Strengths and weaknesses:
- relatively inexpensive
- technological content
- exceptional fuel economy
- low power
- uncomfortable driver’s seat
Toyota builds a smaller, more affordable Prius
SEATTLE, Wash. - No mainstream car company has put more stock in hybrids as the way forward than has Toyota; and 2012 sees the addition of the Prius “c” to the already expansive line-up.
The C stands for ‘city’, the optimum playground for littlest member of the Prius clan. A hatchback subcompact that breaks from its siblings (the regular Prius, and the Prius V, the bigger one) in outward styling, the C is already appearing at dealers, packaged as a sort of premium-entry-level car.
It comes with one of the easiest buy-ins available for a gas-electric car, an MSRP beginning at $20,950 (for the basest model), which will get you a cloth upholstered interior and Toyota’s entry-level hybrid electronic info displays.
Move up to a top-end C and a buyer gets leather (or, shall I say, leather-like) upholstery, and more full-featured electronics, including a proper navigation system, for a still relatively low sticker price ($25,995)
Powered by the combination of a 1.5 litre gasoline engine and an electric motor, the Prius C brings all the fuel-saving benefits of the Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain, like an engine stop feature that shuts off the gas engine when idling, regenerative braking, everything you find in the larger members of the family.
The C’s battery pack weighs roughly 45 kg, and is 26% lighter than the one used in the standard Prius liftback, and positioned under the rear seat to give the car a low center of gravity and leave it feeling firmly planted on the road.
I can vouch for that feel, having taken a couple of trims of the C for a spin on the hilly, twisty roads around Seattle and neighbouring suburbs. The car provides a flat-and-stable ride and is suspended well enough with its MacPherson-strut front and rear torsion beam rig that it doesn’t beat the passengers up when running over bumps or cornering.
The company boasts the Prius C has the best fuel economy of any car sold in Canada without a plug, stating numbers of 3.5 L/100km in city driving and 4.0 on the highway, an impressive level achieved both by the lightened overall powertrain combined with low rolling resistance tires and the aerodynamics of the body.
The interior offers very good headroom for a vehicle of this type, in both the front and rear, though as you might expect elbow room is tight if you stuff some full-sized passengers into it.
Available in three trim levels here in Canada (there are four in the U.S., where a more stripped down base model is available), and Toyota has gone to lengths to make sure that any of them keep the feel and trappings of a ‘premium’ car. Which is not to say you’re going to mistake it for a Lexus CT, don’t get me wrong here; cloth upholstery is cloth upholstery, and the shifter that sticks out of the floor (as opposed to the little club-like selector of the larger Prius models) looks pretty plain.
Moving up the line a little brings the aforementioned leather-esque seating, and a better-looking info center via the navigation module’s larger screen; options like the ‘premium package’ will outfit the car with larger wheels (16-inch alloys vs. the standard 15-inch steel), heated seats and a power moonroof.
Anyone shopping the newest member of the Prius family may find that its worst enemy is the rest of Toyota’s small-car line-up, from the gasoline-only Yaris and Corolla to the other, larger Prius models, but considered in context of its urban-friendly size and environment-friendly ultra low emissions, the company is betting heavily that the Prius C is going to win a lot of friends.