Comparison Test 2012 Toyota Yaris Vs 2012 Toyota Prius c

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Toyota Prius c Electric Cars

Comparison Test: 2012 Toyota Yaris Vs. 2012 Toyota Prius c

Comparing similar, fuel-efficient non-hybrid and hybrid cars

Steve Temple on 06.12.2012

Even though gas prices are lower than they were a year ago heading into summer, consumers are clamoring for more economical cars. Indeed, demand for both new and used Prius hybrids has swelled. That’s certainly understandable, but a singular pursuit of better gas mileage might involve some tradeoffs.

Back-to-Back Test Drives

Exterior Styling

On the other hand, the lighter Toyota Yaris simply scampered up the foothills of the Sierras into the mountain passes, and we only occasionally slapped the shifter sideways from Eco mode (overdrive) to regular drive. That transmission feature gives the Yaris a sportier feel, and makes the most of the powerband of the four-cylinder engine.

By comparison, the Prius c serves as merely an efficient form of transportation. With the digital gauges and lack of traditional engine readouts, this computerized conveyance feels more like fingering an iPad than driving a car. Although intellectually stimulating, the experience of grabbing the wheel lacks some hairy-knuckled passion.

In addition, its narrow, hard tires (with lower rolling resistance) tend to hunt and wander at times in the shallow tracks left by long-haul truckers. On the other hand, on winding mountain roads, the Prius c’s lower center of gravity (due to the placement of the battery pack and other components), is an advantage, so the chassis hugs tight turns with minimal body lean. Ditto for the Yaris.

Switchbacks and Inclines

While the Prius c’s handling was better than we expected on twisty switchbacks, the engine complained with a annoying drone as it struggled to make it up to the ski slopes of Mt. Rose, while the Yaris didn’t seem to mind as much. No surprise, then, that the average mpg readout on the Prius c plummeted to 22 mpg.

On the other hand, when coasting downhill from Donner Pass, we saw as high as 99 mpg on the display. And the batteries recharged in just a few minutes.

After driving from the Bay area to the Reno/Tahoe area and heading back, we had to refill the 9.5-gallon tank in the old mining town of Dutch Flat, CA. Based on the distance covered and fuel consumed (397.4 miles and 9.1 gallons), the plucky Prius c managed 43.6 mpg. Given the steep inclines, some high-speed cruising at 65-plus mph, plus a two-person cargo for most of the trip, that’s still an impressive figure.

Mileage Comparisons

The Yaris didn’t quite make it as far on this route on a full tank, as it averaged 33 mpg, by our calculations. As noted earlier, we’ll admit to driving more aggressively, simply because we enjoyed the feel of the car better, so even better fuel efficiencies are no doubt possible.

So which car would we choose? From purely an economic standpoint, the Prius c clearly has the advantage. Even though you pay $6,445 more for the Hybrid Synergy setup ($16,800 versus $23,245 as tested, that sum could be recouped in several years if you frequently drive around town with gentle pressure on your right foot, and fuel prices continue to escalate.

By our calculations, the Prius c achieved roughly 10-mpg (or more) better fuel consumption than a Yaris on a real-world route. So if you drive 15,000 miles per year, in round numbers you’d burn less than 350 gallons in the Prius c, compared with nearly 455 gallons in the Yaris (assuming you keep your foot in it like we did). So roughly speaking (and literally here as well), if you venture to the high country like we did, you’d save 155 gallons a year, or $620 in annual fuel costs. That means you could recoup the extra cost of the Prius c in about 10 years.

Or probably even less, if you keep your foot out of it.

Toyota Prius c Electric Cars

In addition, keep in mind that there are other advantages of a Prius c, such as access to the HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes in congested areas. And maintenance costs should be lower as well, since there’s not the usual collection of engine accessories (starter, alternator, power steering pump, accessory belt), and the brake pads shouldn’t require replacing due to the regenerative braking system (at least in theory).

Of course, being thrifty isn’t everything in life, and consuming fewer hydrocarbons comes at a cost in both comfort and ride quality. After all, you have to live with a car long-term, and you presumably want a happy relationship. So if you often take longer drives on rough-and-tough routes beyond city limits, the 2012 Toyota Yaris delivers a more satisfying experience overall, and is still frugal in fuel efficiency. While not fast and furious, it’s certainly fun and friendly.

Prius c Pros:

Perpetual-motion fuel efficiency with a videogame dash display

Snakes through traffic and parks as easy as a Segway

Potential cast member for the Big Bang Theory TV show.

Prius c Cons:

I think I can performance on long, steep grades

Easily intimidated by pickups and SUVs

Interior as warm and inviting as a Frigidaire.

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