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We were left a little underwhelmed by the Toyota Prius C when we last tested it in September.
Our key criticisms of the Japanese brand’s smallest and best-selling dedicated hybrid were that it was too expensive and had a flimsy interior, average steering, a harsh ride, a coarse and noisy engine, and a hybrid powertrain that was only slightly more fuel efficient than its most frugal petrol rivals.
Prices of both variants, the badge-less Prius C entry model and the high-grade i-Tech, are down $1000 each – now $22,990 and $25,990 respectively plus on-road costs. (Much of the cut can be attributed to Australia’s free trade agreement with Japan, the savings from which Toyota kept from passing on until the arrival of this model update.)
A little surprisingly, there are almost no additions to the equipment lists of either variant, although both were already well-equipped city cars.
The base version comes standard with foglights, keyless entry and push-button start, cruise control, climate control, and a 6.1-inch colour touchscreen with reverse-view camera, voice control, USB port and Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming.
For $3000, the i-Tech adds 15-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, a larger rear spoiler, privacy glass, upgraded upholstery and satellite navigation with live traffic updates.
The changes that have been made have tangible effects on the car’s design and refinement.
Front and rear styling tweaks give the exterior a welcome refresh, while the cabin benefits from the introduction of dark plastics (replacing the tacky white panels of the old model), piano black trim elements, and a soft-touch panel across the i-Tech’s dashboard.
It’s a step in the right direction, though the cabin of our Toyota Prius C i-Tech still felt cheap for its $26K price tag, with too many scratchy and flimsy plastics, a drop-in touchscreen infotainment system that looks like an aftermarket unit and is impossible to read when the sun shines on it, no one-touch repeaters for the indicators, and a rubbery seat material that gets sweaty and sticky in hot and humid conditions (though it at least looks decent and is resistant to spills and dirt).
Fortunately, the updated model remains cleverly packaged with plenty of storage spaces in the front and a deep glovebox, though back-seat space is tight for taller passengers. The 260-litre boot is just below average for its class, but it has a low loading lip that makes piling in shopping bags easy and also features a full-size alloy spare beneath its floor.
Having a much greater effect on refinement are the changes under the skin. Toyota says the suspension and chassis tweaks to the 2015 Prius C were designed to improve ride comfort and provide a more linear steering feel, among other things.
A lap around some of Sydney’s patchiest roads in the inner-west suburbs of Annandale and Glebe suggests its engineers have had some small wins in the former goal. While its predecessor jarred harshly over bumps and fell loudly and heavily into holes, the updated model has a softer edge and feels more controlled.
It’s also less jittery over coarse and corrugated roads, though it’s still far from settled compared with the dynamic leaders in the class (Volkswagen Polo, Renault Clio, Ford Fiesta), and dishes out plenty of road noise on less than perfect surfaces and at higher speeds.
The steering benefits most from the upgrades, feeling more consistently weighted and significantly less vague around the straight-ahead, increasing the feeling of connectedness between your inputs and the car’s reactions.
The brakes have an initial grabby feel, though don’t feel more progressive and less wooden than a number of hybrids with similar regenerative systems.
The Prius C still won’t capture the imaginations of keen drivers, but it now has improved road manners that make it less offensive for everyday tasks.
There are no changes to the Prius C’s hybrid drivetrain, which means the loud and gruff engine mentioned earlier remains.
The source of the ruckus is a 54kW/111Nm 1.5-litre four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle petrol engine, which teams with a 45kW/169Nm electric motor and a nickel-metal-hydride battery. Drive from that trio is sent to the front wheels via an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (CVT).
The engine is most vocal under hard acceleration, when it’s assisted by the electric motor to deliver stronger performance.
The flipside, however, is the tranquillity of the Prius C at take-off, speeds below 40km/h, and when in reverse, when it runs pure electric mode for up to 2km if the battery is sufficiently charged. In EV mode it emits only muffled electric whistles and groans, while the transition to engine-assisted mode is seamless.
With the electric motor’s torque available instantly, the Prius C gets off the line well, and with a combined 74kW on tap, it’s got comparable overtaking ability to city car rivals – though the CVT is slow to respond to throttle inputs when you’re on the move.
There’s no change to the Prius C’s combined cycle fuel consumption figure of 3.9 litres per 100 kilometres. It’s still the best in its class, though many petrol-powered rivals have narrowed the gap significantly since Toyota’s baby hybrid first launched three years ago, with the considerably cheaper Clio, Fiesta, Polo and Peugeot 208 all consuming less than 5.0L/100km.
We averaged 4.8L/100km in our week with the Prius C that comprised a mix of urban and freeway kilometres. You can do much better than that if you drive with a lighter right foot and are the kind of person who gets a kick out of breaking records on the trip computer’s Eco Score function (unashamedly guilty), which marks you out of 100 for your ability to drive economically. For those playing along at home, I managed a personal best Eco Score of 97 and average consumption of 3.3L/100km on an 8km commute to work in light traffic.
If saving money on fuel is a priority, chances are the Prius C’s low running costs will also appeal. Toyota’s capped-price servicing program costs $140 for the first six services, completed at six-month/10,000km intervals, meaning you’ll pay no more than $840 over the first three years/60,000km.
The 2015 Toyota Prius C is better than the original in many ways: its ride comfort, steering feel, exterior styling and interior presentation have all taken much-needed steps forward, while the $1000 price drop is also welcome.
There are a number of other significantly cheaper, more practical and more dynamically capable city cars on the market, including the likes of the Volkswagen Polo and Renault Clio that strike a good balance of all of those.
But if for you green is not just a colour but a way of life, the Prius C is now more appealing than ever before.