How about that colour? I told you, guys – aqua is back, baby! No, I’m not referring to the JDM moniker for this car (it's called the Toyota Aqua in Japan), but the Aquamarine paint on the just-updated 2018 Toyota Prius C, which actually gets more than just a lick of paint in this, its latest iteration.
The new-look Prius C model sees a raft of changes as part of its 2018 update – which can’t really be its mid-life update, since the car has been around since 2011… so it should almost be reaching the end of its life, eh Toyota?
Still, the changes to its styling – including a new front bumper, more aggressive grille, restyled headlights, new LED tail-lights and the addition of a rear spoiler – all work to freshen it up somewhat. There’s also the addition of two new hero colours: the Aquamarine you see here, and Hornet Yellow (like this C-HR).
The entry-level model still gets halogen headlights, which seems a bit dumb for a tech-focused car, and even more daft when the high-spec i-Tech has LEDs. And plastic wheel covers? Really? If I bought one of these, the first thing I’d do is pull those grey Frisbees off and roll along on black steelies.
That’s not all seemingly missing from this entry grade – or, in fact, any grade of the Prius C.
Unlike its little, non-hybrid brother, the Yaris, this newly updated variant still goes without active safety technologies such as autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and lane departure warning, both of which can be had in the Yaris… for less money. The Prius C has seven airbags (dual front, front-side, full-length curtain, and driver’s knee) and a rear-view camera.
On that topic, the 2018 Prius C also comes with a jump in price, now selling for $24,040 plus on-road costs for this entry grade version – so it’s still the most affordable hybrid you can buy in Australia, and while there are some shortcomings, there are some notable additions to the cabin. Read the full pricing and specs story here.
The newly added 6.1-inch infotainment system with satellite navigation and SUNA live traffic updates, is a huge step up from the old system, though it pales in comparison to the best systems you can get around this price point.
It lacks the latest smartphone app mirroring technology, but does have Toyota Link apps, and the requisite Bluetooth phone and audio streaming with voice control tech. That system is simple enough to use, but doesn’t let you pair phones, choose contacts or input numbers on the move, a common bugbear with Toyotas.
Further, there’s a new 4.2-inch driver information screen with digital speedometer, and while the trims and finishes throughout the interior have been redone to make it feel a little less drab – the piano black finishes add a shiny aspect here and there – it still isn’t overly loveable inside, with hard plastics abounding.
There are some thoughtful points, like huge cupholders under the centre stack area, bottle holders in the front doors, and a small covered armrest between the front seats. But, in the back seat there is only one map pocket, and a flip-down cupholder that extends from the back of the armrest up front. No vents, no door pocket storage, no flip-down centre armrest integrated into the rear seat. However, the amount of space back there is pretty excellent for the class, with a six-footer easily able to slot behind someone of the same size.
But, if you’re paying this much for a car this small, you’d probably expect things like automatic wipers and headlights, both of which are absent here. You don’t even get daytime running lights.
And if you were thinking of spending this much money in order to save money on fuel, you’d be a bit of a fool. Not that the Prius C isn’t ultra-efficient – because its petrol-electric hybrid system (combining a 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine producing 54kW with a 45kW electric motor, for a maximum combined power output of 74kW) is super-duper efficient in the real world.
The claimed consumption remains at 3.9L/100km on the combined cycle, and in reality you will be able to achieve that in urban driving. We did, on numerous occasions.
Where the Prius C doesn't make as much sense is for long-distance, open-road commuters. Fuel use tends to rise when you hit the open road, as the battery pack and regenerative brakes work less to lower the consumption of petrol.
For context, we saw 4.4L/100km on the open road – still respectable – but urban driving is where this thing does its thing.
Its performance is more suited to urban running, too – the little hatchback gets away from a standstill pretty quick, but once you hit 50km/h it starts to lose momentum. The continuously variable transmission is adept at dealing with getting to that sort of speed, and holding it up hills and down, but it’s a really noisy drivetrain.
The engine/CVT drone is accompanied by all manner of grunts, groans and buzzes from the car’s complicated electrical hardware, and the noise intrusion just gets worse the faster the car is moving. At 100km/h there’s an inordinate amount of noise in the cabin, be it from tyre roar, wind or drivetrain whinge. And when a storm hits, the rain noise is akin to being under a tin roof – one that just happens to be a few centimetres from your head.
Whether you’re going fast or slow, you can feel the road surface beneath you. In fact, it’s almost as though you can pick out every little rock in the hot-mix, such is the level of vibration that can be felt in the cabin. Some people – like me – may find this kind of comforting: it makes you feel connected to the road. Others may hate it.
Most, though, will likely take issue with the brake pedal feel, which is hard to judge at times, and the fact the Prius C can get blown around in crosswinds.
But there are some plusses to the way the Prius C drives. The steering is accurate and decently responsive, particularly when parking, and the ride is well sorted for a car that weighs in at just 1140 kilograms despite its hybrid hardware. There’s some body roll in tighter bends at higher speeds, and the stability control system is a bit over-active, but in all likelihood that’s not the sort of driving this car will encounter.
We’ve established that, for city-dwellers, it’ll run on the smell of an oily rag – and maintaining the Prius C is anything but costly.
Services are due every six months/10,000km, which may be something of an inconvenience, but with a capped cost of $140 per visit for the first three years/60,000km worth of maintenance, it’s an affordable ownership prospect. It is covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty, but the battery is covered by an eight-year/160,000km plan.
Look, it serves a very niche purpose in the market, one that will appeal only to a very niche buyer. And for that buyer, the Prius C is a likeable and honest little car.
But for the rest of us, there’s the Corolla Hybrid, or the regular Prius… and that’s if you need a hybrid. If you consider just how far petrol engine efficiency has come in recent years, it’s hard to find a truly compelling reason to buy a Prius C over a similarly sized city car like the Volkswagen Polo.
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