2012 Toyota Prius C

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Toyota has built a better Prius – a hybrid that is economical to buy as well as operate. 

It’s called the Prius C – and it’s 542 pounds lighter than the regular Prius, costs $5,000 less to start than the regular Prius – and is also noticeably more fuel efficient than the regular Prius.

It also costs $5k less than a Honda Civic Hybrid ($24,200) or Hyundai Sonata hybrid ($25,870) – and it gets 8-10 MPG better mileage. It costs almost $9k less than a Ford Fusion hybrid ($28,775) and similarly walks away from it, MPG-wise.

As such, the C is the first hybrid since the original Honda Insight hybrid two-seater that actually lives up to the hybrid hype.

It might also just be the Prius Toyota should have built from the get-go!


The Prius C is a compact-sized hybrid hatchback sedan – slightly smaller on the outside than the regular Prius, but not all that much smaller on the inside.

The Prius C is also much more affordable than a regular Prius. Its base of $18,950 is $5,050 less to start than the $24,000 base price of its only slightly bigger, not-quite-as-fuel-efficient brother.

It’s also much affordable than any other hybrid vehicle currently on the market.

Which means, it’s pretty much got the market to itself.


The Prius C is a new addition to the Prius family of hybrids, which now includes the larger Prius hatchback sedan and the Prius v wagon.


It’s light! For once! At last! (only 2,500 lbs. vs. 3,042 for the porky Prius).

It’s affordable – at around $19k to start, it’s very close to the up-front cost of many non-hybrid economy sedans – unlike the pricey Prius.

It’s not stripped and unlivable in as-it-sits $19k trim. Essentials like AC are included. Plus power windows, locks, Bluetooth and a nice stereo, too.


Slightly wheezy (0-60 in about 11 seconds or so).

Makes sad sounds.

No plug-in version (yet).

Shelf-life issues (more on that below).


The Prius C is propelled primarily by a 1.5 liter gas engine (vs. 1.8 in the regular Prius) that produces 73 hp – supplemented by an electric NiMh battery pack and electric motors (there are two).

The end result is 99 hp – vs. 134 hp in the regular Prius – and a slightly slower 0-60 time of just over 11 seconds vs. just over 10 for the regular Prius.

But because the Prius C is so much lighter – more than 500 pounds lighter than the standard Prius – its fuel-efficiency potential is superior. EPA gives the C a rating of 53 city and 46 highway vs. 51 city and 48 highway for the heftier regular model Prius.

I know that doesn’t sound like much of a difference on paper, but out in the real world – at least, in my real world – the Prius C delivered consistent mid 40s no matter how I drove it vs. mid-high 30s for the last several standard-sized Priuses I’ve tested. I don’t know this for a fact, but I suspect the reason for the difference has to do with the C not having to haul 3,042 lbs. (plus 200 pounds of me) up an 8 percent grade that goes from about 800 feet above seal level to 3,200 feet above sea level – my everyday trip up and down the mountain. The regular Prius sweats that trip. You can literally watch the little battery meter deplete to nada – like the gas gauge needle in a ’58 Plymouth running 80 on the highway.

The C seemed to cope much better – I suspect because it takes less work (and so, less gas) to haul 2,500 lbs. up the mountain. If only they could get the weight down to 2,000 lbs. – then they’d really have something.

And we’d have 60 MPG – or better.

Like the regular Prius, the C is front wheel drive and comes with a continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmission and engine braking function to help replenish the batteries when going downhill. 

Also like the regular Prius, the C is capable of moving at speeds up to about 20-something MPH  – if you accelerate very gently and if the road is level – on battery power alone. And of course, the car’s computer will automatically turn off the gas engine when the C is stopped to conserve fuel – provided the batteries aren’t depleted. If they are, then the engine will run until they’re sufficiently topped off.

One area where the C differs functionally from the regular Prius is that – at least for the moment – a plug-in option is not available. So you can’t replenish its electric batteries using your home’s 110v outlets. The only way to charge the batteries is to run the gas engine – which operates as a generator. Of course, that burns gas – reducing the C’s MPG profile.

I expect a plug-in version of the C to be available within a year. And that version ought to be good for 60 MPG (overall) even without shedding another few hundred pounds.


Though it takes a second longer to get to 60, all-out, the C feels much lighter on its feet than the regular Prius – because it is much lighter on its feet. You will most notice the difference when cornering. Not having that additional 546 pounds of unsprung mass to keep from springing around manifests in a less top-heavy (and just plain heavy) sensation as you come into a curve – and try to hold the curve. The car also has its four wheels set fairly far apart – and far outward, at the far corners of the vehicle relative to the wheelbase – the proverbial “widetrack” stance – which further enhances stability.  

Toyota even offers an optional quick-ratio steering set-up that, along with the almost-sporty curb weight, results in an almost-sporty feeling hybrid.

This sporty ambiance is enhanced by things like the floor-mounted console shifter for the CVT transmission – vs. the video game-style toggle switch mounted up on the dashboard in the regular Prius. This is a personal opinion, but the tactile feel of engaging a detent – Park or Drive – is more appropriate to the act of driving than playing with that flaccid little joystick the standard Prius is saddled with.

Also: The C does not screech alarums when you put it in reverse.

The regular Prius does.

Just one fly in the soup: The C makes sad noises sometimes. Struggling noises, like someone (well, some thing)  under duress. And something is under duress. It’s just the modern – hybrid – version of the sounds you used to hear in economy cars back in the ’60s and ’70s. It’s a byproduct of being underpowered. Or rather, having just barely enough power – and no more than that. When you’re going up a hill, or merging with traffic, the engine – and CVT – can be heard as they struggle to get the job done. It’s not obnoxious, just a reminder that you’re driving a car that’s close to maxxed out just getting around.

