Car Review: Prius c versus Prius Three

The Toyota Prius c is a small hybrid on a budget while the Prius Three offers more space and fuel efficiency.

WASHINGTON — The Toyota Prius c is a small hybrid on a budget while the Prius Three offers more space and fuel efficiency.

Prius is pretty much a sub-brand of Toyota with a loyal following of drivers who don’t want to spend much time filling up at the gas pump. These hybrid five-door hatchbacks offer an efficient way to get around. There are two models — Prius c and the larger Prius — that fit different size and budget needs.

Prius c
Think of this as the entry level to a Prius in both size and performance. The Prius c is a good deal smaller than the Prius. The style is also a more conventional tiny hatch than the futuristic larger Prius. The c features fun colors — if you can find them — like my Sandstorm. Other colors, such as Tangerine, and a few hues of blue for 2018 models are hard to find.

Fuel economy is a major reason to buy a Prius c and, while not as impressive as the larger Prius, this version is no slouch with 46 mpg combined. I managed 45 mpg with more highway than city.

Stop-and-go city driving is where this car delivers even better miles per gallon. There isn’t much power, so careful planning when merging into traffic is a must (not using the eco setting helps a tiny bit). The car gets noisy when accelerating and there is some wind and tire noise on the highway. Drive it like the fuel-sipping car it is and it does a nice job of being a commuter car. The ride is decent on smooth roads, but bumps and rougher roads upset the ride a bit.

There are four trim levels of the Prius c. One starts around $21,000 and my Prius c Three stickered at $24,450 with the optional moon roof. Space for four isn’t a problem. Legs and heads have good room. A fifth person would be a tight fit. The cloth interior seems like it would be durable.

There are some soft touch materials like the armrest but the majority is hard plastics. Cargo space is decent for this small ride, and if you lay down the back seats it’s a large space to haul items. The touch-screen with rear view camera and NAV are a snap to use.

Prius Three
If you need more space and want even better miles per gallon, then the Prius Three adds capability to a futuristic-looking five-door hatch. While 46 mpg combined is impressive, my test vehicle came in 56 mpg for my week of driving, easily beating 52 mpg on the sticker — and I wasn’t trying hard at all.

There is more power, so you can cruise with the flow of traffic much easier. While it’s no rocket, it feels like the most spirited Prius to date.

It seamlessly goes from electric power for short periods to the gas engine doing its best to give the best miles per gallon.

The engine can be a bit coarse under hard acceleration, but I doubt many Prius owners really floor the car much.

Handling is better than I thought. You can feel confident on city streets and on the highway with a smoother ride when compared to the Prius c.

The inside is roomy for a smaller five-door hatchback with good space for people up front and in the back.

The seats aren’t the most comfortable but they are a bit better than most small economy minded cars.

Lots of glass leads to great vision out of the car.

The hatchback offers decent luggage space. The rear hatch is a bit high for smaller individuals, who might also have trouble closing it.

My loaded Prius Three stickered around $30,000 and included a handy Head-up Display and sunroof. The gauges are in the middle of the dash and it takes some time to get used to that different location.

The Prius doesn’t look like much else on the road these days, and that’s rare in the car world. It stands out with its aerodynamic shape. From the futuristic front end and odd-looking alloy wheels; it all looks like it’s designed to cheat the wind. Even the back end styling isn’t boring with shark-fin antenna and taillights that seem to jut out at the top of the body and inset at the bottom of the rear fascia. The optional Blizzard Pearl color looks good on this Prius and helps set it apart with the usual colors you see.

The hybrid bargain-priced Prius c helps those who want to save fuel but don’t want to break the bank doing it. The larger Prius moves a bit more to a higher level while becoming even more efficient. Loyal Prius owners looking to move up will find the Prius Three offers a nice balance of efficiency with a better all-around car with the fourth generation Prius. New customers will find an efficient Prius c the first and colorful step into the hybrid family.

Mike Parris is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association. The vehicles are provided by DriveShop, FMI or Motus One for the purpose of this review.

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