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2012 Toyota Prius C: Buyers Like It, But Not Consumer Reports

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2012 Toyota Prius C

2012 Toyota Prius C

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At $19,705 and up, the 2012 Toyota Prius C subcompact is the company's least expensive hybrid.

It's also tied with its larger Prius liftback sibling for best gas mileage on the market: 50 mpg combined.

And those two qualities seem to be making it a sales hit for Toyota, meaning car buyers seem to like the littlest Prius.

But not Consumer Reports.

Oh boy, do they ever NOT like the Prius C.

The renowned consumer magazine doesn't like its handling, its power, its noise suppression, its interior materials, and the numb feel of its power steering.

We disagree somewhat on the handling--it's far, far more nimble than the larger and more boat-like mid-size Prius liftback--but they're right about the numb steering.

Pretty much every Toyota we've ever driven suffers from that problem--as if Toyota steering engineers have never actually driven a car with good feedback in its electric power steering.

In fact, virtually the only good thing the nameless CR commentator has to say about the Prius C hybrid is that its fuel economy is "very impressive," even for such a small car. Oh, they also liked the fuel-cost calculator built into the dash display.

Almost grudgingly, the unidentified commentator pointed out that Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive system "worked well" around town, with a "smooth and transparent transition" between electric and engine power.

2012 Toyota Prius C

2012 Toyota Prius C

Enlarge Photo

But that's where it ended.

In the end, CR concluded, the 2012 Toyota Prius C is "a cheap car with an expensive powertrain."

They disliked it so much that they recommended buyers willing to spend the $21,000 list price of their Prius C Two model take the cash and buy a used Prius liftback instead.

Wow.

There's no denying that the mid-size Prius liftback is closer to the high-volume center of the U.S. car maket. Subcompacts like the Prius C sell only a  fraction the number of compact and mid-size cars.

But we would counterweight the Consumer Reports slam with these factors:

  • To our mind, the Prius C is far more enjoyable to drive and toss around than its larger sibling
  • Some buyers prefer smaller cars, and may not want the added length, girth, and weight of the larger Prius liftback
  • The Prius C looks a lot more "normal," both inside and out, than the larger Prius, which has a polarizing Space Age appearance
  • Many buyers don't want to buy a used car; they want to be the very first owner of a brand-new car

In the end, we can't argue with one line of CR's comments: "You get what you pay for."

Some will choose to buy a subcompact full hybrid like the Prius C, more will opt for its larger Prius liftback sibling.

But we think the overly earnest, occasionally humorless denizens of the CR lab have discounted some of the Prius C's natural advantages.

Or maybe they were just having a really, really grumpy day.

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Comments (16)
  1. Save the money and buy a Yaris instead...

    Gen III Prius is getting worse or maybe the competition is catching up...
     
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  2. Or you are just another anonymous person without any professional background that matters venturing an uneducated opinion.
     
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  3. Well, I have an electrical engineering degree and working in high tech industry. Also worked in the automotive industry before. What experience do you have?

    Prius C is a piece of junk that performs poorly. If you saving money is the key, then Yaris is a better buy. If longer commute is the key, then regular Prius is better buy. If only city commute is the key, then Nissan Leaf would be more than sufficient...

    At least I am NOT an anonymous Toyota fan boy...
     
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  4. I suggest you buy a used bicycle instead.
     
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  5. Did he pull the seat skirt hanging on the side just to show they were cheap? Seriously? That's a deal breaker???

    Cheap looking Hard plastic? Well, that's where I draw the line. I only accept "elegant" plastic. What did he expect? leather?

    Road noise? CR bitches about road noise in every car other than the luxury models.

    Steering feedback? no comment. I've been driving toyotas for 15 years. So i guess i've been "steering feedback" deprived and didn't know it.
     
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  6. I smell bias. The standard auto climate features was brushed off as "unusual" offering for the class.
     
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  7. I own the level two "c", and I will admit, in many ways it is a cheap car. I mean, it has great driver seating, but you don't get a clothes hook until you buy the level three (or four).

    Still, the plastic doesn't bother me, it's a cheap subcompact with an expensive but truly efficient drive train (to paraphrase CR). I think CR is actually right about the crappy handling and acceleration, but I don't notice because I am driving slowly to maximize fuel economy.
     
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  8. How expensive can the drive train be? It's a small car that starts at $19,705 where the average the car sells for over $32,000. That's not grumpy - it's irrational. And I'm not a Prius fan at all.
     
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  9. The drivetrain includes the following parts not found on conventional vehicles:
    - two electric-motor generators
    - lithium-ion battery pack
    - power electronics and inverters
    - high-voltage copper cabling
    The planetary gear-set in the hybrid system blends power the engine and the two motor-generators.

    All of that adds up to quite a bit of additional cost over an engine + gearbox in a conventional car. Toyota's goal for 15 years has been to get its Hybrid Synergy Drive volumes up and simply the components (especially the electronic ones) to cut the incremental cost.
     
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  10. Do not forget that an ordinary car has two motor/generators too, namely the alternater and starter motor. They only serve one purpose each and are much smaller, but nonetheless in that area the HSD doesn't add complexity that isn't already there. It is true that the HSD motor/generators are much larger and more sophisticated and thus more expensive.

    Looking at the complete picture it trades a gearbox and clutch(es) for a battery plus power electronics. A good trade i.m.o. I am certain that these cars will prove virtually indestructable and very popular 2nd, 3rd, 4th, ... hand cars.
     
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  11. I love consumer reports, but some how their apparently off-the-cuff web-reporting makes me wonder if they are the ones with the quality problems.
     
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  12. Prius C is not subcompact...
     
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  13. It is a cheap car with an even cheaper drivetrain. Did they not factor in all the petrol savings this drive train causes. Educating consumers to make more long-term decisions and factor in ALL costs? Hell no! Better keep them stupid.

    And the plastic interior is defendable since a single piece of homogeneous plastic is much easier to recycling than the layered, more luxurious interiors that CR craves. Have an eye for the environment? Hell no! Better keep polluting.
     
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  14. I don't know about the Prius C, but when I went shopping for a hybrid in 2010, I ended up getting the Honda Insight. The Prius has a little more mileage, but not enough to cover the price difference. That wasn't even the real deal-breaker. What turned me off the Prius AND the Camry hybrid that I test drove was the EPS steering. I'd never felt more disconnect from the road in any other vehicle, and I've had a lifetime of Toyotas with two exceptions in my 30 years of driving.
     
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  15. Agreed on the Insight. I enjoy driving a canyon as much as the next enthusiast, but the Insight actually feels like a car; engine startup, traditional key, more predictable handling, and you said it... steering feel.

    Not that an MR2 Spyder is that much of a gas hog anyway.
     
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  16. Definitely agree with the article. If one is going to go for a hybrid, why not go for one that seems more purposeful in its goal for better gas mileage by being smaller and more lightweight?

    Hybrid drivers won't exactly be looking for steering feel, driving feel, and may be willing to give up some comfort and road noise just to save money at the pump.

    The Prius C is proof.
     
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