It’s the price you pay for 50 MPG.


The C’s general shape is more in tune with current non-hybrid hatchback sedan chic than hybrid chic. The regular Prius is almost belligerently hybrid; it wears its green on its sleeve.

The C does not.

It’s a lower-profile green machine – right down to its sensible shoes stamped steel 15-inch wheels and (light, cheap) plastic wheelcovers.

The Prius comes standard with expensive alloys.

But, the C is not bereft of amenities. In fact, it arguably has all the essentials as it sits – such as AC, power windows and locks plus a very decent four-speaker stereo with Bluetooth, CD player and USB interface for your iPod or MP3 player. Plus push-button keyless ignition, tilt-telescoping steering wheel and a 3.5 inch LCD info center that provides you with multiple (and programmable) menus for showing/optimizing the hybrid powertrain’s operation. You can keep track of things like instant and average MPGs, score your driving as more (or less efficient) and calculate your cost-per-mile (and tankful).

More stuff is nice, of course – but far from necessary.

You can move up the foodchain and get things like a larger (6.1 inch) touchscreen LCD display with GPS, heated seats, larger (and alloy) wheels, a six-speaker premium stereo and Toyota’s Entune smartphone system that integrates your phone/PDA with the car’s infotainment technology. With Entune, you can get real-time weather and traffic updates plus streaming Internet programming.

And, here’s the best part. A top-of-the-line Prius C with most of these options still costs less than the entry-level standard Prius – which starts at $24,000 vs. $23,230 for a loaded-up Prius C “Four.”

So, what’s the downside?

You give up some interior inches – but surprisingly, not very many inches. Check it out: The standard Prius has 38.6 inches of front seat headroom and 42.5 inches of front seat legroom. The C has 38.6 inches of front seat headroom (exactly the same) and 41.7 inches of front seat legroom – less than an inch’s difference. In the second row, the regular Prius provides 37.6 inches of headroom vs. 37 even for the C, another very slight difference that will probably be noticed only by the very tall.

Ditto second-row legroom. The C has exactly one inch less in this respect than the regular Prius: 35 inches vs. 36 inches.

Even cargo-wise, the two cars are pretty close: 21.6 cubic feet behind the second-row seats for the regular Prius vs. 17.1 for the C.

If you need that extra 3 or so cubes of cargo space – or that extra inch of legroom in back – then maybe you need the regular Prius. But if you don’t, you can save yourself a lot of money by going with the C.

You’ll also have the easier-to-park Prius – because the C is about a foot and half shorter, snout to tail, the the regular Prius (157.3 inches vs. 176.4 inches).


Toyota is on the right track with this car. I’ve criticized the regular Prius for being too expensive – and too heavy – and not nearly efficient enough overall (cost to buy plus cost to drive) to justify itself as other than a “green snob” car. But the C makes sense. That $5,000 price difference up front (relative to the regular Prius) not only amounts to “free” gas for several years of driving, it also means the C is not all that far away, MSRP-wise, from what you’d pay for a similar but non-hybrid compact-sized hatchback sedan. For example, a few weeks ago, I test-drove the new Mazda3 SkyActive. Base price is $19,300 for the hatchback sedan – slightly more than the C’s base price of $18,950. Both cars are similarly equipped, but the Mazda maxes out at 40 MPG on the highway vs. the C’s 46. That’s a significant 6 MPG difference. Even more significant, though, is the C’s 53 MPG city rating – vs. just 28 for the SkyActive Mazda. That is a stupendous difference – 25 MPG.

And remember: These two cars cost about the same. That is the key thing here. A standard-sized Prius also delivers 50-plus city mileage, but this on-the-road advantage is negated to a great extent by the much-higher purchase price. The extra $5,000 or so you’d pay to get a standard Prius vs. something like the SkyActive Mazda3 would take years to work off in at-the-pump savings. And that fact has long been a beef of mine as regards the Prius. There were of course other reasons for buying the Prius – just as people have their reasons for buying Porsches. But did the reasons make sense?

Not that I could see.

But with the C, I do see it.  This is the first hybrid since the old two-seater Insight that is cost-competitive with the best non-hybrid economy cars on the market – and very probably, superior to them when all is said and done.

With one caveat:  Battery life.

I’m a guy who buys a car for life. And “life” to me means at least 15 years and 150,000 miles. If the C’s batteries go that distance, great. But if they need to be replaced before then, the math might not work out so favorably relative to a non-hybrid econo-compact, which will have no such issues to sweat you.


I never thought the words would come off my keyboard – but I like this hybrid. I’m even willing to recommend it – with the cautions mentioned previously kept in mind.

Now if only they could figure out a way to shave off another 500 pounds – and get the bar to 60 MPG… .

Throw it in the Woods?


  1. You can get 60 to 65 miles per gallon if you hyper mile. That is change the way you drive. It will take a bit longer to get where you want to go but it mainly means slow down. Just had my second anniversary owning my Toyota Prius c. I also drive the car in eco mode to get this kind or milage and keep the AC off. So if you are willing to sacrifice time and comfort it can be done. There is a price to pay for everything.

  2. If you own a Prius C by now you know that the so called “auxiliary battery” or better known by us old timers as the 12 Volt car battery, does not last in the Prius C. It keeps dying with all that’s running while the car is parked and not moving. This is a BAD design toyota made and probably on purpose. Out Prius C battery has died several times and been replaced twice by the dealer under warranty over a period of only 18 months! go figure! This car sucks! I don’t recommend anyone buying it. The author of this article FAILED to mention ALL the bad things on this vehicle…..hmmm….perhaps Toyota has him a the payroll?

    • Hi John,

      Thanks for your input on the Prius C. Please bear in mind that your experience owning the car for years will be different than the experience I had driving the car (brand new) for a week.

