Hybrid shopping
December 17, 2013 9:26 AM   Subscribe

Are there any Prius C owners out there? Will I like having a Prius C? I'm considering buying a 2013 Prius C Three or Four in the next few weeks. I test drove one the other day and really liked it. I'm going to do another test drive on the highway to see how it feels. My goal is to make a purchase that last week of December.

I'm coming from a 10 year old Ford Focus, which is only getting about 15mpg these days and is quickly dying (I was in a car accident a few weeks ago and that seems to have triggered all sorts of issues). It's a manual transmission, so I can get lots of zippiness when I need it. I know I'm unlikely to get that with a Prius C. But the gas mileage! And the spiffy features! Touch screen! Digital readouts! Sunroof! Pushbutton start! So cooool!

I've read negative things about it: poor acceleration, lots of road noise, a rough ride. Compared to what? My 2002 Ford Focus has a lot of cabin noise these days, and I feel every single bump. Acceleration is the one thing it's good at (for now). It can do 0-60 in 10 seconds. Everything I've read about the Prius C is 11 seconds. That's not going to matter much merging onto the highway, right?

I looked at the regular Prius, but with the features I want, it's out of my price range. I've also researched many of the other hybrids out there and none really grab me (I like hatchbacks. If the civic hybrid had a hatchback, I'd consider it.)

posted by Cat Pie Hurts to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Have you looked at the honda crz? Manual, hybrid, hatchback. Seems to check your boxes.

On the other hand I haven't heard good things about it (or the Prius c). Its also rumored to be discontinued before too long. If it works for you maybe there's a deal to be had.
posted by TheAdamist at 11:14 AM on December 17, 2013

We have had two Prii so far - a 2005 and a 2010 (both used) so cannot answer for this years model. The 2005 did 45 - 50 mpg or so, the 2010 averages 50 mpg with a best of 54 mpg.
Of course you have to drive carefully, trying to coast up to traffic lights when you see them go red, go easy on the brakes etc., keep the tire pressures correct.
We are looking forward to a second Prius to join the first when money allows.
Don't buy one with a built-in GPS as updating it (with a CD) costs an arm and a leg) from the dealer.
In my experience they are both extremely reliable.
posted by lungtaworld at 11:20 AM on December 17, 2013

I would get the base model regular Prius over the Prius C four, it's a much nicer car.
posted by hamsterdam at 11:28 AM on December 17, 2013

The big mileage advantages the Prius has over conventional cars is really only applicable for in town stop and go driving. If you are doing a lot of highway commuting the mileage advantages don't really add up to much and may not pay for the price premium of the hybrid car. So the type of driving you are doing really, really matters.

As an alternative, the KIAs and Hyundai cars are quite good for the money, and usually get pretty decent mileage but the interior fit/finish/materials are not great. Long term they seem to have some problems with interiors and cosmetics falling apart and paint peeling. If you are not good at maintaining cars stay away from them as they seem to deteriorate faster if neglected than most cars.

For tiny cars (similar in size to a Prius C) The above mentioned Honda CR-Z is a really neat looking car, gets good mileage, is fun to drive and only has 2 seats (but lots of cargo space). If that isn't a deal breaker than get the CR-Z. If you need four seats get a Fit. If you aren't soured on fords check out the Fiesta. Some people like it better than the Hondas.

If you want something the same size as the focus, get a new focus, corolla or civic.

Prius seem to always be near the top of the list for reliability and seem to be holding up ok (much to my surprise considering how complex they are).
posted by bartonlong at 12:42 PM on December 17, 2013

Best answer: Well, I suppose it depends on what you're willing to live with. I like Consumer Reports as a good starting point for new car ratings (I'll be looking at 2014 models as they're easiest to compare – it's usually safe to assume that the 2013 models will have been very similar, though look out for generational changes) as they're non-profit, independent, not ad-supported, and buy all their test vehicles at retail without telling anyone who they are. They also have been at this for a long time, and their car tests are pretty extensive albeit they don't prioritize things in exactly the way that I do. I'm going to link to these summaries, though the full ratings will not be available unless you have a Consumer Reports account.

