2014 Toyota Prius C vs. Nissan Versa: Pitting Hybrid Against Conventional

On the surface, it makes no sense to compare the new Nissan Versa Note and the Toyota Prius C. After all, the Nissan is powered exclusively by a combustion engine while the Toyota uses a hybrid system. But if you disregard the engines, the two vehicles have a lot in common. In fact, their exterior shapes are almost identical, they are practically the same size and they offer nearly the same level of power. While their price can differ widely depending on the trim, the two base models aren’t too far off from each other – with the Prius C’s starting price being just $7,857 higher than the Nissan’s.
The purpose of this comparison was to determine which of the two handles better, is more comfortable and is more fun to drive. And of course, we had to test them on a circuit that included all the necessary ingredients – city, back roads and highways – to check their fuel consumption as part of our thorough  assessment. Tests done in “normal” conditions often produce fuel consumption figures that differ greatly from the manufacturers’ rates. For this test, we stuck to the speed limit and didn’t bother with “green” driving techniques.

Dimensions: A level playing field...almost

Picking a favourite between these two compacts is difficult, especially when it comes to shape. Both are pretty nice, featuring a pronounced incline in front and truncated tail end. This design translates into a relatively low drag coefficient – 0.30 for the Nissan and 0.28 for the Toyota – in addition to contributing to a roomy interior, good headroom and a spacious trunk for a car of this size. The Versa Note’s trunk capacity is 532 litres while the Prius C’s is 484 litres, in both cases with the rear seatbacks up.

Let’s talk size. The two cars have nearly identical wheelbases, with the Nissan’s measuring 2,600 mm, which is just 50 mm more than the Toyota’s. The Nissan is also a tad longer – 4,157 mm versus 3,995 mm – but the difference is hardly anything to write home about. At 1,695 mm each, height is a draw, but the Versa Note is 92 mm wider, giving it the advantage when it comes to elbow room. The similarity continues on the scales. With a minimum weight of 1,113 kg, the Versa Note is a mere 19 kg lighter than its counterpart, so all you have to do is add a couple of accessories and the weight difference is down to nil. The Toyota weighs a little more because of the 30-lb. battery that feeds its electric motor.
Technical specs: More of the same!

Engines notwithstanding, these two cars’ technical specs look a lot alike. Both have front wheel drive, front strut suspensions and rear torsion bar suspensions. As with most sub-compacts, there are front disc brakes and rear drum brakes. In other words, same difference... The big difference, obviously, is in the engines.

The Versa Note is powered by a 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine that produces 109 horsepower and is paired with a continuously variable transmission. Meanwhile, the Prius C is equipped with a 1.5-litre Atkinson cycle engine that develops 77 horsepower and two small secondary electric motors that increase the total output to 99 horsepower. The hybrid comes with a nickel metal hydride battery and, like all other Priuses, it has a CVT.

Although the torque produced by the electric motor should guarantee livelier accelerations, it took us 10.8 seconds to go from 0 to 100 km/hr in the Prius C. The Versa Note, however, hardly leverages its additional 10 horses since it’s only a half-second faster (10.3 seconds) over the same distance. Not exactly domination, is it? Finally, 100-0 km/hr braking is practically a wash too, with distances of 43.8 and 44.5 for the Versa and Prius, respectively. The low-resistance tires resulted in longer braking distances.

Ride and fuel consumption

Considering that these two cars have similar dimensions and technical specs, it comes as no surprise that their respective handling is comparable too. In both cases, the power steering is adequate, with acceptable levels of assistance and precision, but both are guilty of withholding feedback from the road. Handling is also almost equal, although the Nissan has a slight advantage thanks to its more rigid platform – though it’s not exactly a sports car. Simply put, they feature respectable handling with predictable roadholding provided that you stick to normal driving. Any attempt at more aggressive driving will quickly reveal their limitations.

In fact, the only significant difference between the Nissan Versa Note and Toyota Prius C is fuel economy. The Toyota hybrid engine consumed, on average, 4.6 L/ 100 km on our test course. With the Nissan we recorded 6.2 L/100 km for the same trip. These figures are very close to the data provided by both manufacturers. According to Nissan, the Versa Note should average at 5.5 L/100 km while the Toyota maintains that the Prius C should consume an average of 3.7 L/100 km. Our calculations were higher, but the Versa departed less from the official figures with a difference of 0.7 litres compared to 0.9 litres for the Prius C. So how do you decide? For every 100 kilometres travelled, the Toyota consumes 1.6 litres less than the Nissan. If you travel an average of 20,000 km per year, you’ll save 320 litres of fuel. And assuming that gas costs $1.34 a litre, the Prius C will save you $428.80 per year at the pump – or $1,715.20 over four years. Now, that’s something to take into consideration!

But then we go back to the base price of both models and remember that the Nissan costs $7,857 less. Therefore, you’ll have to keep your Prius C for 18 years before you make up for the cost difference!

When it comes to performance and practicality, these two sub-compacts are almost equal – with a slight advantage for the Versa Note. However, if you want to reduce your car’s CO2 production, the choice is clearly the Prius C. For the time being, going green still costs more.

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