      The battery issue you mention is something that would only manifest up over a fairly long period of time.

      Trust me – I’m not getting any checks from Toyota….

  3. You are right. Using petroleum to drive car is not the best way to use natural resources. The market will regulate the supply and demand with price.

    BTW, for the reason as you said, price of gas will not go down a lot. I don’t dream about $2/gal anymore. Buy a Prius, regular, C or V, and pay $30 something instead of $80+ at the pump every week.

    • Not a bad choice for saving cash, especially when compared to a bigger 6 or 8 cylinder car.

      If you really want to save cash, then a used small car could be a better choice over a Prius.

      Gas: $4/gallon
      Prius C: $20,000 and 50mpg combined
      Used carA: $12,000 and 30mpg combined
      Used carB: $10,000 and 30mpg combined
      Used carC: $8,000 and 30mpg combined

      Used carD: $10,000 and 25mpg combined
      Used carD: $10,000 and 35mpg combined

      Breakeven point:
      PriusC v. Car A: 150,000 miles
      PriusC v. Car B: 187,500 miles
      PriusC v. Car C: 225,000 miles

      PriusC v. Car D: 125,000 miles
      PriusC v. Car E: 291,000 miles

      Depending on the cost of gasoline, miles driven per year, and how long you keep the car a Prius C could be an economically prudent choice.

      • Great Idea! But how about a Used Prius?
        There are plenty 2004 Prius with 100K miles sell for $8-10K. Run though the number, you know the major cost is gas cost. With Toyota’s super reliability, I count as additional $2000 savings in future compare to other brand use cars.
        If you check priuschat.com, there are lots people in 200K club, at least 5 or 10 passed 300K, and one guy almost hit 500K before he switch to Prius v (the bigger Prius). All of them without major hybrid components problems (HV battery, transmission…).
        I bought a 2004 2 years ago for $8K at 110K miles. Now I am at 163K+, just oil change. My cost of ownership is about $2.5/100 miles, including all repairs (12V battery, spark plugs, serpentine belt, tires, oil changes, even depreciation!), and it saved me at least $2000 on gas compare to a Camry.

        • Hypothetical:
          Gas: $4/gallon
          Used 2004 Prius: $10,000 and 46mpg combined
          Used carA: $8,000 and 35mpg combined
          Used carB: $8,000 and 30mpg combined
          Used carC: $6,000 and 30mpg combined

          Used carD: $6,000 and 25mpg combined
          Used carE: $6,000 and 35mpg combined
          Used carF: $5,000 and 30mpg combined

          Breakeven point:
          U Prius v. Car A: 73,100 miles
          U Prius v. Car B: 43,100 miles
          U Prius v. Car C: 86,250 miles

          U Prius v. Car D: 54,700 miles
          U Prius v. Car E: 146,300 miles
          U Prius v. Car F: 107,800 miles

          Depending on the cost of gasoline, miles driven per year, and how long you keep the car a Prius C could be an economically prudent choice.

          It also assumes that there will be no mechanical/electrical issues with either car.

        • AllenZ,

          The used Prius is better in your scenario. I am glad it is working well for you. Personally I would wait at least 5 more years before I consider getting a hybrid.

  4. The whole high gas price thing is even easier than all the suggestions that I have read so far. If people would only buy the size of vehicle that they really NEED rather than WANT, gas prices would fall dramatically. Do you really NEED a 5000 pound SUV to haul 2 adults and 2 children? Do you really NEED a 5000 to 6000 pound king cab truck to pick up furniture or plywood. On a trip to Florida in 1990 I rented at the airport a Geo Metro (sold by GM) with a 3 cylinder, one liter engine, auto trans and air conditioning. It carried 3 adults and all their luggage, kept us all cool and managed 50mpg on the freeways at 60mph. No 2012 hybrid technology, just a small 1990 car with a small engine that was ALL WE REALLY NEEDED to get around on our vacation. Apply that same thinking today and the price of gas would fall, the roads would not be torn up so quick and cost of ownership would be cheap.

    • Hi Plato,

      I agree!

      While I’ll defend free choice to my dying day, it doesn’t mean I’ll also defend stupidity. And it is stupid to buy a 300-400 hp “luxury sport” sedan that will never see the high side of 100 MPH.. or a 5,000 lb. SmooooooVeee to cart a hausefrau and her kids to the mall.

    • Sure driving smaller cars does reduce demand for gas, but the major reason of higher gas price is probably Inflation.

      I believe freedom of choice is the key. If someone wants to be stupid, let him be, and pay. I have no problem with that.

      • I think that world demand has some part in the price of gas here in the states.

        China, India and other parts of the world are increasing their demand for oil.

        Oil is also used in other products besides fuel. To my knowledge it is also used in plastics, clothing, and pesticides.

        Even if all transportation use of oil stopped today, there still would be a demand for oil.

        The big threat to much of the modernized world would be if oil suddenly became scarce without any practical substitute.

  5. I had doubts about the Prius over the years and hesitated to buy one. But, they’ve been making this car for over 10 years now. Consumer Reports recently did a re-review on the first Prius model and showed that it still gets 50mpg. There was no drop off in gas mileage or acceleration or battery problems. I fully understand that many people weight performance issues much higher than me. Things like steering feel and cornering are the positives of sportier cars. These are valid factors in making a buying decision. The Prius is not the perfect car. It is a fuel efficient vehicle well suited to both commuting or cross country travel. Yes, I’d rather drive a Mazda Miata along Big Sur and cruise the curves on California’s Hwy 1 in a Boxster. But, 95% of my driving consists of trips to Home Depot.

    • I agree with you that you should buy the car that meets your needs.