Here's Consumer Reports's summary of the 2014 Prius C, which I'll quote from:
Starting at about $20,000, the Prius C is a smaller and less-expensive alternative to the regular Prius. But its harsh ride, noisy engine and cabin, and slow acceleration make it feel more like a rudimentary subcompact than a sophisticated hybrid. The interior looks and feels cheap, the driving position and rear seats are cramped, and there's little cargo space. However, the C does get the best city fuel economy, 37 mpg, of any car we've tested, and its 43 mpg overall is just 1 mpg less than the regular Prius. Reliability is well above average, but the Prius C scores too low in our testing to be recommended [which is a rating given only to the very highest-rated cars].
They also rate it "excellent" (5 out of 5) on predicted reliability, fuel economy, and owner costs; "very good" (4 out of 5) for owner satisfaction and front seat comfort, and "good" (3 out of 5) for acceleration, ride, and accident avoidance. No categories were rated as less than "good", i.e. no "fair" or "poor" ratings. So to me it sounds like the road noise and bumpiness issues are not objectively terrible, just not very good compared to other cars in its price range.

That said, I bet that just about any new car is going to be quieter and drive smoother than a dying 10-year-old car that's been in an accident. So if you find your current car to be acceptable, you'll probably find the Prius C acceptable too. For what it's worth I've always thought that Consumer Reports were rather picky about road noise and comfort; many cars I've driven which to me were perfectly acceptable rides have been dinged by them in those areas. And fortunately, road noise and comfort are things that are easy to assess in a test drive. Go to a dealership and take one for a spin, making sure to drive it in a variety of environments (back roads, congested roads, highways) and just decide for yourself whether it's something you could be happy with. Things like acceleration, driving position, rear seat space, and interior quality (other areas in which Consumer Reports didn't like the Prius C) are also highly subjective and easy to evaluate for yourself in a test drive. In the areas that are harder to self-evaluate they liked the car, so that's good.

They like the Honda CR-Z (summary in link) which others have been mentioning a little better, but not much. They found it not to be very sporty for a car that's marketed as a sort of "sports hybrid", the handling to be jumpy, and the rear visibility to be poor. It's also a two-door, two-seat car. Finally, the gas mileage is markedly worse than the Prius C at 35mpg overall in their tests versus 43mpg overall for the Prius C. This is because the hybrid system is designed to enhance performance rather than economy.

Your other main option in terms of lower-priced hybrid hatchbacks is the Honda Insight (summary in link). Overall they liked it about the same as the Prius C, and like the Prius C it's a four-door hatchback. They found the ride stiff, the rear-cabin access difficult, and the handling poor. It's slower than the Prius C, a little bit less reliable, and owner satisfaction is a bit lower. It got 38mpg overall in their tests.

For what it's worth, they don't give especially high ratings to any of the budget hybrid cars. This is probably because making a hybrid system costs more than making a conventional drive system (roughly speaking, the manufacturer has to build in an entire second drivetrain) which means that the manufacturer has to cut some corners (easiest to do in "comfort" features like interior quality and sound dampening) if they want to keep the price down. Also, hybrids tend to be a bit heavier and slower than equivalent conventional cars which affects handling. They also often have other fuel-efficient modifications like skinny low-rolling-resistance tires, smaller cross sections, less weight devoted to sound dampening, etc. that give better economy at some cost to driver comfort. These drawbacks can all be mitigated, but mitigating them requires making engineering changes that drive up the final cost. Thus, all else being equal a budget hybrid will tend to feel a bit "cheaper" than a budget conventional car. The trade-off of course is that you get better fuel economy and don't have to pay the price of a higher-end hybrid.

One efficient car that they liked a whole lot is the Volkswagen Golf TDI (a diesel hatchback). They liked pretty much everything about it, though the predicted reliability is not as good as for the Prius C (3 out of 5; all other ratings were 4 out of 5 or better). For the manual-transmission TDI they got 38mpg overall in their tests. It's somewhat more expensive than the Prius C (In my region they list the base model 4-door manual TDI hatchback at $22,887 versus $17,863 for the base model Prius C) but if that's in your price range then you might consider looking into it further although you're pretty much into base-model Prius prices at that point so maybe that's more than you're able to pay. I have a friend with a Golf TDI (something like a 2010 model I think) and it's definitely a great little car. Diesel is generally a bit more expensive than gasoline so you lose some efficiency savings there, but it drives great and is very comfortable.

