By on July 22, 2021

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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61 Comments on “Is the Toyota Prius C Better Left in Japan?...”


  • avatar
    ajla

    I think it is hard to make a case for it versus a hybrid Corolla or hybrid Corolla Cross (or hybrid Corolla hatch if Toyota decided to make such a thing).

    Let’s say this Aqua gets 65 MPG on the EPA cycle. At $5.50/gal average *and* driving 15000 mixed miles in a year you’ll be saving about $300 versus the Corolla hybrid. That might get you a few more visits to Red Lobster for the year but I’m not sure if it would be enough to sway someone into a subcompact.

    With the upfront price difference, that’s gets eaten pretty easily in the 84 month loan.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      I think people who would buy this–serious cheapskates– would be smart enough not to go for an 84 month loan. If they can keep the price under 20K in the US, there might be enough penny-pinchers here to make it worth importing. But they can’t be making much profit on these, I probably wouldn’t bother if I ran Toyota.

      • 0 avatar
        dmulyadi

        Yes the big word is cheapskate. If fuel price go up to $5 per gallon most ppl with stop driving their big SUV, trucks, and CUV. They might drive their sedan again but as you know almost all car manufacture in USA stop selling cars and focusing on crossover because of profit.

    • 0 avatar
      dmulyadi

      It’s easy fuel price went up all those silly american going back to small fuel efficient cars. All their lifestyle driving habits all connected to price of gasoline. Yes best EV company came from USA but they still not buying it because too many ppl here to lazy to change or accept new things.

  • avatar
    Greg Hamilton

    I think the real news here is the improved NiMH batteries. They can be used in other Toyota hybrids freeing up available Lithium Ion batteries for Toyota’s pure electric vehicles. The NiMH batteries are cheaper and now take up less space than previous versions. I think this is a good step in the right direction and fits right in with Toyota’s (and Dr. Deming’s) continuous improvement strategy.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      With the cost of nickel, you’d figure a cheaper option would be lithium iron. If they were available in large enough quantities, CATL also has sodium-ion which will be really cheap soon and actually has slightly better gravimetric density than NiMH. As far as cold climate performance goes, if it’s a hybrid it should be really easy to keep the battery warm.

  • avatar
    Lynchenstein

    I always liked the creamsicle color.

  • avatar
    Crosley

    Did anyone ever buy a Prius but were disappointed with the fuel economy or large size and wanted something smaller? Probably not.

    A lot of Prius sales are in that gray area of fleet sales, especially for smaller operations. The cool factor of a Prius is long gone, it’s basically now the equivalent of a white panel van. The smaller size takes away the utility.

    • 0 avatar
      dmulyadi

      I brought used 2005 it’s not a C model it’s was a fleet car cuz it had 300k miles on it. Still have great suspension for new york city pot holes. Great brakes i got a 70 inch plasma display for my buddy with no prob. Average 45 mpg in perfect weather i got almost 50 mpg. Sold it to pizza shop for their delivery car at almost 400k miles. Yeah it’s a great car for real folks who live in real life.

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    I had a 2013 for a while. I really liked it. Its downfall with me was a brittle harsh ride that my 2000 Corolla (almost to the pound equal in weight) put to complete shame. I don’t get what Toyota was thinking.

    This new one looks a lot nicer. That said, would it work in the USA market? Considering the Honda Fit just disappeared from the truck & SUV crazed US market, let’s say it is doubtful.

    • 0 avatar
      Tele Vision

      @ttacgreg

      The only Prius I was ever in was a cab. The ride in the back seat felt like being in a lumber wagon.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        “The only Prius I was ever in was a cab. The ride in the back seat felt like being in a lumber wagon.”

        We owned a Prius for 12 years.

        It was a great car! However, it was an owner’s car, not a driver’s car.

        It got us through the extreme economic vulnerability which came with with being a young family in the 2010s.

  • avatar
    Peter Gazis

    Now every Prius comes with a choice of bumper stickers.
    1. I gave up sex for this.
    2. Virgin Forever

    • 0 avatar
      redapple

      Peter
      Where do you hang out bro? LIB chicks are loose, my man.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        LOL…women of all political stripes like to get it on, last I checked.

      • 0 avatar
        Peter Gazis

        I’m from your future. Where the Prius fell out of fashion a decade ago. Subaru & Tesla are the seem to be the brands of choice among liberal chicks.

        • 0 avatar
          ttacgreg

          As long as this little subthread in to stupidville initiated by Peter’s utterly ridiculous comment, I’ll dive in.