      Although I liked the VW TDI and it did meet my driving needs, the interference engine design made a timing belt breaking result in a damaged engine that was not economical for me to fix.

      In the future I will avoid any interference engines.

  6. I own a 2010 regular Prius. It does far better than mid 30’s, Eric. In fact, it’s near impossible to get less than low 40’s with the car – I’ve tried. We average around 50mpg and pay no attention to acceleration or braking. We just drive it. The Prius C sounds like a nice car and I’m glad to see you’re becoming more accepting of the technological merits. You’ve said previously that all Prius owners are Clovers; a subjective insult, I guess – and that never made sense to me. I paid 22,500 for my Prius in 2010 and it was $5k less than other mid-sized cars at the time and I get 20 mpg better. It cruises just fine at 75mph. This thing is a screaming bargain and with great resale. After two years driving it, we are delighted with the car. Toyota sells a lot of these cars and they do the job. The battery pack is rated at 180,000 miles per Toyota and I haven’t heard of anyone having problems.

    The Prius C sounds like an evolution that will attract customers wanting a lower priced car. I wonder if it will cannibalize Corolla sales. Good review of the Prius C.

    • It is good to hear that you enjoy your Prius.

      I think that driving environment and driving style play a role in the type of mpg you get.

      Driving in an area with drastic elevation changes, weather extremes (hot/cold) and/or rural areas can reduce the mpg one gets from a Prius. If someone often accelerates rapidly and consistently drives at high speeds then one’s mpgs will be reduced.

      As they say: Your Millage May Vary.

      Although if saving cash is the primary goal with transportation there are other options besides a new Prius (I am assuming you have a new Prius), a used car (and some new cars) in good condition can be found for less than $13,000.

      Hypothetically: a Prius vs. A $13,000 averaging 30 mpg with $4/gallon gas will break even at about 178,000 miles.

      For me that would be about 11 years. At 40,000 miles/year that would be about 4.4 years.

      This does not factor any repairs that may be necessary. It does not factor other preferences that people may have in choosing a car. Perhaps for some saving money is not the highest priority.

      I think electric cars are an interesting technology, but I am still have some concerns about them and there are other cars that I prefer over a hybrid car.

  7. I wish all Auto Mfgrs would do a “price dump” like Toyolet does just to get market share, we would all win! Many have said over the years, NO WAY Toyolet can produce these for what they sell them for. These cars poise great dangers to firefighters and passengers and WILL haunt us as they end up in the junk yard in 15 years. PLEASE follow the mgf process to see how “Green” these really are. From strip mining in Canada to batteries made in China, then to Japan for assembly then on a ship back to the USA where a suburban/urban white guy/gal can feel good about saving the plant. The Japanese have done another sneak attack of different sorts.

  8. Hey guys,
    Google “air car” and see another auto that cannot be made or sold in the USA (yet), but which is being made and sold in India by Tata Motors for less than $5,000.
    Very interesting technology. However, like a battery car that is charged from the grid, about 50% of its charge comes from burning coal here in the USA since it takes power to run the air compressor and our power is 50% coal fired. Wish I had one just to fool around with, though.
    Great review of a new “outside the box” effort by Toyota.

    • The pneumatic car is one of those things that never seems to work well.

      There are fundamental problems with compressed air that nobody has found a work around for. Each and every attempt has failed to create a practical vehicle. It seems Tata has gotten further than most but still no viable product on the shelves.

    • I wonder why they’re working with pressurized air instead of liquid nitrogen? It seems like dry ice might even work out as a better fuel.

  9. can one compare Prius C to Ford Fusion? I thought Fusion is a bigger car compared to C and so the higher cost. i think the comparions are inconsistent or may be biased.

    • Hi Rich,

      I’m getting a Prius V today, actually – the review will be posted here within a week.

      What I like most about the C is that it’s at least trying to be economical – both to buy and to operate. I like that it is 500-plus pounds lighter than the standard Prius – and so can get by with a smaller, more efficient engine. I wish it were lighter – and even simpler – and cheaper.

      Imagine a hybrid that weighed around 2,000 lbs. – and which only needed about a 1 liter engine to provide adequate locomotion. Fit it with an effective airflow/venting system to make AC unnecessary or at least, something one could live without. Get the cost down to around $15,000.

      That would be the ticket!

      • No AC would mean (to me) that the car is only for a cooler and/or drier climate. I would not consider it in the gulf coast states or desert SW.

        The idea is good though. Although the companies are defunct, the Loremo and Aptera were two car ideas that had some merit. The Loremo was supposed to be sub 1,500 lbs and use a 2 or 3 cylinder turbodiesel engine. Est mpg was 90-150 mpg depending on engine chosen.

        I look forward to your next review.

  10. This is all gonna look pretty stupid when oil drops back to $50 a barrel.

    I’ll stick with my gas sucking, super comfortable, massively safe, high riding, boat towing, couch like feel and quiet GMC acadia. Which will also blow the doors off any hybrid, and go 250k miles without batting an eye, or bringing it in for more than oil changes and new tires, and maybe some brakes. Ot course if you prefer a Turdyoda, you could go the Highlander route too !

    • Hi Mike,

      I’ve written before that – in my opinion – the better alternative (if the object is cutting transpo costs) would be to buy a slightly used (2-4 year old) economy compact, something like a Yaris or Versa 1.6 – for around $7k or so – and then drive the thing for the next 10-12 years.

      I’ve ranted against the Prius and other hybrids because the math didn’t add up – among other things. I found it (and still find it) absurd to spend at least $24,000 (the base price of the least expensive standard-issue Prius) in order to buy a hybrid car that real-world averages maybe 10 MPG better than a $7k used Yaris or similar, because it will take years to reach break-even (if you ever do) and also because of the long-term issues with the battery and electric motor side of the hybrid drivetrain. At minimum, the performance of the battery (and thus, economy) will decline after a period of years. In all probability, the battery will not last 12-15 years – entailing a significant additional expense that isn’t an issue with a non-hybrid.

