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Review of the Toyota Aqua (Prius C)

Dr. Manura Nanayakkara, a practicing doctor in Sri Lanka, shares the research he did before buying his Toyota Aqua.

The Toyota Aqua is a full hybrid mini-hatchback car developed for the Japanese market. It is rebranded as "Prius C" in other countries. This review focuses on the Toyota Aqua as there are many reviews of the Prius C on the internet.

Toyota Aqua in a Motor Show

Toyota Aqua in a Motor Show

The Differences Between the Aqua and the Prius C

Since the Prius C is targeted to European and U.S. markets, its safety features are different from the Aqua's. For example, while the basic Aqua has two air bags, even the base grade of Prius C has eight air bags. In addition, the Prius C comes with a special display which shows the energy flow from the battery/engine to wheels; only high-end Japanese Aqua models (G grade) have this display.

In addition, the grades are different for the Aqua and the Prius C. Toyota Aqua comes in L, S and G grades; Prius C comes in 1, 2, and 3 grades. The features of comparable grades are markedly different between the Aqua and the Prius C. Most Japanese Aquas are customized for the original Japanese buyer, except zero-mileage vehicles in Japanese Auctions. So options will vary widely.

Other than that, these two cars are essentially similar. Both have the same engine and hybrid power train. Both have the same external and internal appearance.

The Toyota Aqua is marketed as having a fuel efficiency of 37km/l according to JC008 test cycle. But according to the US Environmental Protection Agency assessment, the Prius C gets 50 miles per gallon (US), equivalent to just 21.7km/l.

Fuel Economy of the Toyota Aqua

It is quite confusing to have two very different fuel economy ratings for essentially the same car. I usually got fuel economy rating in between these two values for my Aqua. I get around 26km/l for average highway and urban driving. Therefore, the EPA rating seems more real-world than the Japanese JC008 test cycle.

However, the point is that the Aqua has the best fuel economy compared to all other vehicles, after excluding plugin hybrids such as the Prius PHV and Chevrolet Volt.

Toyota Aqua: Home Video

Specifications and Features: Different Versions of the Toyota Aqua

Toyota Aqua is offered in three different grades: L, S, and G. In addition, there are limited edition grades, such as GS and the special Leather Edition.

  • L grade is the base grade. It does not have a rear wiper, power shutters in the rear doors (though it has power shutters in the front doors), a smart key, or a vanity mirror in the front passenger sun visor, and it has smaller tires. However, L grade is 30 kg lighter than other grades (with probably the best fuel economy in the Aqua class). In addition, L grade comes with a spare tire (the other grades come with a puncture repair kit).
  • S Grade comes with both front and rear power shutters, push start and rear wiper. Other features vary between cars depending on the customization ordered by the Japanese buyer.
  • G or premium grade vehicles have all the features of S Grade plus features including multi-function Steering, and cruise control.
  • GS and G Leather edition come with more exterior customization such as LED fog lights and leather interior.
  • Aqua X Urban, launched in 2014, is currently the highest grade. It has all the features of G grade plus higher ground clearance (160cm vs 140cm).

The list of features and specs can be seen by following link to the Toyota.jp site. It is in Japanese and you need to have the translator enabled.

Basic Dimensions of the Toyota Aqua

Drive System




Riding Capacity


Weight (kg)


Length (mm)


Width (mm)


Height (mm)




Wheel Base (mm)


Tires Front Tread (mm)


Tires Rear Tread (mm)


Ground Clearance (mm)


Minimum Turning Radius (m)


Looks, Performance and Construction Quality

This is a handsome car. It has good interior and luggage space. It is built aerodynamically to improve fuel efficiency at highway speeds.

However, I felt the space in the passenger compartment is restricted. In addition, the build quality looks very cheap. Since you are buying one of the cheapest cars with full hybrid power train you need to expect low quality cosmetic material.

Performance-wise, Toyota Aqua is similar to other hybrid cars. Initial pickup is not very good. However, if you want to have good pickup, then disable the ECO button. It will cost you more fuel but you will get a performance kick. When you press the gas pedal hard, the hybrid power mode initiates. In hybrid power mode both engine and hybrid battery gives power to the vehicle. It is useful in very tight overtakes. I find it very responsive compared to the Toyota Vitz I had.

