If the 2012 Toyota Prius C subcompact seems strangely familiar, perhaps it should.
Toyota’s all-new entry-level hybrid has the exact same wheelbase and width as the original Prius did in 2001, even if it’s a little bit shorter in overall length. It also sports a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine/dual electric motor combo just like its forebear, only this time delivering a bit more power and better fuel economy, 50 mpg combined vs. 41 mpg.
The Price is eerily similar, as well: $19,745 compared to $19,995 a decade ago. Of course, in today’s money the latter number would be closer to $25,000, which is exactly what the larger, standard Prius goes for these days.
Why You Want One:
That’d be that 50 mpg figure, which ties the Prius C with its big sister for most fuel efficient non-plug-in car. If your top priority is saving as much gas as possible, this is the most affordable way to do it.
It’s also a pretty sharp-looking ride as five-door subcompacts go and has an interior that trends toward the funky shapes of the Scion school of design, while the centrally-located instrument cluster includes Toyota’s familiar hybrid and trip information displays. A conventional transmission selector between the seats replaces the finicky joystick used on other Prius models…perhaps the best cost-saving measure ever executed.
Those seats are simple but comfortable, even if the upholstery feels a little cheap, and there’s a surprising amount of room given the petite dimensions of the Prius C. Credit for some of that goes to a tidy little battery pack that fits under the rear bench and allows for a decently-sized cargo area that even has space for a compact spare under the floor.
Combined power for the hybrid drivetrain is just 99 hp, but the Prius C weighs in at a relatively scant 2500 lbs, so that’s enough. The car never feels painfully slow, and makes a nice showing of itself on the highway, where it exhibits a stable, planted ride. I saw as high as 60 mpg on one 60-mile stretch and that 50 mpg overall rating seems right on the money.
Although not as overtly high tech as some hybrids – cruise control isn’t even a standard feature – the Prius C comes with Bluetooth and iPod connectivity. Higher trim levels, including the Prius C Three tested here, feature HD radio and Toyota’s cloud-connected Entune infotainment system with navigation and apps like iHeartRadio and OpenTable…tasty.
Why You Might Not Want One:
Sound deadening material costs money, adds fuel economy-sapping weight, and was clearly not a concern here. The Prius C is loud. Under acceleration the motor dominates the cacophony, while the volume of the rush of wind passing over the body at speed might fool you into thinking the “C” stands for convertible.
Meanwhile, the low-rolling-resistance tires are stiff as a board and don’t like driving over anything thicker than the lines painted on the road. Those new adhesive lane markers used today might even pose a problem, so try to aim between them when you change lanes.
Just kidding. (Sort of.)
One Thing You Need to Know:
If you have small children and shuffle their car seats from vehicle to vehicle, get ready for a new headache. Although there's plenty of room for them, the Prius C has the worst LATCH system I’ve ever encountered. Even the microscopic Scion iQ makes a better showing. The lower anchors are hidden so far under the cushions, and in such an awkward position, that you need the skills of a deep sea oil driller to hit them.
2012 Toyota Prius C
Base price: $19,745
As tested: $21,635
Type: 5-passenger, 5-door hatchback
Powertrain: 1.5-liter inline-4-cylinder/electric motor hybrid
Power: 99 hp
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic
MPG: 53 city/46 hwy
Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com's Automotive Editor.