      That said, the C is at least not completely absurd. If you can buy one for around the base price – so under $20k, out the door – you at least have something that’s roughly in the same ballpark, MSRP-wise, as an otherwise equivalent non-hybrid economy hatchback like the Mazda3, let’s say. So, if you pay about the same up front – but you’re getting substantially better average mileage (at least 10 MPG or better) then the math works in your favor – and I can make sense of the deal.

      I wish, though, they’d just build (or could build) a 1,600 lb. car with a small diesel engine…. instead of a hybrid.

  11. I love the effort for the Prius C, but a smaller two seater
    gas powered hybrid would be better; Japanese have always been able
    to produce 60 plus mile per gallon gas only cars, but they did
    not want to sell them in America, as they have been seen as
    displacing the larger more expensive higher margin sedans!

    • The two-seater Insight is a high dollar item these days. Look for one and see!

      I tested one back in the early 2000s; the thing could hit 70 MPG if you drove it right….

    • Your “Jap crap” comment is just silly. As for being smashed by a Mack truck: Would you be any safer in a Chevy Aveo or a Ford Fiesta? (And you might look into the genetic lineage of some of “American” cars… like the Fiesta … or does “Jap crap” only apply when the badge is American?)

      • It has been known to make a difference, but only in the mountains with long grades. a couple years back a US car magazine tested a civic hybrid vs a standard civic in a cross country run. they noted equal to slightly superior performance from the hybrid except in two occasions, and both were similar circumstances.the run was done along I40, from east to west. on the grade into Albuquerque NM and flagstaff AZ, which are 30 miles long and climb several thousand feet, the batteries died. then they were left with a small gas motor powering a car on a 75 mph interstate going up hill. the batteries died b/c there is no place along there you use the brakes so they weren’t being recharged and b/c it’s all up hill they were running at full power w/ both motors until the batteries died.

        • Hi Smile,

          Yup! I live in a mountainous area and have discovered the same thing during test drives. Cold – and hot – weather also have a noticeable effect on fuel economy/battery state of charge. For example, it’s been brutally hot here lately – temperatures in the high 90s/low 100s with very high humidity. You almost have to keep the AC blasting on recirc at all times just to keep cool. In a hybrid, this taxes the battery almost as much as frequent WOT acceleration.

          Then, there’s winter. All cars are less efficient then, because gas doesn’t combust as completely until the engine is warmed up fully (which takes longer when it’s 12 degrees outside) and also because of increased driveline friction caused by colder (thicker) lube/grease and so on. Cold weather also reduced battery performance – as anyone with a regular car can tell you. Ditto the hybrid.

          But the bigger issue, for me at least, is the down-the-road cost of keeping a hybrid. Eventually, the battery pack will either wear out or its performance will decline to the point that the efficiency of the drivetrain is much reduced. Now, that may not happen for ten or twelve years – or even longer. But it will happen, eventually. And when it does, the hybrid will probably be a throw-away because the cost of repairs will exceed a reasonable level relative to the value of the car itself.

    • Dear Bigot,

      Also, Many of the Japanese car companies whose cars were imported to the US had significant US ownership. Mitsubishi/Chrysler. Mazda/Ford.

      Since the shareholders of the US companies were predominantly American, it’s hard to say whether the cars were “Jap” at all.

    • Interesting comment… Do you mean everything non “Jap crap” is not as susceptible to being smashed? Pretty sure the same laws of physics are applied to all vehicles. Let me ask my wife Akiko if she knows anything about this.

  12. I’m still hoping to see someone do a full life-cycle analysis of a “green” hybrid vs a conventional car.

    A hybrid is composed of everything you’d have in a conventional car, PLUS everything you’d have in a pure electric vehicle.

    Include the costs of a lifetime of battery replacements. I recollect my NiMH cell phone batteries in 1990’s losing about 50% of their capacity after about 18 or so months. How long will it take a hybrid’s battery to lose enough capacity that the car’s fuel economy & running performance is significantly impacted?

    I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that there’s a much dirtier manufacturing & end-of-life recycling footprint under a hybrid than most people would like to believe. After all, all that extra equipment in a hybrid is not mined, manufactured & ultimately recycled or disposed of at zero additional environmental cost.

    I’ve heard anecdotaly that rare earth mining & processing is hard on the environment.

    So I’m thinking that the shiny new hybrid on the showroom floor may come at a significant environmental deficit compared to the shiny new conventional sitting next to it.

    Which then suggests that the “green” vehicle would have to save a lot of fuel before it could overcome that deficit & truly be “greener” over it’s entire life cycle. And if we’re not looking at the ENTIRE life cycle to determine “greeness”, then it’s really just an enviro-sham to market a feel-good product to people who want to think they’re being environmentally responsible.

    Maybe I’m way off base thinking like this – I don’t know.

    I’m still hoping (one day) to see a real soup-to-nuts, full life cycle comparison.

    Throw me in the Woods?

    • No, Roy – you won’t be thrown in the woods!

      I, too, would like to do such an analysis – and, I suspect you’re right. One of the factors that would keep me from buying a hybrid is exactly what you mentioned: the declining performance over time of the battery pack and the potential cost of replacing it. Picture a new C 12 years from now. It’s worth maybe $4,000 by that point. You’re faced with a $3,000 bill to replace the aging, no-longer-performing battery. It’s either that – or drive the car around solely on the “gas side” of the powertrain – which is overtaxed and so delivering rotten economy….