Toyota Aqua is built on Toyota’s proprietary Hybrid Synergy Drive© system. It has a 1500cc Atkinson cycle engine with 1Kwh NiMH battery.

Toyota Aqua Drive and Engine Basics

Problems With the Toyota Aqua

Even though Aqua has unbeatable fuel economy, compared to Honda Fit it has the following problems, according to Edmunds.com:

  1. Less interior space
  2. Less ground clearance, except for X-urban model
  3. Cheap interior materials
  4. Bumpy ride (even compared to the Toyota Vitz, the ride is quite bumpy and uncomfortable)
  5. Less cargo space
  6. Small rear window

First Documented Hybrid Battery Failure in Prius C

A guy reported to Prius chat forums and posted a YouTube video claiming that his Prius C battery failed after four years of use. He drove his vehicle 350,000 km in four years. According to the video he maintained his car poorly. In particular, he did not clean the hybrid battery exhaust fan located on the left side just beneath the rear seat.

How to Drive a Toyota Aqua and Other Hybrids

Unlike in a regular vehicle, the engine itself does not start when you switch on the vehicle. Instead, the hybrid system initiates and it will be notified in the display as “READY”. When the vehicle is in the READY mode, you can drive it. When the engine starts depends on the condition of the battery and the engine temperature. Till then the vehicle will be driven in EV (Electrical Vehicle) mode.

To achieve maximum fuel efficiency you need to drive the vehicle below 60km/h on normal roads without prolonged hard acceleration or sudden braking. You need to apply the brake gradually.

On highways, you need to keep the vehicle speed below 100km/h and keep the same velocity throughout the journey.

The Toyota Aqua's Hybrid System Indicator

Here the curved meter indicates the amount of power you are applying. If you keep it below "ECO" level then your vehicle runs mostly on EV mode. On the right hand side, PWR range shows where both the battery and the engine give power to the vehicle.

Here the curved meter indicates the amount of power you are applying. If you keep it below "ECO" level then your vehicle runs mostly on EV mode. On the right hand side, PWR range shows where both the battery and the engine give power to the vehicle.

Tips on Driving a Hybrid Vehicle Economically

  1. Drive the vehicle without prolonged hard acceleration (brief acceleration is OK) and without applying the brakes suddenly. Quick acceleration and then gliding will save fuel. This "pulse and glide" method is where you rapidly accelerate to achieve a little above the desired speed and then glide with slight pressure on the accelerator. E.g If you want to drive the vehicle 50km/h. Then accelerate to 60km/h and use the glide method to slowly decelerate to 45km/h.
  2. To glide, apply enough power to fill one square of the hybrid system indicator. If you want more power, do not use the EV mode excessively, just push a little harder to start the engine.
  3. Sudden braking wastes energy by turning it into heat. During gradual braking, part of the energy is stored in the hybrid battery.
  4. On highways, keep vehicle speed below 100km/h and do not change speed frequently.
  5. Keep short-distance trips to a minimum. Frequent engine warm-ups degrade fuel economy.
  6. Excessive use of EV mode will decrease fuel efficiency and degrade the hybrid battery life.

Service and Maintenance for the Toyota Aqua

According to the Toyota Prius C manual, the engine oil and engine oil filter should be changed every 16,000 km or once yearly, whichever comes first in normal driving conditions. In severe driving conditions (e.g. Taxis, police cars with frequent small trips), engine oil should be changed every 8000 km. This is distinctly different from the people at service stations tell you. They usually tell that every vehicle should change their engine oil every 5000 km.

The usual engine oil type for this vehicle is 0W- 20, a fully synthetic oil which is somewhat expensive. If you use any other engine oil it should be changed within 8000km.

In addition, you need to change the transaxle (transmission) fluid at 50,000 km. It is very important to change this as the transmission is one of the most complicated parts in a hybrid vehicle.

Due to regenerative braking, brake pads will usually last around 120,000 kms. This is an advantage of a hybrid vehicle.

Vehicles with hybrid synergy drive do not have fan belts, engine belts, or AC belts. They have an electric radiator pump and a beltless electric brake pump. These functions are performed by electric motors that do not need to be replaced. This is another advantage of a Hybrid vehicle.

However, the Aqua has a lead-acid battery (as do ordinary cars) that needs to be replaced every three years.

