tesla vehicles are capable of "Full Self-Driving," then maybe you should also trust that this is surface contamination and that the underlying metal is unaffected.(Although it's also worth mentioning that surface contamination comes off traditionally painted cars with a sponge and a little soap.)
  • Ajla They are expecting flat sales?!
  • Honda1 Losing 45k per vehicle! This company won't be around to release the R2. Put a fork in it!
  • Zipper69 Alternatively, get cousin Goober in the back seat going "VROOM, VROOM"
  • John The answer is to wipe it off? I don't recall ever having to "wife off rust" in any car I've ever owned. Well... once a year claybar for rail dust maybe.