      Meanwhile, assuming decent care, a non-hybrid economy car at 12 years old ought to still have years of reliable service left.

      I expect that the “cost curve” of hybrid ownership has an upward trajectory at about the 12 year mark….

      • I’d bet we’re going to see a fair number of used hybrids limping around with hundreds of lbs worth of dead batteries, electric motors & 00-gauge copper cables in a few years…

        Think I’ll stick with my 92 Golf for a while longer. Purchase price + repairs (all done myself) over the 8 years I’ve had it amortizes to about $300 per year and it’s still amortizing lower.

        I’m really gonna miss it when it does finally die!

    • Some facts in your comment are wrong. Let me use Prius as example here.
      1. Prius has a very simple “transmission”, much smaller and compact than traditional one.
      2. There is no “starting motor” in Prius.
      3. Prius control system make sure the hybrid battery is always charged at 30%-70% level. That ensures the long life of battery. As a matter of fact, there are many Prius Cabs runs to 300K miles and more without seeing battery or mpg performance degrade. There is a guy who delivers medical material for a living, drives 600 miles per weekday, his Prius got very close to 500K miles before he switch to Prius V, and the battery still function as normal.
      4. If you run through the number, you will see the main cost of owning a car is operation cost, and gas cost is the biggest part.
      5. The 12V battery in Prius is very small (talking about “green”), same size as in motorcycle. It is only used to power up the electrical/electronic system.

      I own a 2004 Prius since 2010 at 110K miles. Now it is 163K. I only changed oil, 12V battery, spark plug and serpentine belt as preventative measure. Regarding cost and being “green”, you have to take into account Toyota’s super reliability records.

      Overall, I am surprised that even in this Libertarian concentrated website/forum, there are so many people don’t understand the so called “green” propaganda. Not that I don’t like our earth to be clean, but the way it is presented by the the main stream media is way out of proportion. Check out the video of George Carlin here, lots of great common sense.

  13. My 2010 Jetta TDI CUP diesel averages 46mpg. not sure why I would even consider a hybrid. Lots of power and over 600 miles per tank. Can get close to 700 miles per tank but I chicken out when the needle gets that low.

    • The major issue with new diesels is their up-front costs. For example, the ’12 Jetta TDI’s base price is $22,775 – so, almost $4,000 higher than the base price of the Prius C ($18,950). That’s equivalent to about 1,250 gallons of gas (at $3.20 per gallon). Assuming 40 MPG, that would amount to about 50,000 miles of “free” driving. But the C gets significantly better mileage (especially in city driving, where it returns 20-plus better MPG than the Jetta TDI – a huge difference. Keep in mind also that diesel fuel is (right now) the most expensive fuel, too – so you’re paying more per gallon than the C owner.

      That said, a car like your Jetta will probably last much longer – so if you drive it for 15-20 years or put 200,000-plus miles on it, you probably catch up, if not pass by, the hybrid.

      • One other thing: If you maintain the engine you’ll get much of that cost back when you sell it. When I was shopping for a used Jetta TDI last fall, I noticed the premium over the gas engine right away. Not only that, but after VW cheeped out on the 2011-2012 version, many 2010s were selling for more than the new! The other thing you’ll notice that they don’t sit around very long. When they come up for sale, unless there’s something very wrong with them, they will be gone quickly.

      • I’m no gearhead, so if I’m wrong about any of the following please correct me — gently, if possible. 🙂

        Diesel engines do cost more up front, but they last longer, are simpler to operate, and cost less to maintain (no spark plugs, plug wires or distributor, for starters). So they pay for themselves over time.

        While diesel fuel costs more than gasoline (regular, at least), it delivers 20-25% better MPGs. So as long as the diesel premium is less than that, you come out ahead, all other factors being equal. At $3/gal. for regular gas, diesel is more economical up to $3.60-$3.75.

  14. They still have not addressed the fact that not all that many years down the road, you have a $7,000 price to replace the battery pack, without which, you have an absolutely worthless pushmobile. Jump starting a PRIUS with a 12 V battery and jumper cables JUST DOES NOT WORK!!!

  15. Here’s what you should expect from me: Diesels are better! I’ll take a diesel over a hybrid any day — for the sake of simplicity and no battery pack to replace (sure, they’ll go bad).

    I’ll stick with my ’01 Jetta TDI, which has 236,000 miles and is delivering reliable 43-46 mpg economy. I’ve applied a tune that gave it tire-screeching torque in 1st and 2nd, and it didn’t hurt the economy by a single mpg. I can easily take myself and three other adults to lunch in it, too.

    For new stuff? Mazda 3 with Skyactiv-D. 300 lb-ft and mid-40s mpg highway. That’s my type of ride!

    • Yes! Another oil-burner here, and I won’t go back. I was beginning to think I was the only one.

      The only problem I see with them is 1) lack of good diesel fuels. Yes, it’s out there, but the consistency and quality seem to be all over the place. 2) The crazy CA air quality emissions standards, that make NO SENSE, even in Southern CA. As it stands, my 2012 A3 has less emissions than any gasoline fueled car, only because the soot that comes out of a diesel was big enough to see (but actually safer than the microscopic soot that comes out of a gasser, since it quickly falls to the ground instead of remaining in the air). But because of the extra stuff in the exhaust line I take a 3-5MPG hit over your 2001 that has essentially the same engine.

      Luckily I live in an area that doesn’t require emissions testing and there are no rules about modifications to the exhaust lines in Colorado… once the warranty is done, look out!

      • Many of the diesel-powered vehicles I’ve tested lately were fitted with urea injection (and urea tanks). It’s a big turn-off for the average person who might otherwise be diesel-persuadable. The efficiency drop due to emissions stuff is also a big issue for obvious reasons.

        A 60 MPG diesel compact car would be wonderful – if only they could sell such a car here….

