By on June 14, 2018

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.

2018 Toyota Prius C

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 On the other hand, the infotainment system is outdated, as I’ve noticed in other recent Toyotas.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.

2018 Toyota Prius C

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.

2018 Toyota Prius C

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]

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54 Comments on “2018 Toyota Prius C Review – An Unappetizing Value Choice...”


  • avatar
    Carroll Prescott

    It isn’t like the other Prius models are known for not feeling cheap; a coworker of mine has a V model and it reeks of cheap plastics on the interior.

    • 0 avatar
      roger olson

      I have owned my Prius C 4 2015 since March. LOVE this car and I get new cars every 4 to 5 years. I am 56yo. I live in Seattle and am one of those drivers that likes getting from point a to point b without site seeing like most drivers do. This car has zip and I have to zip around cars all day that are sports cars. I like the MPG and the fact it is fun to drive. All my other cars were clutch so had to do some adjusting. I find the larger Prius makes super UGLY. I like small compact cars. Not over weight and not looking for any sort of extension of my manhood. I decided to get a used one because it was over $10K cheaper than brand new and it only had 18K miles on it. It also was a leased car so was taken care of. Normally I buy brand new and only 2 door so these were other changes I had to accept. It was one of the best car purchases I have ever made. My mechanic said the running joke in there shop is if all cars were prius they’d be out of business. Going to work in heavy traffic I get between 52 to 56mpg. I do not have Eco mode on. It is a wonderful car.

  • avatar
    "scarey"

    This car even looks sad. C’mon CEE- TURN THAT FROWN UPSIDE-DOWN !

  • avatar
    mmreeses

    if you live in a city, $26,000 buys lots of door-to-door, no walking from the parking garage, waiting for the valet, Uber rides.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    Best looking Prius.

    But, that’s like having the best terminal disease, still not much to brag about.

    • 0 avatar
      TwoBelugas

      YEP!

      Does the author of this article remember what the current new main line Prius looks like?

      It’s almost as if Toyota is using any method they can trying to discourage people from buying their Japanese built hybrids with more technology that eats into the profit margin, and push them toward the more profitable NAFTA built utilities or something. They certainly made the regular Prius ugly as sin.

  • avatar
    thekevinmonster

    I am just about done with a three year lease on one of these. (I will not tell you that I traded a GTi for it. Oops.)

    Pros:
    – can park it inside other cars
    – extremely maneuverable
    – surprisingly can carry four adult humans without them ending their friendship
    – fits a lot of stuff considering how tiny it is
    – eCVT is extremely smooth
    – 47mpg average all the time.

    Cons:
    – driving experience is basically, it’s a car that drives
    – very noisy (you can hear the brake pump, the pwm whine in the motor, the whirr of the generator, the noise of the air conditioning coolant moving around l)
    – the base infotainment is reliable but quirky
    – suspension is crashy and bobby and loud
    – tires are garbage and make noise turning at any speed
    – too expensive for what you get (a Yaris hatchback with a small version of the Toyota hsd powertrain).

    Conclusion: I’m getting a Mazda for my next car.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheatridger

      Last year I drove a GTI too- a Mk V! But I love my C-max no less. None of your cons apply to the Ford, and it matches all your Pros except parking ability, since it’s a larger class of car. Believe it or not, it loses little to the GTI in everyday driving. Extreme handling isn’t really there, not neither is the road noise.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        Well, the factory C-Max tires are garbage, with the grip and ride of bowling balls. Too bad that it’s just not worth the money to replace them on a low-mile leased car.

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus

          It wouldn’t be hard to find a set of take-offs from a Fusion or Focus, same lug pattern (as well as newer Escape and Edge). They could then be removed and resold once the lease is over.

          I paid $100 for a set of 17″ wheels from a 2017 Focus SEL with no tires. Got a set of decent tires off TireRack for less than $400. So far, I really like them on my Taurus. They’re not exactly the style I’d choose, but for the price, it was impossible to beat. It drives well, even in a southern-style downpour.