Another option would be to get a regular Prius that's a couple years older (a 2011 or 2012 model, say – here's the CR summary for the 2012) and in excellent condition. Think "certified pre-owned", where it's been thoroughly inspected and refurbished by a Toyota dealership and certified as being in top-notch condition (it will probably even come with a warranty). That might bring the price down into your range, and Priuses have held up very well over time – much better than was originally predicted, even by Toyota themselves. My sister drives a 2003 Prius, and it's still running great; it shows no sign of failing batteries or anything like that, and has been pretty much trouble-free ever since my mother bought it new, even now that it has well over 100,000 miles on it. So that's another route you might consider, if you haven't already.

I hope that helps you in your search! Do let us know what you decide, I'm very curious.
posted by Scientist at 2:46 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You're almost me!

I went from a 2006 Ford Focus (was getting ~25/mpg) to a 2012 Prius C last March. I went with a New C, trim three instead of a used Standard Prius because the cost difference was so minimal. There is (was?) a lot of resale value in recent model full Priuses (Prii?). Also, while used Priuses might be for some, I had (have) concerns about the shelf life of the battery after 5 years (when the warranty runs out) and didn't want to factor that into my cost-to-own.

I live in a moderatly hilly area. I tend to do about 80-90% freeway driving. I'm going to paste this in from my MPG phone app so you can see some real data.

Total Time: 1 year, 8 months
Total Distance: 13,711 miles
Total fill-ups: 42
Total gallons of gas: 341.05
Total Running Costs: $1,343.90
Running Costs/day: $2.18
Running Costs/mile: $0.098
Distance/Day: 22 miles (avg ~17 miles to work and back, + two road trips from LA to Pheonix and LA to San Francisco)

Average MPG: 40.057 (Here's the rub. If you live on flat land only, you're going to rock on mileage. If you have to go up an incline after every stop sign or all-the-time on the freeway, you're going to lose a lot of MPG.)
Last MPG/Tank: 42.439
Min MPG: 24.587
Max MPG: 64.732 (Love road trips in the desert!)

Avg $/gal: 3.919
Avg $/mile: $0.098
Avg $/fillup: 32.00
Avg Gallon/fillup: 8.12 (it's a small tank!)
Avg Days/fillup: 15.0

In my Focus, I was a crazy-speed-demon, pedal-to-the-floor. I really had to "learn" how to drive all over again after getting this car. Yes, you can coast just about all the time. No, you don't need to go 0-60 on city streets. I still drive in the fast lane while commuting, lately ~70 because I prefer sleeping in to going to work. If I'm not in a hurry, I'm perfectly OK in the 2nd to slowest lane. Yes, I keep to the right and recognize that I am a hybrid and no, I don't have to be first. To be honest, I hardly even noticed the change - I kept my display on Current MPG which has the blue bars - it made driving a game to keep the bar above 50mpg.

Best of luck in what you decide to get - there are a lot of higher MPG options out there - but keep in mind those are 100% not real life numbers. Your MPG is obviously going to factor in not only your driving style, but the type of roads you drive on. A good site to check out is Fuelly (http://www.fuelly.com/car/toyota/prius%20c) which shows that I'm greatly below average.
posted by Lizc at 4:07 PM on December 18, 2013

Best answer: And I just realized I didn't answer all of your questions!

lots of road noise - Not really any that I notice. The inside isn't soundproof, but it isn't so noisy I can't hold conversations or hear the radio. The sound system could be a lot better, the bass in mine is veeerrry washed out.

a rough ride - Only if you're really pushing it, or need to drive up mountains. The car doesn't like mountains. Or strong winds. We had 40+ wind gusts last week that made me feel a bit unsteady, but not enough to push the car off the road or force swerving.

poor acceleration - I haven't had an issue, and my on-ramps tend to be inclines. You're going to use gas, and it will make car sounds while you do that, but you will get on and get up to speed just fine.

Things I don't like:
- the back seat passenger head rests take up sooooo much of the rear window. I usually drive with these taken out because they are so large (never if I have passengers though, obviously).
- the "trunk" is ridiculously small. You can squeeze two medium sized suitcases in and that's about it.
- entune has pretty awful voice commands - and the GPS options are locked when the vehicle is in motion, not even the front seat passenger could change them.
posted by Lizc at 8:06 PM on December 18, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the useful answers. I tried some other cars, but nothing did it for me. I tried the C again and decided it was for me. I bought it today and I pick it up tomorrow!
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 1:44 PM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

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