        • Saw an article a year or two ago that said Land Rover was designing a diesel hybrid. Imagine a diesel Prius C — 65 MPG, easy. Go down to 3 cylinders, and 75 MPG would be possible. A conservative driver could beat those numbers by at least 5 MPG.

          For the record, my wife bought a Prius C in May and loves it. (So do her co-workers!) Haven’t heard any of the “sad noises” you mention. However, it does give off a soft “beep” when in EV mode. We took it on a 500-mile round trip recently and averaged ~50 MPG (with the A/C on most of the time).

          While the basic “1” version has the amenities you list, be advised that cruise control is not available. So if you do a lot of highway driving, step up to at least the “2”. Also, the Entune/Bluetooth system requires the kind of intrusive “sail fawn” that most of us here despise. It won’t interface with our TracFone.

          • Absolutely.

            And on the “sad noises”: My wife inspired that! She said the car sounded sad – struggling, etc. – when it was trying to climb a steep grade, which we have a lot of around here….

  16. I thought the whole reason for buying a hybrid was to be GREEN. Hybrids are the opposite of GREEN when you take into account the mining required to dig up rare earth and battery elements. Compact and Sub compact is the way to go if you are looking to be fuel efficient, cost effective and GREEN. Personally I could give 2 S*&%s about the GREEN mentality. Just a bunch of non-critical thinkers.

    • It’s supposed to be why. The real reasons are political and social.

      “green” requires fewer resources (including human labor) and thus should be cheaper. When something requires subsidies odds are it really isn’t “green”. There is just a political reason for calling it that.

      New products are introduced all the time that take less resources without subsidy from taxes. They sell because they take less resources than the older design. Just keeping price points in the face of inflation requires this.

      Now there are things like expense to build vs. expense to operate. Cars aren’t the only product to face this concern. Usually there are levels of product. There are cheap ones for occasional use that will cost more to operate and then there are ones that are more expensive but cost less to run. They are sold side by side. The buyer decides which is better for him and his intended usage. Subsidy is not required. Most manufacturers will offer models in both ranges.

      Development costs? Tooling costs? No need for subsidy there either. Risk is taken by countless companies and people all the time on their own dime when they think they can do it better. They don’t take the risk when they feel they can’t do it better.

      In the end, “green” things don’t need subsidy. They should have value in the market place by default before environmental concerns are even though of.

  17. While it sounds better than the regular Prius, I’m gonna stick with my 13mpg Screaming’ Chicken. Its cooler and it pisses off the tree-huggers 🙂

    It would really be nice if someone made a stripped down small car, like an earl;y 80’s Honda Civic, Toyota Tercel etc…, that was easy on the wallet and the gas….Damn Feds……

    • You and me both!

      I would not buy one myself – because I’d never buy a new anything if the object is to save money – but at least the C can make an economic case for itself. I’ll say that much for it.

    • I’ve always thought that what this world needs is a new vehicle form factor.

      Essentially a large go kart with a motorcycle engine. Sort of like a dune buggy, but with a motorcycle engine instead of a large VW engine.

      Such a vehicle would be fuel efficient, even sportier than the classic two seater roadster, cheap to build, affordable to almost anyone, easy to maintain.

      No airbags. Instead, safety harnesses and rollcage.

      But… the gunvermin would never allow it!

      • This is my lament, too.

        Hell, I could build a 60 MPG car in my garage, just as you describe. But it would not meet DOT “safety” standards, so I could never offer it for sale.

        With all the technology that’s available, it would be easy (and cheap) to mass-produce 60-plus MPG cars…. but as you’ve noted, the gunvernment won’t allow it.

        • Cars need an experimental class like home built airplanes. The only rule is at the doors you’ll have to slap a big “EXPERIMENTAL” sticker. Sort of a “Well, we warned you” get out of jail free card.

          • You can do home built cars like the aircraft experimental class. Build anything you want. Only state law applies. Some states are worse than others.

            Simply don’t expect to get more than one or two a year through the system without the state coming down on you.

          • Dear Eric G, Brent,

            I agree. It is fortunately that at least we can still build one-offs.

            But to make it truly fly, they really need to be mass produced.

          • This has been bought up a few times before. BrentP is right on the money with this (one or two a year). The best thing, that I’ve come up with, is a recycled autos type company. With a vehicle supplied by either the customer or the builder, just rebuilding old cars on frames with VIN numbers. This is the way to mass produce.

          • reworking used product is not going to be effective for mass production environment. Way too many differences in condition and equipment even if settling on one particular model and generation. Sourcing material will be way too difficult.

            I imagine at some point it will be an effective business model however. As our dear leaders turn the automobile back into a rich man’s toy, ordinary people will be interested in re-manufactured cars or retro-modded cars. Cars that are like new but cost far less than new cars.

            Right now the process usually puts the price at about parity. In the future a gap will likely develop to make the business model viable.

        • Did SEMA’s low production bill ever pass into the law? It would allow someone to build a trivial number (was something like a thousand or less as I recall) of vehicles per year without passing all the government regs.

          Of course if one is only building a 1000 units the price has to be sky high just to keep the doors open to pay the fixed costs which means no economy car could ever be produced profitably that way.

          • H.R. 3274 (Veh Manuf Act)
            Rep. John Campbell R-CA
            Status: Referred to Committee

            Will it pass the House? The community prediction is 3%.

            Bill Overview
            Status:Introduced Oct 27, 2011
            Referred to Committee Oct 27, 2011
            Reported by Committee (not yet occurred)
            Passed House (not yet occurred)
            Passed Senate (not yet occurred)
            Signed by the President (not yet occurred)
            This bill was assigned to a congressional committee on October 27, 2011.

            Overall odds of any bill passing 4%.

