Vitamin C: Of Fuel Efficiency and the Toyota Prius C

Sections: Chassis, Fuel Economy, Powertrain

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2013 Toyota Prius C Photo Shoot 021

(Lyndon Johnson photo)

Our 2013 Toyota Prius C was rated at 53 MPG city, 46 MPG highway. So, did we get anywhere close to that?

But of course we did. In fact, we did slightly better than the combined rating of 50 MPG. I expected nothing less from the Prius C after having twice beat the 42 MPG combined rating — albeit barely — in the two consecutive model years of Toyota Prius V I’ve tested. I ended my week with the Prius C at 51.3 MPG.

It bears mentioning that I wasn’t easy on the Prius C. The car has by far the sportiest character of any Prius. Perhaps you’re laughing right now. That’s understandable. No Prius is particularly sporty by traditional measures of power, speed, and lateral grip. But in terms of its siblings, the subcompact C is the most fun to hoon a bit.

That’s all the more strange because the C makes the least power (99 total system horsepower) and has perhaps the lowest-tech chassis tuning of any Prius model, including drum brakes (!) to stop the rear wheels. But the Prius C’s lack of extraneous weight was a boon to its fairly neutral, predictable, and pleasant handling: The C tips the scales at 2,500 lbs, while the V is a much heavier 3,274.

Observant readers will have realized by now that I take photos of all our test cars at my local airport. Any kind of Prius is a popular vehicle there. One night a few months ago, I was writing a story for the local paper about a free pilot training ground school being taught at the airport, and when I rolled up, all the instructors on-hand for the class had parked their three Prius Hybrids together. Joking with the instructors, with whom I am familiar by virtue of how much time I spend laying on the tarmac taking photos of my test cars, I remarked it looked like a Prius convention out there.

“It’s the only way we can afford to put gas in the planes!” an instructor responded. That may be true, as airplane fuel is leaded 100 octane stuff that costs a pretty penny — at last check, my local airport had a per-gallon 100LL price of $5.32 if you pump it yourself. One instructor advised that he was routinely able to average better than 50 MPG in his Prius on the highway.

That same instructor took a look at my most recent Toyota Prius V, but was not impressed with its 40-ish MPG average that displayed on the dashboard at the time of my photo shoot. His middle-sibling Prius Hybrid offered most of the interior space at a better observed fuel economy, he reasoned. Upon looking the next week at my Prius C tester, the instructor remarked that he’d probably look hard at the smallest Prius sibling when time comes to trade his aging Prius Hybrid — but only on the condition that it was able to beat 50 MPG on the highway.

Well, I can happily report to my flight instructor friend that the Prius C did better than that for me despite my heavy right foot. Given a smoother driving style, I’d bet it can do even better.

Disclosure: Toyota provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.

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