2012 Toyota Prius C: Sex Doesn’t Always Sell

I’m driving the Toyota Prius c in Florida and thinking about lunch, and the gorgeous stretch of beach off to my right, and also the fact I should hit the gym because beach season is almost here. Basically, I’m doing exactly what most owners of the Prius c will do: not think about the driving dynamics. The smallest member of the Prius family tree allows you to focus on other things, like its 53/46-mpg average during city and highway driving. Or how to gain six-pack abs in time for summer.

The Prius c is approximately 18 inches shorter and 500 lbs. lighter than the standard Prius. While the styling is contemporary and kind of cute, this 4-door hatchback doesn’t exactly stand out in a crowd. It’s the hybrid for people who don’t need the world to know they’re driving a hybrid. It might not earn you green street-cred in the Whole Foods parking lot, but that’s probably okay for most people. And apparently it is, since Prius c sales were red hot in March, with 4,875 sold in only its first month on the market.

Room onboard is spacious for a car in this segment, and a split folding rear seat bumps the cargo capacity when you need more than the 17.1 cu. ft. on offer. Plastic — far too much of it from the cheap side of the automotive spectrum — is the dominant (and pretty much only) theme inside. Frankly, the Prius c materials feel a step below the competition. The gauge cluster, mounted in the middle of the dashboard, proved especially annoying; in particular, the miniscule screen that relays fuel economy and gas savings is way too small. I wear pretty thick glasses, granted, but at 33 years old, I shouldn’t have to impersonate Mr. Magoo when checking my MPGs.

Ride and handling is fine, the Prius c is reasonably nimble in town — though it did feel less planted during a short stretch of the highway. Other online reviews have labeled the car as feeling ‘sporty.’ Sorry folks, not sure what you’ve been driving lately, but I don’t see it. The Prius c is fairly well mannered and easy to park, that’s pretty much par for the course in this segment. The 1.5-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine and electric motor work seamlessly, earning the Prius c major points for powertrain refinement. But it sure isn’t quick: the run from 0-60 mph takes about 11 seconds. Top speed is 105 mph, in case you really take top speed into consideration when buying a hybrid.

The Prius c meets most driving expectations, drops the ball big time in terms of cabin appointments, and claws its way back with impressive fuel mileage. The starting price of $19,710 is pretty steep, especially when the base price of the standard Prius is $24,760. That’s a savings of $5-grand, however, a Chevrolet Sonic or Ford Fiesta hatchback both start around $15,000, while averaging 35-mpg (Sonic) and 38-mpg (Fiesta) on the highway. It’ll take a lot of mileage before your Prius c makes up that kind of price difference based on savings at the fuel pump.

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