2012 Toyota Prius C: Real-World Gas Mileage Test

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With the 2012 Toyota Prius hybrid family now comprising four members, the subcompact Prius C hatchback is the one least like its siblings.

It's smaller, with a smaller engine and battery, and less cross-section to cause aerodynamic drag.

So does it consume less fuel? The EPA rates it at 50 mpg combined, as it does the larger Prius liftback--but the little Prius C gets a better city mileage rating (53 mpg) and a worse highway rating (46 mpg) than its big brother, which is rated at 51 mpg city, 48 mpg highway.

This weekend, over our usual test route of about 320 miles--which is roughly two-thirds highway and one-third urban and suburban--our 2012 Toyota Prius C test car returned 47.1 mpg.

That's well within the 10 percent margin we allow on the EPA combined rating, and it's an impressively high number.

The second trip odometer setting, which included an additional 117 miles before our tenure in the car, produced 46.2 miles per gallon on average.

Gas mileage aside, we enjoyed the little Prius C. Three days with the car confirmed that it's far more fun to drive than its larger and more ponderous siblings.

Its electric motor moves it away on electric power alone, and if the 1.5-liter engine comes on, the usual driving tricks let you accelerate up to speed and then lift off to revert to electric drive. We saw all-electric travel as high as 45 mph.

While its electric power steering remains irksomely free of useful feedback, the subcompact Prius can be tossed into corners and otherwise hustled through tight traffic more enjoyably than the Prius liftback--though a large rear-pillar blind spot doesn't help over-the-shoulder vision.

The rear window is also shallow, and to get any kind of rear vision at all, we had to remove the rear-seat headrests and leave them on the (flat) floor.

From behind the wheel, the Toyota Prius C hybrid has good, supportive seats and a clearer, more coherent dashboard than the big Prius.

Its energy-flow diagram and other info is displayed on a small full-color display rather than the scattershot arrangement of numbers, graphs, and icons strewn across the wide but short Multi-Information Display of the Prius liftback.

And the little Prius may have more useful storage areas, bins, cubbies, shelves, cupholders, and the like than any car we've driven thus far. We found a space for absolutely everything, from sunglasses to soda cans to toll tickets and cash to tall mobile phones.

If only those cubbies had rubber pads to prevent it all sliding around ... but that's fixable with a trip to the craft store.

2012 Toyota Prius C

2012 Toyota Prius C

Enlarge Photo

The one chronic drawback to the Toyota Prius C, as we found during our First Drive last spring, is that it's noisy at highway speeds.

Remarkably noisy. So noisy that not only do you have to turn up the stereo a lot, but even front seat riders keep asking to have comments repeated.

We note that Honda added more sound-deadening to its Insight subcompact hybrid hatchback in a 2012 update to the 2010 original. We hope Toyota will do the same.

2012 Toyota Prius C, Catskill Mountains, NY, Oct 2012

2012 Toyota Prius C, Catskill Mountains, NY, Oct 2012

Enlarge Photo

Two other quibbles: It's impossible to run Pandora on a mobile phone through the car's audio system without first installing the Entune app, a step many other automakers don't require.

And the rear shelf over the load bay rattled in our test car, something we've never before experienced in a Toyota.

Otherwise, we liked the 2012 Prius C hybrid, it delivered the promised fuel efficiency--and we got a lot of questions about it too.

For the sake of your ears, we'd recommend it most strongly for buyers who don't spend a lot of time over 50 mph. It's fine at speed--but did we mention noisy?

Our test car was the 2012 Toyota Prius C Three model, the middle of three trim levels. That comes standard with automatic climate control, as do all Prius C models, and also a display audio system with navigation and Toyota's Entune connectivity system, using a 6.1-inch in-dash color touchscreen display.

With an MSRP of $21,635, plus carpeted mats for the floor and load bay ($225) and a $49 cargo net, plus a mandatory $760 delivery fee, its total sticker price was $22,669.


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Comments (8)
  1. One subjective observation that I had, in favor of this car, is that it comes in some attractive new colors that make it a little more appealing than some of its stablemates.

  2. I think the noise issue is relative. I went with a friend to sell his '05 Forester, and pick up a new Prius c. We commented several times on the trip back how quiet it was. This was at 55-65. If it is noisy, then the Honda Fit, CRZ, Ford Transit Connect and Toyota Tacoma I experience(d) regularly are even louder.

  3. Say what you want about Prius (as much as I dislike them), they at least get close to the EPA rated mileages...

    According to the latest Motorweek review of the Ford C-Max hybrid, they only got a little over 38mpg during their review while it is rated 47mpg...

  4. Oh well Ford has this chronic PROBLEM of stretching its EPA ratings....my earlier puchases of many of its explorer earlier models has always irked me .....off usually by at least 8 to 10 mpg or mpge...this will catch up with the automaker....they try to belittle Toyota BUT at least Toyota has always stayed within 10 of there ratings....the Prius line is very close to say the least to its 51 and its 95 mpge PHV plug in models....shae on Ford...but its become commonplace with them....the Cmax is overweight and over displacement wise to come close to the Prius..look at the stats on the Ford site 800 more pounds then the Prius and the Cmax is even worse almost 1,000 lbs more than the plug in Prius....thats exactly WHY the Prius is more efficent

  5. Well, it is true that C-Max is significantly heavier which will degrade MPG. But Ford does have more than enough power in the car to compensate for the weight. In that respect, C-Max will spank the Prius in performance.

  6. I like the Prius C, but found some things lacking.

    There isn't much rear seat headroom, and when the hatchback opened, I felt like I was going to hit my head on the door latch. It just does not open as wide and as high as the normal Prius. But I think if I was shorter, these would be non-issues.

    Noise is also a problem for me occasionally on my 2006 Prius. It seems like some highways have a texture that really penetrates the cabin with noise. On other highways, I have no problem at all.

    But in the end, drove 200 miles and got 58 mpg on my 2006 Prius. Got to love it. (Yeah, I was gentle with my right foot).

  7. Would love to see this test with the Insight.

  8. About that rattle: It appears that, in the car you drove, the rear hatch shelf was not securely snapped into its locked position. I appreciate that you found the rattle to be un-Toyota-like.
    Wade Hoyt
    Toyota PR

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