The main hybrid battery does not need manual servicing. However, it usually needs to be replaced within 8 to 10 years. When it needs replacing, you will experience a drastic reduction in fuel efficiency and a continuously running internal combustion engine (Minimal EV distance), and there will be an indicator on the dashboard. But as I mentioned earlier, there are reports that some NiMH batteries last more than 12 years.

You may want to refer to the Prius service manual (PDF).

Toyota Prius C (Aqua) Maintenance Page for 5,000 to 10,000 Miles

It clearly mentions oil change intervals. If you want to see the original then click on the link above.

It clearly mentions oil change intervals. If you want to see the original then click on the link above.

The New Aqua X-Urban

In 2014 Toyota developed a new Aqua model named X-Urban. It has more ground clearance (160mm compared to 140mm) and it is slightly longer than the current Aqua models. It is developed more for off-road travelling. Because it has the same engine and power train configuration, the fuel economy is less than the current model, due to aerodynamic changes and increased vehicle weight. But it would be useful for less-developed or rural roads.

Aqua X - Urban Trim Model

Aqua X - Urban Trim Model

2015 Changes: The Face Lift of the Aqua and Prius C

In late 2014, Toyota made some changes to the exterior of Aqua and the Prius C models. However, they have same engine and hybrid system configuration. They have included LED headlights, and the taillights have been modified for a futuristic look. In addition, now the Aqua is available in combinations of colors. You can check them at the Toyota.jp site (the link is provided above).

Popular Plug-In and Electrical Vehicles

Chevrolet Volt - Electric vehicle with gasoline range extender.

Chevrolet Volt - Electric vehicle with gasoline range extender.

Buying a Hybrid: How to Buy an Aqua

If you are not in Japan, then you need to go through a Japanese used car auction to import a Toyota Aqua. But you need to consider that importing a used vehicle from Japan will involve warranty problems unless your country has a genuine Toyota dealership.

Buying a zero-mileage hybrid vehicle could expose you to costly repairs if the vehicle is a manufacturing defect that becomes apparent after some time., e.g., the third gen. Prius inverter malfunction. It is safer to buy a vehicle that has a mileage of at least 5000km with more than six months of use.

In addition, you need to consider that it is a right-hand drive vehicle. Therefore, it is mostly imported into Asian countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Some countries such as Sri Lanka offer tax reductions for hybrid vehicles.

You may also want to consider a hybrid buying guide for Japanese auctions.

Prius PHV or Plugin Hybrid Vehicle. Can go up to 26km per charge in EV mode.In addition, it has a gasoline engine.

Prius PHV or Plugin Hybrid Vehicle. Can go up to 26km per charge in EV mode.In addition, it has a gasoline engine.


Toyota Aqua is the Japanese version of Prius C. Compared to the Prius C, it has minor interior and safety differences. It is the most fuel-efficient vehicle in its category, but it has mediocre build quality.

Nissan Leaf - Full Electric Vehicle without gasoline engine.

Nissan Leaf - Full Electric Vehicle without gasoline engine.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2014 Dr Manura Nanayakkara


Wai Lam William LING on October 19, 2019:

A very useful tips of how to maintain the Toyota Aqua, which you can rarely obtain from the Service Workshop.

I love it . Thank you

Daniel H.L.Tan on August 12, 2019:

Good article. I find it very clear and informative. I bought the Aqua in June 2019.

Very satisfied with its performance. During the 2 and half months use, fuel

consumption was an average 28 km per litre. The driving tips in article useful:

do not brake suddenly, drive below 60 kph on urban road and below 100 kph and at constant speed on highways, accelerate to slightly above 60 and release

accelerator to let car cruise between 45-55. Tips on maintenance schedule for oil filter, change of engine oil etc useful and plan to adopt the schedule. For info, the car bought was a used car at 59,000 km. Thanks Dr. Manura.

Taurus on July 23, 2019:

Will Aqua run with only fuel when the battery is dead? Or it will just not run until the hybrid battery is replaced? I have an Aqua 2013 model car and it is showing some problems. The hybrid battery works and then suddenly stops working and the car starts to run on fuel ONLY. And now I'm confused as to what is causing such problem. Would be really glad if you could say something on it.

curt sealey on April 18, 2019:

i purchashed a foreign used toyota aqua 2014 model in january 2019 and last week wednesday for the first time when i got home arround 11pm, i got a burning scent from the back. I assumed it was the brakes so threw some water on the tires and retired to bed. Around 3am, i was alerted to my vehicle being engulfed in fire and it was completely destroyed. I am not familiar with hybird type vehicles and would like to know what could have caused the fire?

