I've seen a lot of online criticism about our recent Toyota Prius C road test, be it from enthusiast podcasts or ad-supported online competitors. But I think the people who say the C is a good car are missing the point.
To review, despite its great fuel economy of 43 mpg overall, the Prius C scored too low in our comprehensive set of tests to meet our threshold for recommendation. The larger Prius liftback and Prius V have scored well in our Ratings, but the Prius C doesn't make the mark. (Learn how Consumer Reports tests cars.)
Much of the criticism of our review focused on a single line of advice at the end of our video: "If you want a $20,000 Prius, you should buy a used one." After all, the Prius C is intended to be the starting point into the Prius lineup, which is growing to be a sub-brand juggernaut just like the Oldsmobile Cutlass line was back in the 1980s.
But the criticism about comparing it to a used Prius totally misses the bigger point. We rank cars against others you can buy on the new-car market. Compared with other models you can buy, the Prius C proves to be really disappointing.
Now that we've finished testing it, the car sits in our parking lot. No one wants to drive it. Our lack of affection isn't because we own a fleet of more expensive rides or because we don't like the car's traffic-cone orange paint. It's because the Prius C feels like a penalty box compared to most subcompacts. (We have the same complaint about the related Toyota Yaris.) Our Chevrolet Sonic and Hyundai Accent both feel like driving a Mercedes compared to the more expensive Prius C, and they cost $3,000 less.
It's not just griping over cheap plastics either. The Prius C doesn't do well in many of our tests. Acceleration is slow. The cramped driving position is flawed. The ride is always busy, and the cabin is loud. Plus it reminds us that not all small cars have nimble handling.
Online feedback cries out: "But it's a brand-new hybrid for $20,000. What do you expect?" We expect a good car, especially given that $20,000 isn't exactly throwaway money. And despite fantastic fuel economy, the Prius C falls short. It's a cheap car with an expensive drivetrain. We can't be any more clear than that.