Is the Toyota Prius C Better Left in Japan?

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
is the toyota prius c better left in japan

While the Toyota Prius was an inarguable success on the North American market, its smaller sibling really only had a few good years before sales figures started trending in the wrong direction. The Prius C attempted to court urbanites (the C stands for city) by offering the same hybrid concept in a smaller package. Unfortunately, Toyota only managed to move around 13,000 between the United States and Canada in 2017 before its discontinuation the following year — leaving us with the standard Prius and the tongue-twisting Prius Prime Plug-in Hybrid.

But the C has since been revised in its native Japan, where it’s called the Aqua, resulting in a slightly roomier automobile with a new high-output bipolar nickel-hydrogen battery that’s supposed to deliver improved responsiveness and range. Considering the escalation of Western fuel prices, we’re wondering if it’s time for the Prius C to make a comeback in our neck of the woods or if it’s better left to cruise around the tight streets of Tokyo where its success is all but assured as the Aqua.

Toyota is attempting to think long-term with this one and deliver a vehicle that can satisfy economically minded consumers for the next decade. That involved making the Aqua a 2.0-inch longer wheelbase (via the TNGA-B platform) that’s primary goal was creating more interior volume for rear passengers and cargo. Considering the old model couldn’t even store 20 cubic feet of junk without folding down the seats, nixing rear passengers to accommodate for 70 cubic feet, this is likely to be a major win for the model.

But the most important aspect has to be the powertrain and clearly where Toyota put most of its effort. The entire package has been shrunk down using “bipolar electrodes” that effectively allow the cells to be stacked like sardines. This results in a smaller, tightly packed battery that weighs less and can have a charged sent straight through the stack. It also means Toyota could cram in more cells overall.

The manufacturer says this has resulted in a vehicle with 1.5 times the power output of its predecessor, while the use of NiMH batteries allows for more predictable performance in colder climates. Toyota has been one of the few companies that have spoken about battery technologies in a manner I would consider serious, at least when pressed, and has prided itself on advancing hybrid technology since the beginning. Cold-weather performance has been something its engineers have been going on about for years.

While this is less important in a hybrid than an EV, it still makes a difference in overall performance. Toyota is promising the 1.5-liter “Dynamic Force Engine” and an optimized HEV system is capable of returning 35.8 km/L (which translates into an insane 84 mpg) on the more basic model. Though the figure is likely inflated a bit by the nature of Toyota using the WLTC test cycle. The United States’ EPA assessment would undoubtedly yield smaller numbers.

It’s still wildly impressive and shouldn’t come down by much on better equipped Aqua models, which have tried to add more comfort, quietness, and practicality. While packaging would be different for North America, Toyota is adding larger displays, improved interior storage solutions, and an “emergency power supply mode” that effectively turns the car into a generator for pretty much whatever customers need during a blackout or camping trip.

Toyota is also promising more power and smoother acceleration (figures TBA), with the ability to accommodate single-pedal driving. While this is a feature we’ve seen cropping up on EVs, your author has mixed feelings on its true utility. Upping the regenerative qualities of the car is nice and extends the overall range. But the single-pedal mode can also make the vehicle feel like a combustion car that’s stuck in low gear if it’s not done well.

Though that ultimately has no impact on my trying to decide if bringing back the Prius C is a move Toyota should be making. While we already have the Corolla Hybrid, it’s locked into a mid-tier trim and is only about a grand cheaper than the base $24,525 Prius. The Aqua is offering substantially better-claimed efficiencies in a smaller and likely cheaper package (it starts in Japan for under $18,000), making us wonder if it’s time for the Prius C to make a comeback as fuel prices climb and the American economy develops a thousand-yard stare.

[Images: Toyota]

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  • Dukeisduke Dukeisduke on Jul 23, 2021

    I thought the Prius V was a good idea, but I don't know whether they sold many. I used to see them fairly often, but haven't seen one in a while.

  • Airfidget Airfidget on Jul 23, 2021

    I think everyone in the US would choose the corolla hybrid over the prius C. Key differences that I see are 2.0 liter 4 versus 1.5 liter 3 cylinder, and the battery. Let them have the new battery technology in Japan for a few years, get the bugs worked out, then send it over here. I'm fine with that. And I don't think an american is going to go for a 3 cylinder any time soon, unless they don't advertise it. Only bonus to bring it over earlier,the Japanese website says 33.8 / 36 kilometer/liter. 79 to 86 mpg. That's nothing to scoff at. Even if that drops 10 mpg by the time it goes on the EPA circuit, it's a good number.

    • Dmulyadi Dmulyadi on Jul 24, 2021

      Since bigger car like RAV4 hybrid can reach 40mpg then the smaller car must be able to reach more than 60 mpg. If it can get 70+mpg it should sell well for a commuter car remember many ppl still avoiding subway and buses in many metro cities. Small enough to fit folks in HOV lanes and easy to park in tight spots plus with higher till prices nowadays saving fuel here there could help save for retirement.

  • Sgeffe Honda should breathe a sigh of relief! This makes the decimation of the Cam..”Accord”..look like a bathroom accident! Funny thing, as was pointed out, that apparently mirroring the user’s phone wasn’t the be-all end-all! What a disgrace! 😂
  • Wayne no one ever accused Mary Teresa Barra of being smart
  • Mike1041 I’m sure that it’s cheaper to install a Google system than pay for Apple and android. Simple cost reduction with all the pr crap to make the user think it’s better
  • MKizzy A highly visible steering wheel lock is the best deterrent when the H/K thieves are amateurs looking for a joyride. The software fix may be effective in keeping an H/K car where you parked it, but I doubt most wannabe kia boyz will bother checking for the extra window sticker before destroying the window and steering column. Also, I guarantee enough H/K drivers won't bother getting either the software fix or a steering column lock to keep these cars popular theft targets for years to come. Therefore, any current H/K owners using a steering column lock should consider continuing to do so for the long term.
  • Jack For me, this would be a reason for rejection if considering a purchase of one of these overgrown golf carts.