          Beware though, a good many of those Lib Chicks in Subies may be lesbian.

          • 0 avatar
            Peter Gazis

            ttacgreg
            We crossed into stupidville the moment someone suggested bringing back the PriusC. Prius family sales have been dropping since 2013.

          • 0 avatar
            Peter Gazis

            TTACGreg
            Question: How many Prius drivers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
            Answer: No self respecting light bulb would ever allow itself to get screwed by a Prius Driver.

        • 0 avatar
          dmulyadi

          Last time i see Tesla drivers most of them are old white men who could afford it. Subarus mostly young men who love outdoor. They are not expensive but not that cheap too.

      • 0 avatar
        probert

        Have you spoken to a woman since – say – 1968?

      • 0 avatar
        dukeisduke

        When we were looking for the first used car for our oldest daughter, I pointed out a couple of Priuses (Prii?). She said, “Dad, I don’t want a vagina car!” She ended up with a 5-speed 2010 Forte Koup EX (after totaling that, it went to a 2012 Forte Koup SX automatic).

        • 0 avatar
          MRF 95 T-Bird

          About a decade ago there was a survey of folks who purchased the Prius. The results showed that most owners weren’t buying one to make a sociological or political statement they just wanted good fuel economy, a cavernous hatch and Toyota reliability.

          • 0 avatar
            ttacgreg

            I love my 2016 Prius. It really is a remarkable machine even if it is odd looking. Beauty is only skin deep.

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            @ttacgreg: It’s amazing how much storage/hauling space they have with the rear seats down. Cheap to run too. I know people that have them with 200+k miles and they’re still rock-solid reliable.

          • 0 avatar
            Peter Gazis

            mcs
            I’ve met Toyota owners who claim rock solid reliablity even when their car is in the shop getting fixed

          • 0 avatar
            Peter Gazis

            mcs
            I’ve met Toyota owners who claim rock solid reliablity even when their car is in the shop getting fixed

          • 0 avatar
            Peter Gazis

            mcs
            I’ve met Toyota owners who claim rock solid reliablity even when their car is in the shop getting fixed

          • 0 avatar
            Peter Gazis

            mcs
            I’ve met Toyota owners who claim rock solid reliablity even when their car is in the shop getting fixed

    • 0 avatar
      probert

      yup LOL

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      “1. I gave up sex for this.”

      The carseats we had in our Prius told a different story. [shrug]

    • 0 avatar
      ttacgreg

      I am a Prius owner, and since vaccination I’ve been having plenty of intimate good times. Question for you, when I step in to my Miata, am I that same Prius driver, or am I somehow transformed into a different person? Broad brush stereotyping a subset of people because of the vehicle the drive makes zero sense.

      I just long as I’m back on this thread here I’ll toss in this comment. If Toyota marketed this Aqua over here, they would be wise not to tack the radioactive Prius name on it. Even now in a sea of hybrid cars out there, the Prius is on some people’s mental and ideological bull’s-eye.

    • 0 avatar
      dmulyadi

      Lol cuz chick like to inhale diesel fumes yah?? Lol good luck with medical bills in the future. Oh wait if fuel price going up then forget medical bill and just die painfully like a real men. Have fun!!

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Many [electro]mechanical devices develop a ‘personality’ over time. Take a look at the instrument panel in the second picture – this vehicle is definitely not happy at the moment.

  • avatar
    KOKing

    Even if bring it back to the US doesn’t make sense, it’s probably worth it for Toyota to do this new one even if it’s just for the JDM. The Aqua has been a perpetual best seller there (I believe it unseated the Fit for the top spot for several years), and I think the regular Prius is a ‘3-number’ car, so keeping a ‘5-number’ model in the lineup makes sense.

    It makes more sense in the US to coalesce the compact-y non-CUV hybrid around the Prius, and as the RAV4 hybrids seem to be doing well, do the Corolla Cross in hybrid and possibly Prime.

  • avatar
    RHD

    1) Change the name to Prius Aqua. Aqua is a pretty good name for a car.
    2) Re-design the front end. It looks like it’s about to have its wisdom teeth removed. Come on, Toyota, there’s no need for this. And reconsider the rear as well – it’s not very pretty to look at.
    3) Make a mini-truck version. Why not? That segment is wide open, and they might sell surprisingly well.

    Toyota’s engineering will bring them into the lead in electric vehicles, particularly in designing longer-range batteries. They’re not waiting around.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Agreed on all 3 points. The gaping-maw trend can’t die soon enough.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      Toyota had an early lead in hybrids, but they’re behind in EVs.