        • 0 avatar
          Wheatridger

          On my 2017, the factory Michelins give a wonderfully smooth ride, and they’re quiet, too. More grip would probably be asking too much. But the Ford’s leather seats don’t have any grip at all and not much side bolstering, either. Before they’re letting go, I’m bracing myself against the dead pedal and the door. It’s no fun, and the car isn’t a GTI. It’s a much taller and heavier car. But it’s a sad fact that 90% of my miles are done on straight roads laid out by the compass needle, so I don’t know what I’m missing.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          Well the Energy Saver A/S is a plain A/S tire in long lasting LRR form. Personally I think they are the best in their class. But I compare them to other tires in their class and realize that they are not a Touring, High Performance or Ultra High Performance tire and they are designed with Low Rolling Resistance and long long tread life as top priorities.

          I bought our C-Max used and it came with almost new Bridgestone LRR A/S tires, now those are pure garbage. The smallest amount of moisture on the roads and the traction control couldn’t keep them under control. So in less than 100 miles it got a set of UHP A/S tires and low and behold the traction control can keep them under control with a little brake application instead of cutting all the power.

          For me spending a few dollars on quality tires is money well spent and would rather have grip and steering response over fuel efficiency or a super long tread life.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Is Toyota’s press fleet literally going to make you review every vehicle they make before giving TTAC a Camry XSE V6?

  • avatar

    Toyota is laughing their way to the bank. You get to do that when you are the world’s largest car maker. A few negative review do little or no damage.

    Actually, I like this new toned-down grill.

    Like Apple Toyota is a company firing on all cyclinders.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Yep, the Tundra is really killing it. Worlds best selling vehicle and all. Oh, wait, that’s Ford that has that. But, we need to start a death watch for them.

  • avatar
    StudeDude

    If it has to be a small subcompact Toyota, the Yaris IA (Mazda2) looks to be the best choice for a good overall car that isn’t a total penalty box. And, it’s easy on the pocketbook.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    The best argument against a stripped Prius C is a CPO 2015 Prius, 3rd gen, before they got ugly.

  • avatar
    deanst

    This only makes sense as a base model for someone who drives 50,000 miles a year in the city – perhaps dominos can use them as their next ultimate pizza delivery vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      npaladin2000

      Not the worst idea in the world. They could do some good fleet sales to city takeout delivery services.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      I’ve thought the real utility of the Prius is lost on consumers; these would make a great delivery vehicles for all kinds of businesses. In other parts of the country lots of livery services use these, which I think is a great application. Where I live, in Western Michigan, there have been very few used as taxis which I find puzzling. I guess used minivans are the value proposition.

      These cars never would have gained critical mass if it weren’t for the California government allowing them to use the carpool lane with solo drivers. That was in complete opposition to their being able to crawl in traffic with the other cars, they would have a mileage advantage in traffic…

    • 0 avatar
      SSJeep

      This model is an Uber / Lyft drivers dream.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    The days of the fuel sipping penalty box are dead and gone.

    Prius brand should be moving the other way. Maybe I am just weird, but I like the idea of performance + luxury + fuel efficiency. Prius buyers are generally well heeled, sounds like easy margin + volume to me.

    • 0 avatar
      Nick_515

      So go the C-Max route?

      • 0 avatar
        Wheatridger

        While you still can, yes. New 2017 plug-in models are probably gone. That’s too bad- I received a combined $9007 tax credit for buying one. There might be a few conventional hybrids (that’s a concept!) left, plus plenty of used cars.

        My C-Max rides smoothly, like the almost two-ton vehicle it is. Its road manners resemble a fat Focus, which is what it is, essentially. Steering is weight, quick and precise. It even rides on the same tire size as my GTI! With double-sealed doors and an “acoustic windshield,” it’s the quietest car I’ve ever owned. This time of year, I especially enjoy a powerful USA- style air conditioner.

        If you can get past the styling and the obscurity of it, the C-Max is a great car.