        • Dear Eric,

          It could be akin to a sand rail, but with an air-cooled motorcycle engine and a street suspension instead of the sand rail’s more expensive off-road suspension.

          You could probably get away with a 500cc engine. A 1000cc engine in a vehicle that light would yield amazing Lotus type performance. You could recycle an engine from a ex-police Kawasaki Police 1000.

          I noticed something called the “Ariel Atom,” which is dimensionally similar to what I have in mind. But the Ariel Atom is waaay overpowered. Overkill.

          What I have in mind is ultracheap but still peppy bare bones transportation. Ghetto tech. Mad Max “Road Warrior” tech. Just something to get us from point A to point B, but which would also leave us with a real buzz.

          As you said, something we could weld together in our garages. For that matter, something Third World militias like the ones in Somalia could cobble together with a 100 dollar AC arc welder and some recycled tubing. Think “technicals.”

          If we wanted to get really fancy, Factory Five Racing could offer kits.

          Who knows all the wondrous innovations that would have surfaced in the marketplace if only they had not be preemptively aborted by stifling regulations.

          So many possibilities, stillborn as a result of political repression. The Sheeple have no idea what could have been, if only we had freedom.

          • No question!

            Consider: In spite of all the regulations and mandated equipment, Nissan manages to build a new car – the Versa 1.6 – which can be sold for $10,000. Now, imagine what that car could have been sold for – and what it could have done – had Nissan been able to build it without all the mandated crap… . At the very least, it would be several thousand dollars less (while allowing Nissan the same profit margin). And if it could have been built several hundred pounds lighter, it would be capable of mileage close to that of current hybrids.

            So, a $7,000 or $8,000 new car that gets 50 MPG….

            Imagine that!

  18. “Now if only they could figure out a way to shave off another 500 pounds…”

    I wonder how much weight the battery pack, motor, wiring, wheel generators, ultra-high current wiring, motor controllers, etc. adds?

    It might be close to 500 lbs.

    I wonder what a 2000 lb gas-only Prius would get as far as MPG?

    Wouldn’t it be funny if it were better than the hybrid?

    • With a diesel it would surely do better than the hybrid at 1500 lbs! Government interference with the car market has kept MANY high MPG machines off the market!!

      • Absolutely.

        As the saying goes, “we have the technology.” Hell, we’ve had it – for decades. Put TBI on a small (under 2 liters) four-cylinder engine, pair it with a a CVT or six-speed overdrive transmssion. Put that drivetrain in an aerodynamic shell/chassis that weighs under 2,000 lbs. with the drivetrain installed. Viola – 50 MPG on the highway, easy. No hybrid required. Put a diesel in that package – and you’d probably have 60 MPG. Or better.

  19. It sounds like the Prius C is an improvement in the right direction.

    Although if saving money is the 1st goal and you want to buy a new compact or sub-compact a car like the nissan versa 1.6L is really hard to top.

    Since I rented a Mazda 3 w/SkyActive recently (my comments) I was curious to compare the breakeven point between the to manual cars. Over 900k miles with $4/gal gas and versa/mazda3 36/39 hwy.

    The Versa/PriusC break even point is better 36/46 hwy;$4/gal is about 300k. A 30/50 mpg break would bring this to about 145k.

    This being said, one may find the PriusC to be worth the price.

    Nice review.

    • Complete agreement.

      The argument is even more compelling if you compare a used Versa 1.6 (or similar). About $7k or so will buy you one that’s only a few years old, with maybe 30,000 miles or so on the clock. Assuming it was not mistreated – and that you treat it well – it should be reliable transpo for at least another 100,000-plus miles. You can amortize your ownership costs down to less than $100/month over about seven years or so.

      That’s the way to save money on cars!

    • I wouldn’t buy any hybrid because battery technology is advancing at a furious rate. How do you sell your Prius three or four years from now when the latest battery charges in an hour, weights 400 pounds less, puts out more power? Oh, and to be sure, the manufacturers will not allow the latest and greatest to back-fit into what you buy today. They want to sell you a new car. If you insist on a hybrid, lease it. At least then the dealer gets stuck with the “lame-duck” old model.

      • That’s a very good point, Richard.

        I think the bottom line here is the technology isn’t mature yet – or at least, you’re still better off (if the object is cutting transpo costs to the minimum) buying a used, non-hybrid economy car for under $10k. No hybrid – not even the C – is even close to being cost-competitive with a $10k (or less) used economy car.

        • I just tagged an titled a car this morning that my 16 year-old daughter bought.
          1999 Ford Escort, 35k miles. $2,600. clean as hell. gets about 25 combined and 30 on the highway.

          • That’s the way to go!

            I’ve mentioned before my little Nissan pick-up. I bought it for $7,000 eight years ago. Still runs great with 130k on it (original clutch, too). I expect it to be reliable transpo for at least another 50,000 miles – which will get me another 3-4 years down the road.

            So, that $7,000 amortized over say 12 years comes to about $48/month.

            Pretty rock bottom!

            Also worth mentioning – because it’s something that can’t be factored out: The higher insurance (and taxes) one pays when one buys a new car. I pay $220 a year for the truck. I doubt a full-coverage policy on a new Prius would be anywhere near that low. And in my state (VA) we have this obnoxious “personal property tax” on vehicles. I’m still paying about $100 a year on the 14-year-old pick-up with a book value of maybe $4,000. Imagine what the tax on a brand-new $20,000 car is.

            Bottom line: A new hybrid is not the best way to reduce your transpo costs. A good used car is.

      • Even if they did make it possible the cost would be very high.

        The charging system would likely need to be replaced with the battery pack because a charging system is usually specifically designed for a particular pack’s specs right down to the cell chemistry’s needs.


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