Strengths and weaknesses:
- great price
- outstanding fuel economy
- lack of power
- uncomfy driver seat
Newest, smallest Prius not just another fish in the C
"Not Prius-like at all really, the Prius c looks like a lot of the other five-door vehicles in the segment."
Toyota’s new entry in the subcompact segment for 2012 is the third in the Prius line – and the smallest of the family - whose designation stands for City. And while it bears the same name as the regular Prius and the larger Prius V, it has a look all its own.
Not Prius-like at all really, the Prius c looks like a lot of the other five-door vehicles in the segment. Nothing really stands out except for the huge white and red lens tail lights. In front there’s a vaguely fish-like face centred by Toyota’s signature blue-backed hybrid badge. In between is a hatchback profile that holds the promise of interior space.
Once inside, I discover there’s room for four people of average size to travel comfortably, although I find the driver seat cushion uncomfortable.
I have a multi-function steering wheel that handles audio, climate and dash display controls. Everything is within easy reach, including a long twig-like shift selector.
Set just slightly left of centre is the low binnacle which houses the digital speedometer and information display – and there’s plenty of information. One of the neatest is a display that tells you how much your trip is costing you. All you have to do is input the cost of fuel in your area and the computer takes it from there. For instance, a 40 km trip in Calgary cost me $1.58.
That’s cheap, but in every other aspect the Prius C cannot be called cheap—it’s too well put together for that, but it is certainly inexpensive. Yes, plastic is the most prevalent finish material in the cabin, but it has a soft, upscale, look to it.
You can get into a base model like my tester for under $21,000 (before taxes) which brings you everything you really need in a car. If you’re not satisfied with cloth seats, and convenience features like power windows, locks and mirrors, a decent audio system, air conditioning, cruise control and well-laid-out interior, you can jazz it up with navigation, moonroof and faux-leather seats (heated up front) and still keep just a shade under 26 grand.
There are plenty of larger vehicles with more interior space and more power out there in the same price range so what sets the “C” apart?
Number one is its fuel economy. Toyota claims it won’t often be seen at gas pumps. It’s true. I drive this base “C” for a week and still have a quarter-tank of fuel.
I could probably do better, but I never baby the car during our time together.
The little 1.5-litre four-banger under the hood gets a workout. If not for the boost from the Hybrid Synergy Drive electric motor, the “C” won’t pull the skin off a pudding. With that extra battery kick, though, the combined 99 horsepower is enough oomph to get a brisk start from stoplights and to handle traffic situations in the city. If you’re thinking about making a pass on the highway, the “C” requires plenty of space because you’re not going to get much response, other than rev noise, even with the CVT transmission supposedly keeping things in the “sweet spot.”
That’s the price you pay for exceptional fuel economy.
Number two is handling. The “C” is surprisingly nimble in city traffic and handles all the bumps and holes of springtime streets without jarring its passengers. On the highway, wind and road noise are about average for the segment, meaning this is no cone of silence by any means.
Compared to the other members of the Prius family, the “C” is smaller but a bit more city-friendly and even more environmentally friendly.
“Neat little car,” says the attendant at my usual fill-up station. “Where have you been? I haven’t seen you in a couple of weeks.”
“Oh, I’ve been around here,” I say. “I just didn’t need fuel.”
“Good thing everybody doesn’t drive one of those,” he says. “I’d go broke.”
2012 Toyota Prius C
Price as tested (before taxes): $20,950
Options on test vehicle: none
Configuration: front engine/ front wheel drive
Engine/transmission: 1.5L 4 cyl. with electric motor assist/ continuously variable
Power/torque: Net 99 hp combined/
Fuel (capacity): regular (36L)
Fuel economy ratings: 3.5 L/100km city; 4.0 L/100km hwy
Observed fuel economy: 4.8 L/100km over 426 km
Warranties: 3 years/ 60,000 km (basic); 5 years/ 100,000 km (powertrain), 8 years/ 160,000 km (hybrid components)
Competitors: Honda Civic Hybrid; Nissan Versa; Toyota Yaris