        • 0 avatar
          Nick_515

          Wheatridger… I actually need a car come August, and the C-Max has my interest. I am interested only in the hybrid models (40 mpg lifetime is all I need). 2014-2015s under 50 thousand miles are somewhere at the $10-$15k mark even at dealers. And powertrain is under Ford warranty for 8 years/100,000 miles. Any further advice?

          Brand new 2017 hybrid SE is nearly $20k at my dealer, though SELs are nicer, and I can’t spend that much, so looking used.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            The C-Max is a good little car. The Energi version gives up too much of the already small cargo area for me. Used however they are the same price for a nicer car than the Hybrid version.

            We are 10K miles into our 2013 SE that I picked up after my wife wrecked her Escape. Ours started its life as deep undercover vehicle for the state Department of Corrections.

            If maximum MPG isn’t your primary concern I’d recommend switching to a UHP A/S tire over the LRR touring tires to up the handling quotient.

            The two complaints are; The wiper switch on the RH stalk messes with me, both because it is over there instead of on the TS switch like every other Ford I’ve had in the last 20+ years and that adjusting the delay is a pain. The other is the seat height adjustment being a lot of pumping on a lever, which would not be a problem on the SEL or if my wife and I didn’t switch off who’s driving it.

            Otherwise no reason to not recommend one if a small wagon works for you.

          • 0 avatar
            Wheatridger

            My first advice is to check the fordcmaxforum. Notice the unusual lack of comments about the usual problems. There’s no subforum at all about engine issues, which coming from places like TDIforum, is truly amazing to me! There’s also no discussions of modifications, performance or otherwise. The brief summary of reliability reports is this: stay away from the first-year 2013s; don’t worry about the rest. C-Max owners seem remarkably content, overall.

            Last year, I helped my daughter buy a 2014 SEL Hybrid with 40k miles. It’s her first car, and she’s out of state, so I needed to trust the C-Max not to give her problems. So far, she’s had no trouble with it. A little later, I bought my 2017 Titanium with everything but sunroof. It’s an odd option, only of use to back seat riders since it sits back and doesn’t open. And the shade rolls open from front to back, truly odd.

            I’d urge you to stretch for an SEL trim. The power seats give a much greater range of adjustment than the cloth high chair feel of the SE. You’ll enjoy he bigger dash screen and the Sony stereo every day. This is my first dash touchscreen, and I’ve dreaded the thought, but this one is sharp, vivid and easy to read in bright daylight. (Why doesn’t every maker put a little sunshade over the screen, and a place to rest your palm while you use it?)

            See if you can get the parking radar, too, with front sensors. It’s a quirk of the stubby styling that the C-Max seems three feet longer than it is.

            I’m glad I got the Energi model. I’m getting 66 mpg in mixed driving, using nightly 110V recharges at home. My fuel cost works out to less than five cents per mile, which feels like a raise. But you lose about half your trunk space to the battery, so I’d probably choose differently if there wasn’t a larger car in the household.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        No, I was thinking something like the regular Prius with the 200HP Synergy Drive powertrain (and if possible a conventional stepped transmission). Maybe some folks don’t care but I imagine CVT drone is a big turn off in a higher end car. Then again I didn’t mind it in the Maxima…

    • 0 avatar
      road_pizza

      That was the Lexus CT200h and we all know how that worked out.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    This is the red-headed stepchild of the Prius family. “Honey, remember that time I went to Hilton Head for my sister’s bachelorette party?”

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      “Stepchild” is the key word here. This car isn’t a blood relative of the real Prius. It’s a branding exercise that consists of sticking a hybrid drivetrain into a Yaris and sticking different badges on the result, so it benefits from the brand halo of the real Prius.

      This thing does have one big advantage over the Yaris: Japanese manufacture. The Yaris is now assembled in France, not Japan. The Echo at least had bulletproof reliability, but the Yaris has slipped noticeably in the Consumer Reports reliability survey (if not as far as the now Mexican-built Honda Fit).

