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
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.
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.