      I’ve owned a couple of hybrids (Prius, GMC Sierra Hybrid) and I prefer them over automatic transmission ICE vehicles, but I’m eager to move to an EV ASAP.

      Tesla, Nissan, GM, and Hyundai/Kia have all beat Toyota at the EV game. I’ve had great experiences owning Toyotas and they could have my business if they had the product — but my next car is likely to be a Tesla.

  • avatar
    Varezhka

    I liked the last Prius C enough to recommend it to a friend who wanted a Prius but found it too big. That said, it is a bit small for the average American taste and Corolla Hybrid is a better fit for our market.

    I do like the new “generator” mode designed for emergency situation. Probably even more useful in that earthquake prone home market.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      I really wanted to buy a Prius C for my wife’s monster commute in 2016, but it didn’t have the automatic emergency braking. We also looked at a regular Prius, but it was around $40k with the features we wanted.

      She was super-pregnant at the time, and we were all into the safety features. So, we got a Honda Civic + Honda Sensing instead, for $20k. It was, and continues to be, a pretty good value.

      I’d initially considered the Civic as a placeholder to be replaced with a Tesla Model 3/Y, but my wife likes the thing and keeps telling me not to spend money to replace a perfectly good car. I keep telling her to tell me let me know when I can buy her a Tesla. Happy wife, happy life. [shrug]

      I respect the Prius C, but we didn’t buy one when we had the chance. It’s a competitive market — and sometimes perfectly good vehicles languish in the marketplace as a result.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I would like Toyota to introduce a hybrid compact pickup with this battery that would compete with the upcoming Maverick in the same price range. I would buy a Toyota hybrid compact pickup and I believe others would as well.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Drove one of these a couple of years back when my kid and I were shopping for her new car – I’m sure it’d be just fine if you lived in the city, but it was AWFUL to drive anywhere else.

    Even with gas prices being high right now (and who knows where they go from here) I’d still recommend something like a Kia Rio or Hyundai Accent over one of these – the price of entry is far lower, both get great gas mileage in their own right, and either car is a far better, more usable vehicle for the kind of driving most people do.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      The only “city” car I’ve driven that felt good on the highway was the Fiat 500.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Always thought the 500 was kind of underrated. I’d definitely have taken one over a Mini.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          Yea, I’m a 500 fan, they are nice to drive and I think it got a bit of a bum rap on the internet. The weird sales channel, esoteric marketing, and legendary Fiat quality hurt it. It also just isn’t the type of car the American market embraces.

          I like Minis too. Pricey stuff though.

          • 0 avatar
            MRF 95 T-Bird

            I’m a Fiat 500 fan as well. If I needed an inexpensive commuter I’d buy one since they fit my 6’2” frame well. Even in the wacky used car market you can find them reasonably priced. There’s always a number of what I think are fleet turn in 500e’s on eBay for $8-10k. If you can live with an 87 mile range they’re a nice 2nd car.

        • 0 avatar
          Syke

          Definitely underrated. I loved the 500c Abarth that I owned for a couple of years. The only reason I didn’t keep it was that I treated it like any other sports car: Nice weather, sunny days.

          And it had competition from two Harley-Davidsons and a Triumph in the other garage for those nice days. Two wheels invariably won out over four. To the point that the Fiat was my third and last attempt at a ‘sports car’, and I finally acknowledge that as long as I’m physically able, I’ll always prefer to be on a bike.

      • 0 avatar
        dmulyadi

        I heard the new 500 electric is better than the old one. Gosh I hope it’s coming to USA.

  • avatar
    probert

    “Toyota has been one of the few companies that have spoken about battery technologies in a manner I would consider serious,..” Seriously? They strike me as a either sticking a finger in the EV dike in desperation, or purposely lying as they prep an EV line up.

    As to this thing: If it’s marketed as a city car in the US, it has to look boutique – esq – like a mini,a smart or a KIA Soul. Otherwise it’s just a small cheap hatch, and that is – maybe sadly – not a niche in the US.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      “They strike me as a either sticking a finger in the EV dike in desperation, or purposely lying as they prep an EV line up.”

      …or they continue to profit while every other marque save perhaps Tesla loses money on them.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “The Aqua is offering substantially better-claimed efficiencies in a smaller and likely cheaper package (it starts in Japan for under ***$18,000***)”

    Uh, yeah car me good.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    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.

  • avatar
    airfidget

    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.

    • 0 avatar
      dmulyadi

      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.

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