  • avatar

    I’m not sure why they put a gigantic steering wheel from the Sienna or something in it, it’s way too complicated looking for that simple car.

    Also LOL at 99 horsepower. It bests the Mirage (79) and I guess not much else on offer in these modern horsepower times. Even the Fit has a huge 128 horsepower.

    And finally, they should call this the Prius cUV, and they’d sell more. It has the cladding already, so they’re missing a marketing opportunity.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    I had a girlfriend a few years back who had one of these. Maybe it’s just fun to try out driving other peoples’ cars for a brief time, but I actually liked driving the thing! Unlike most cars (and especially light trucks) on American roads today, this one didn’t seem needlessly enormous for my needs; nor did it “drive enormous” — a true joy in parking lots.

    For a car with an automatic transmission (of sorts), this is the way to go. No wondering if the car will downshift or not; jarring shifting; etc. Coupled with an engine that wasn’t really up to the task of rolling hills made for some fun while driving because planning forward motion in advance became necessary. And the response to mashing the accelerator is always consistent: not much.

    Light, quick, feedback-free steering is a neat novelty, too. Non-stick tires means just a slight bend in the road and you can enjoy playing with dialing in various amounts of front-wheel-squeeling understeer.

    One thing I find surprising, though, is the mediocre fuel economy ratings. In my experience, the onboard computer mileage calculation matched figures calculated at the gas pump. We typically got 45 MPG around town and 55 MPG on the highway. I don’t think I saw a tank of gas that averaged less than 50.

    Between the Prius C and my Cayman S, I concede that a very wide variety of cars can be fun for a while, especially if they are a bit quirky.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    This car is based on Yaris…and has most of its faults.

    Prius C is a Prius…a Toyota…and for non-enthusiasts who are just out of college, just what they are looking for. Why did Toyota put cheap plastic in it? Why did they make it buzzy and gutless? Because they can. It’s called “good business.”

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    I had a ’13 C. The most annoying thing was the harsh ride. My 2000 Corolla with identical curb weight has a far more pleasant and cushy ride on rough roads. For whatever reason, the rock hard ride is a choice Toyota made.
    LIkes: Size and small hatchback design, ability to hold rock steady cruise controlled 65 or 70 mph up the 6000 foot elevation climb from Denver to the Eisenhower tunnel on I-70 with (a little) power to spare, even on the steepest grades. The back seat has more passenger space than the current gen standard Prius (seriously). Oh, and the regen braking pedal response is far smoother than my ’16 Prius.
    Dislikes: rock hard ride and the fact that I got 57 MPG overall versus the 62MPG overall that I am getting with the 500 pound heavier and far more comfortable and powerful 2016 standard Prius I traded it in on.
    If they updated the C’s hybrid tech to their current levels as seen on the Prius and Camry hybrid, the MPG figures for a re-designed C would be crazy good, think 60-80 mpg.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      I feel like short hatches are limited in FE due to aerodynamics. All of the subcompacts seem to get the same (or worse!) gas mileage as their compact brothers, despite being down in weight and power. You look at all the 1.5L Hondas, FE goes Civic > Fit > Accord, and the Fit’s combined rating with the CVT is only 1-2 MPG better than the Accord’s in all metrics. Hell, the Camry LE Hybrid matches the regular Prius in combined FE and I know where I’d rather spend my commuting hours….

      Aside from cost, smaller cars seem to be losing their raison d’être. Compacts are still kind of the sweet spot, but for my money I’m taking the faster, better built, more refined midsizer every time.

  • avatar
    Verbal

    I’ve seen a bumper sticker on a Prius in my neighborhood that reads: “Nice Prius” – Nobody.

  • avatar
    npaladin2000

    “One shouldn’t sneeze at the 48 mpg city/43 mpg highway EPA numbers”

    My Niro gets 51/46. Achoo.

