Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2016 Toyota Prius c

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This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

Might as well cut to the chase. Anyone kicking the skinny tires of a Toyota Prius c will be interested in one thing – parsimonious fuel-sippage. So to the reveal. After a week of buzzing around The 6 (that’s Drake-speak for Toronto) in Toyota’s diminutive hybrid, I saw 5.0 L/100. Impressive.

Being a hatchback, it boasts the usual utility associated with this body style. If anybody is wondering, an upright bass will fit in there.

Now, there is a price to be paid for the economy beyond the $26,890 MSRP for this top-trim Technology model. The Prius c is really not much fun to drive. But then we knew that about Toyota hybrids, didn’t we? Their mission is to eek out every possible rolling millimeter from every precious drop of non-renewable dino-juice. And let it be known, the complexity of these gas/electric drivetrains is an engineering and computing wonder.

As the smallest hybrid in the Prius stable, the 2016 Prius c starts at $21,235, making it the least expensive hybrid in Canada. Despite its subcompact dimensions, interior space is pretty good. And being a hatchback, it boasts the usual utility associated with this body style. If anybody is wondering, an upright bass will fit in there.

Power (and I use that term sparingly) comes from a 73 hp 1.5L Atkinson four-cylinder paired to an electric motor that is fed by a nickel-metal hydride battery pack. The front wheels are driven through a CVT (continuously variable transmission), with total system output being 99 horsepower.

The base model, which rolls on 15-inch steel wheels, is reasonably well-equipped. It gets auto climate control, heated mirrors, USB, Bluetooth, steering wheel audio controls, 6.1-inch display, and full LED headlights and taillights.

A $,1030 upgrade package adds six-speaker audio, cruise, tonneau cover, back-up camera, rear centre console box, premium cloth seats, driver cushion height adjust, headrest adjust, 60/40 split rear seat, synthetic leather instrument panel and variable intermittent wipers. At that price, this package nearly qualifies as a free lunch.

My $26,890 Technology tester, resplendent in a striking Sparkling Sea Metallic, layered on navigation, 16-inch alloys, LED fog lamps, sunroof, SofTex seat surfaces, SuriusXM, heated front seats, proximity key with push button start, and a new-for-2106 safety suite called Toyota Safety Sense (pre-collision warning, auto high beams, lane departure alert).

Hop in and you’re greeted with an angular, bold dash design with a central dashtop major display. It’s an odd looking arrangement, but your eyes soon get used to glancing at said display for the large digital speedo readout, and the as far as ergonomics go, the dials and buttons for audio and HVAC are easy to decipher.

The plastics won’t win any quality awards, but the overall cheapness of the interior is somewhat mitigated in this model by the fake leather dash covering and piano black trim. The driving position is a bit odd because the tilt/telescoping wheel lacks reach in the telescope department.

The seats are reasonably comfortable and outward visibility is excellent. Lots of storage cubbies for your vegan cookbooks and How-To-Make-A-Composter-Out-Of-Used-Birkenstocks instruction booklet too. (Yeah, I know. Birkenstocks never wear out.)

The back seats are fine for this class of car, and headroom is generous.

If you’re into monitoring your hyper-mileing activities there are a number of colourful displays that show power flow, energy consumption, coach more efficient operation and grade your eco-driving prowess. Be warned, if you heed these instructions you may be run off the road by a mob of angry motorists piling up on your pretty blue rear bumper. When pressed, the Prius c will make it to 100 km/h in about 13 seconds.

This tidy little hybrid is best zipping around town where it shows quick reflexes and enough poke to deal with urban traffic. The turning circle is surprisingly large, making it a handful in tight parking spots. This is a function of the upgraded wheels, the smaller wheels that come standard come with a much smaller turning radius.

Ride quality is generally acceptable, although over some rough urban surfaces it gets noisy and brittle.

Handling is actually decent for a Prius (how’s that for a backhanded compliment?). There is no on-centre numbness in the steering, and on a winding stretch of country B-road it cuts a decent path.

That said, the Prius c will not be your first choice for an extended motorway jaunt. Matt the pedal on the highway and it’s just like being at the in-door of an abattoir – lots of plaintive mooing and very little forward motion. However, once up to speed the Prius c maintains velocity without much effort.

But by gawd, it’s noisy in here. In the battle against mass, Toyota has deemed sound insulation a no-no, so this little tin box is a cacophony of wind, tire and road noise. For something that is supposed to slip through the atmosphere with little disruption, it sure doesn’t sound like it.

As is the case with most featherweight cars on skinny low rolling-resistance tires, the Prius c is sensitive to crosswinds.

Look down at the shifter and you’ll see B-Mode at the bottom of the gate. What does this do? After a week, I’m still not sure. The B stands for Brake, but I think Baffling or Bonkers is more like it. What it doesn’t do is recover more energy for the battery. It’s an engine braking function designed to save wear on your brakes for long descents. The engine spins away furiously when decelerating, but since there’s no fuel being fed to it, it’s only acting as an air pump/brake.

B Mode is found on all Prius hybrids, and a peruse online reveals most owners never use it.

Indeed, there are many quirks to be found in this rolling instrument of frugality. But above all, the 2016 Prius c is an affordable and functional hatchback that delivers on it promise of outstanding fuel economy. And for those who sip from the chalice of Prius Koolade, that will be enough.

3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 3 years/60,000 km roadside assistance; 8 years/160,000 km hybrid components

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Model Tested 2016 Prius c Technology
Base Price $26,890
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,690
Price as Tested $28,680
Optional Equipment