Ivan on March 22, 2019:

Great information. Thanks for sharing

Lisa on January 04, 2019:

Very informative and clear. Thank you.

Priyanath on October 23, 2018:

Thanks. This is very useful and reader friendly article. Very clear and simple language used. Best regards.

Kevin on February 01, 2018:

Hi just bought a used aqua s grade from Japan and I wanted to know if there is a way to use the prius c 's instrument cluster on it

M.ali on November 12, 2017:

How to start aqua car in petrol

Dr Manura Nanayakkara (author) from Sri Lanka on August 12, 2017:

It's more or less a Grey area, s and g grade features. G grade has more probability to have premium materials but i have seen premium leather seats in smaller grade also.

Dr Manura Nanayakkara (author) from Sri Lanka on June 04, 2017:


features of S and G grades varies widely due to customization ordered by original buyer. e.g. S Grade can come with multi function steering. I edited the article to include base configurations.

Khan on June 03, 2017:

Can you please elaborate the difference between S and G grades ???

Agnes on April 28, 2017:

Thanks for the information,its very educative i can make the right choice now

Dushantha on February 12, 2017:

you have done good job..thanks lot

Piyal Wickramadinghe on December 23, 2016:

Thanks for all descriptive explanations and are very useful for all aqua fans. as per the vehicle manufacturer and the originals manual, all say very truth. But here in Sri Lanka most of us don't care about distance measuring units whether it is to be by kilometers or miles, just say it by numbers only. But we all should give special attention on that number with its unit to be what?? And, when you're servicing the vehicle what truly has to be replaced. Because in some areas, mileage has mentioned by miles.

Dr Manura Nanayakkara (author) from Sri Lanka on November 27, 2016:

L grade is the basic grade, It does not have rear wiper, no push start and seats are less comfortable without headrest. Rear doors do not have power shutters only manual lever.But it has spare tire and does not come with tire repair kit which is good. All the other core features (engine, hybrid system, engine control, A/C) are same. It is the core Aqua without any fancy features (So having 30kgs less weight).

Muhammad Asif on November 22, 2016:

I want to know what is difference between aqua L grade and S grade

Dr Manura Nanayakkara (author) from Sri Lanka on October 26, 2016:

I have no practical explanation. Because I have not compared 2012 and 2014 models. Since second gen prius was very reliable and even after 8 years of use, there is only minor reduction in fuel efficiency. We can expect same with aqua. There will be minor reduction in fuel efficiency as there will be reduction in battery capacity and ev distance but overall you won't feel any difference. But Aqua is not a comfortable car.

Chithaka on October 17, 2016:

Well done Sir..

So the question is that there is a reasonable price change in 2012 and 2014 AQUA market in Sri Lanka. I'm finding a one now (a GOOD AQUA in Fuel). So will I feel any differences between them after I brought one from 2012...?

Thanks in advance.

Nishan Wanasinghe on February 22, 2016:

Thank you very much. This a very useful article.I appreciate it lot.

cnwarna on February 02, 2016:

aqua engine get raise abnormality while it is running but this comes after run 12 kms. even after i release the gas paddle engine get raise for few seconds.

jeewaka on October 31, 2015:

Thanks a lot

Dr Manura Nanayakkara (author) from Sri Lanka on October 16, 2015:

I think it is possible, But better check with a tyre dealer. Anyway increasing road clearance will reduce fuel economy as there is more friction.

Kashif on October 15, 2015:

Good article.

Can i install 185/65R15 tyre? As the current tyres are 175/65/R15. Need increased road clearance and less bumps

Sanjeewa A on August 01, 2015:

Thank you for sharing your knowledge. Great job.

Muhammad Ahmad Chishty on June 27, 2015:

Fantastic article

Priyantha on May 06, 2015:

great input for us.

Dr Manura Nanayakkara (author) from Sri Lanka on March 12, 2015:

Thanks for the comment. It was mentioned im priuschat.com. They have mentioned several cases that caused transaxal failure with oil change at the 100000 kms. Since transaxle failure virtualy kills the vehicle, i have mentioned 50000 as a more safe value. However I agree with your point. Most vehicles will not have problems with changing transaxle oil at 100000kms.