    Seriously, the Prius C has had it’s day. It’s over. There’s other cars out there that are inexpensive alternatives to the Prius. The only way the Prius C makes sense is if you’re looking for the absolute most inexpensive hybrid out there and a Toyota badge means more to you than MPGs. Mic Drop.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheatridger

      Because of the funny way numbers work, the more you raise MPG numbers, the less it matters. Take a 100 mile highway trip in your Niro, and it will consume 1.96 gallons. Meanwhile, the pool soul in a Prius C will consume 2.08 gallons. What’s the difference? Only 12/100th of a gallon. I wouldn’t decide a car choice over that.

      • 0 avatar
        tankinbeans

        A couple weeks ago I took a 360 mile round trip in my Mazda6 and used just under 9.5 gallons which would have been 7.6 in the Niro and 8.4 in the mini-Prius. The law of diminishing returns seems to apply here. I personally don’t sweat it too much.

        City mileage doesn’t hold a candle to the Niro or Prius C mileage being a rated 24 (closer probably to 30 real world), but even then the difference between 30ish and 50 in the grand scheme of things isn’t a big deal 3.3 gallons/100 miles versus 2 gallons/100 miles.

        With that being said, all things being equal I’d take the Niro if my only options were that or the Prius C. The styling is subjectively better to my eyes. Of course the Ioniq is better than both. It’s weird, of the Hyundai/Kia twins Kia used to have the nod in terms of styling, but it’s moving more and more to Hyundai.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        Which is why I prefer the distance per unit of fuel metric. 10, 15, 20, 25 MPG… what’s the big deal, 5 MPG? No, for every 100 miles you’re talking 10, 6.7, 5 and 4 gallons respectively. All of a sudden chasing that next 5 MPG is meaningless.

  • avatar
    brettc

    A local driving school uses the Prius C for its students, so that says it all to me in terms of the purpose of it. It’s a small, slow, reliable Toyota that will get excellent fuel economy.

    The wife and I test drove one several years ago and we found that it couldn’t get out of its own way. But for a basic, fuel efficient car it could work. It seems comparable in terms of power to the ’85 Jetta diesel I had for a couple of years, but the Prius C actually has air conditioning.

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    Ninety-nine total HP? My First C-Max Energi has almost twice that, 195. Very few people know about this, or the car itself, though. It’s a nice combo, 8 sec. 0-60 and 66 electrically-boosted MPG so far.

    • 0 avatar
      jh26036

      Except it has an incredibly weak 20 EV range…which I imagine drops to around 12 when it’s winter.

      • 0 avatar
        Wheatridger

        Electric range is a slippery concept. Of course I go more than 20 miles most days, but every day I drive has a first 20 miles. Times every day of the year, that would make 7,000 miles of EV enjoyment. But I’m surprised to discover that the EV battery doesn’t go to sleep after it’s exhausted. The backup hybrid mode continues to handle low speed acceleration and steady cruising. The engine kicks in and out unobtrusively to handle hills and other demanding pulls. And available battery space allows greater storage from regen braking. Driving from Denver up to the Continental Divide, I might get less than 10 miles from the plug-in battery, but I can recapture another 10 miles of juice from the 10-mile descent down from the pass.

        In winter, heat and defrost lowers my range to 15 or so, but that’s enough for every trip to the grocery, the hardware store, the library, the dispensary… all those local trips you make.

        My daughter drives a C-Max hybrid and gets about 40 mpg. I drive an Energi and get 66 mpg. Somehow. that 20-mile EV range seems to make the difference.

  • avatar
    HahnZahn

    I’ve seen a couple of these out in the wild. I thought the exterior update looked pretty nice, especially in white. Can’t speak to any other qualities about it, though I will say that it’s nice to see a normal shifter in it and the interior layout looks pretty traditional. I use Prii at work sometimes, and I find that stupid shifter and dash layout confounding.

  • avatar

    Can Toyota do no wrong?

  • avatar
    road_pizza

    “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.

    • 0 avatar
      ttacgreg

      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.

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