Toyota Prius C (August 2017 update). Picture: Supplied.
Toyota Prius C (August 2017 update). Picture: Supplied.

Why going hybrid doesn’t pay

HYBRID cars are among the most economical vehicles on our roads, thanks to their efficient petrol-electric power.

But more than two decades and 10 million global sales later, does hybrid technology add up at the bowser when it comes to small hatchbacks?

The Toyota Prius C received another update in August 2017. Picture: Supplied.
The Toyota Prius C received another update in August 2017. Picture: Supplied.

Value

The Toyota Prius C is Australia's cheapest petrol-electric car now that the $22,990 Honda Jazz Hybrid has left showrooms after an unsuccessful two-year stint (2013 to 2015).

But "cheap" is a relative term. The Prius C is listed at $27,700 drive-away on the Toyota website, which makes it $10,200 dearer than the similarly sized Toyota Yaris with which it shares its underpinnings.

On that basis it would take 18 years to get the savings back in fuel alone (see our methodology at the bottom of the page).

Adding to the dilemma for the Prius C, Toyota has recently slashed the price of the bigger and zippier Corolla Hybrid by more than $3000 to just $27,990 drive-away, just $200 more than the baby hybrid.

Toyota must be doing some fleet deals on the Prius C because you see them used by security firms all across Australia. How about giving private buyers some of the fleet discount love Toyota?

For $27,000-plus you still only get plastic wheel covers rather than alloys. Picture: Supplied.
For $27,000-plus you still only get plastic wheel covers rather than alloys. Picture: Supplied.

Running costs are low, sipping just 3.9L/100km according to the window sticker. We got in the low 4s, still impressive.

Service costs are cheap, too, at $140 per visit every six months or 10,000km within the first three years.

But you only get six services at this price; once outside the capped price serving (CPS) period, costs skyrocket to as much as $800 for the big services which are at 40,000km intervals. The Toyota Yaris also suffers from the same steep climb after the CPS period.

Comfort

This is the second update to the Prius C since it was launched in 2012. It got a nip and tuck in 2015 and again in August 2017.

Changes include sleeker headlights and front bumper, new interior trim and the addition of built-in navigation with traffic alert.

There's sufficient room for heads, shoulders, knees and toes but it's better as a four-seater rather than a five-seater and boot space is tighter than in a Yaris.

Visibility is good and refinement is excellent. It is a hybrid, after all.

The large digital speed display is a welcome feature on the Prius C (it was deleted from the Yaris six years ago) but conspicuous by its absence is the lack of Apple Car Play or Android Auto.

The interior is functional and well laid out, just don’t go looking for Apple Car Play or Android Auto. Picture: Supplied.
The interior is functional and well laid out, just don’t go looking for Apple Car Play or Android Auto. Picture: Supplied.

Safety

The Prius C has seven airbags and earned five stars for crash safety when it was released in 2012.

It scored well in the aggressive offset frontal crash at 64km/h (14.6 out of 16) and earned a good score overall (34.4 out of 37).

However the Prius C would be unlikely to earn five stars against the latest criteria given it lacks automatic emergency braking, even as an option.

This is an unusual omission given the Prius C was recently updated and the Yaris and Corolla siblings now have "Toyota Safety Sense" (AEB) available as a $650 option on certain grades and standard on others.

Australia’s smallest hybrid car has had two updates since this generation car was launched in 2012. Picture: Joshua Dowling.
Australia’s smallest hybrid car has had two updates since this generation car was launched in 2012. Picture: Joshua Dowling.

Driving

The hybrid powertrain is matched to a 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine. The electric motor gives it a quiet yet decent shove off the line before the petrol engine takes over at cruising speeds.

Most people who've never driven a hybrid assume they're boring, but in fact the Prius C is quite fun to drive.

It steers with precision and the grip from the tyres adds confidence in corners, whether it's a roundabout or a sweeping bend on a country road.

You can get pretty close to the fuel economy claim, especially if you're mostly driving around town.

Just don't get a flat tyre. As with an increasing number of cars these days, the Prius C has one of those horrible skinny space saver spares in the boot.

The Toyota Corolla Hybrid is a better proposition at its current price of $27,990 drive-away. Picture: Supplied.
The Toyota Corolla Hybrid is a better proposition at its current price of $27,990 drive-away. Picture: Supplied.

Alternatives

Direct rivals are primarily in Toyota showrooms: the aforementioned Yaris is currently $17,490 drive-away -- $10,200 cheaper than the Prius C. The Corolla Hybrid was $27,990 drive-away as this article was published.

Based on the national average distance travelled of 15,000km the Yaris would use about $560 more in fuel per year than the Prius C and the Corolla Hybrid would use about $106 more, and that's even accounting for the Corolla Hybrid's thirst for dearer, 95 premium unleaded. The Yaris and the Prius C run on regular unleaded. (See our cost calucations at the bottom of this story).

Verdict

I love the Toyota Prius C but it's difficult to justify at this price. It's time Toyota sharpened the pencil on this deal so more people can have a taste of hybrid technology.

 

At a glance: Toyota Prius C

PRICE $27,700 drive-away

SAFETY 5 stars, 7 airbags, rear view camera, but autonomous emergency braking is not available at any price

TRANSMISSION Auto

THIRST 3.9L/100km (regular unleaded)

The Toyota Yaris auto at its current price of $17,490 drive-away is more than $10,000 cheaper than the Prius C. The extra cost of the Prius C would take 18 years to recoup in fuel savings. Picture: Supplied.
The Toyota Yaris auto at its current price of $17,490 drive-away is more than $10,000 cheaper than the Prius C. The extra cost of the Prius C would take 18 years to recoup in fuel savings. Picture: Supplied.

 

Fuel cost methodology:

The $27,700 Toyota Prius C fuel average: 3.9L/100km

National average distance travelled: 15,000km

Litres of fuel to travel 15,000km: 585L

Average cost of regular unleaded: $1.50

Estimated annual fuel cost: $877.50

 

The $17,490 Toyota Yaris auto fuel average: 6.4L/100km

National average distance travelled: 15,000km

Litres of fuel to travel 15,000km: 960L

Average cost of regular unleaded: $1.50

Estimated annual fuel cost: $1440 ($562.50 more than a Prius C)

 

The $27,990 Toyota Corolla Hybrid fuel average: 4.1L/100km

National average distance travelled: 15,000km

Litres of fuel to travel 15,000km: 615L

Average cost of 95 premium unleaded: $1.60

Estimated annual fuel cost: $984 ($106.50 more than a Prius C)

 

This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling



Council actions leave lasting scar

Council actions leave lasting scar

Tale of the vanishing red bean tree

100 JOBS: Maclean's new supermarket digs in

premium_icon 100 JOBS: Maclean's new supermarket digs in

First sod turned on Maclean carpark site

Hot button and confidential issues up for decision

Hot button and confidential issues up for decision

Clarence Valley Council has hot button issues for decision today.

Local Partners