Dr Manura Nanayakkara (author) from Sri Lanka on March 12, 2015:

Thanks for the comment. It was mentioned im priuschat.com. They have mentioned several cases that caused transaxal failure with oil change at the 100000 kms. Since transaxle failure virtualy kills the vehicle, i have mentioned 50000 as a more safe value. However I agree with your point. Most vehicles will not have problems with changing transaxle oil at 100000kms.

Gayanath on March 09, 2015:

Highly appreciate your commitment and nice article.

But I'm disagree with your statement "you need to change Transaxal (transmission) fluid at 50,000 kms." Because I couldn't found it on the manual. According to the manual erliest time to replace is 60,000 miles or 72 months means 96,000 km (only if heavy vehicle towing) but it was not applicable to aqua as it has not design for towing.

Agreed for all others.

Dr Manura Nanayakkara (author) from Sri Lanka on January 01, 2015:

When you are travelling in urban environment then keep in the eco mode. But when you need acceleration then use engine to do it. Without crawling in ev mode. It will degrade battery life and fuel economy as battery power is also coming from engine. Engine is most efficient in rapid acceleration. So use p and g mehod mentioned earlier. When you are travelling in highways then use the engine in a stable speed.

eranga on December 29, 2014:

should we always try to keep the indicator in 'EV' mode? is that save fuel?

Dr Manura Nanayakkara (author) from Sri Lanka on December 27, 2014:


Thanks for the comment, I have updated the maintenance section.

hiran on December 24, 2014:

thanks a lot man...very good article...learn lot of things about aqua...keep up the good work...pls post a about

article how to maintain an aqua

Sam on December 01, 2014:

This is very valuable site, people can have clear ideas about what they need to buy.

Emilia Riera from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on November 24, 2014:

Interesting. It reminds me of the 1976 Honda Civic hatchback I had long ago. That little car got 30 mpg. I am wondering about price comparison. While prices vary by location, I am wondering what percentage of the standard Prius price an Aqua (or the equivalent) is.

nishan on November 12, 2014:

How can i check my aqua is grade S or G??

arjun on September 23, 2014:

really well exlained article and igot much use of this because im gona to buy and aqua thanks a lot

Dr Manura Nanayakkara (author) from Sri Lanka on September 21, 2014:

Thank you Nisha

Dr.Nisha Dharmarathna on September 20, 2014:

Thanks a lot. I got a better understanding of my Aqua. Continue your excellent work.

Dr. Nuwan De Zoysa on August 12, 2014:

First I want to thank you for publishing this article for the people who are interested in the aqua. Your explanations are very descriptive and easily understood. I personally gained a lot of information regarding the vehicle. I encourage you to further publish such articles educate car fans. Keep up the good work :)

kamal bandara on August 11, 2014:

Good point.. I wonder why Toyota local dealer says to change the Oil every 5000Kms when driving in SL roads.

Dr Manura Nanayakkara (author) from Sri Lanka on August 11, 2014:

Regarding the fourth comment, It is clearly mentioned in prius c warranty and maintenance guide that the oil change interval is 10000 miles (us) for normal driving and 5000 miles for heavy driving. It is widely accepted in priuschat .com forum that 10000 mile oil change is enough if you use 0w 20 toyota genuine oil.

Dr Manura Nanayakkara (author) from Sri Lanka on August 11, 2014:

Thanks for the input

kamal bandara on August 10, 2014:

Hi Dr,

This is an interesting article describe the Prius C/AQUA.

There are couple of things I would like to add here. MID (multi information display) unit comes in the Prius C is not a common feature in AQUA but there are some comes with it (depend on the customer who bought the car in Japan). I have seen some cars (JDM) in SL also with MID units.

Second, if we drive below 47kmph then we can achieve 36kmpl very easily ( I have done many times) and average we get around 22-24kmpl in Colombo traffic.

Three, there are some S grade cars (JDM models) without a smart keys (this also comes for customers requirement).

Four, 16000km service interval is if you are using TDR oil (special oil used for Toyota racing) else its 5000-6000 since the car is running lot of time in the start-stop intervals in the traffic.

Hope this helps.

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