A good way to ensure the longevity of a concept is to continually build upon its successes to create ever more innovative iterations. This fact is not lost on the planners at Toyota—as evidenced by their decision to broaden the Prius lineup.
We’ve already seen the emergence of the more capacious Prius v, as well as the introduction of the super-efficient Prius Plug-in—Decisive Media's Urban Green Vehicle Of The Year. Now the company has introduced the most affordable hybrid model ever, in the form of the Prius c. Based largely on Toyota’s Yaris, Prius c is considerably smaller than the other Prius-badged Toyotas.
The “c” suffix stands for city and that’s exactly where this little runabout shines. By their very nature, hybrids get better fuel economy in city driving, so as a city car the Prius c starts off with a significant advantage. Factor in its tidy size and its full complement of contemporary tech and you’re looking at the potential for a runaway best seller.
In fact, the idea is so good; we’re wondering why it took Toyota so long to bring it to market in the first place. Although, if one goes by just the numbers, Toyota did bring this car to market before—as the original Prius. The first Prius used a 1.5-liter gasoline engine and an electric motor. So does the Prius c. The first Prius was 66.7 inches wide. So is the Prius c. The first Prius had a 100.4-inch wheelbase. And yes, so does the Prius c.
Clearly, the two have much in common.
However, the Prius c is some 265 pounds lighter than the original Prius, and about 12 inches shorter. Best of all, where the original Prius returned 42 miles per gallon in the city and 41 on the highway, the Prius c is rated at 53 miles per gallon in the city and 46 on the highway.
Prius c’s 1.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine makes 73 horsepower and 82 ft.-lbs. of torque. When supplemented by the electric motor, the powertrain system generates a total output of 99 horsepower. A continuously variable transmission routes the engine’s power to the front wheels. On the freeway, Prius c is perfectly capable of merging into fast moving traffic—with a bit of planning— and reassuringly stable. Pushed hard, it’ll run with the big dogs in the far left lane, but what’s the point of that?
Toyota is a master at packaging small cars, and the Prius c benefits mightily from this. As an example, the Toyota’s battery pack and fuel tank live under the back seat, opening additional room for cargo, while simultaneously improving the Prius c’s handling. Because of its packaging efficiencies the Prius c feels quite spacious—even when occupied by a contingent of four adults. Yes, as you might expect, rear seat legroom is a bit tight behind a taller driver, but for quick trips around town, nobody would object to riding back there.
For us though, where Prius c really surprises and delights is in its standard feature set. The list includes such notables as automatic climate control and a tilt/telescopic steering wheel with audio, climate, Multi-Information Display, and Bluetooth hands-free controls. Every Prius c also features remote keyless entry. If you want to get a little more spendy, you can also opt for the optional Display Audio system with its satellite navigation function and Toyota’s Entune system.
Functioning through your smart phone, but wholly integrated into the car, Entune brings applications such as Open Table, Bing and Pandora to the Prius c’s standard display screen. Entune also pipes real time information such as traffic, weather, fuel prices, sports, and stock prices into the c. If this new Toyota is starting to look like a lot more than just an economy car to you, you’re very astute.
Driving the Prius c around town is really no different than driving its larger standard Prius sibling. While the c gives up some 35 horsepower in comparison, it also enjoys a 542-pound weight advantage over its porkier stablemate, so performance between both models is about on par.
Keep in mind we’re talking about a Prius here, so the word “performance” is a relative term. You won’t set your eyebrows on fire launching a Prius c from a traffic signal, but really, that ain’t what this car is about. Still though, its acceleration, braking and cornering are more than adequate for its overall mission in life; transporting people and their goods, while consuming as little fuel as possible in the process.
Pricing for the 2012 Toyota Prius c starts at $19,700 (includes destination charges).
We’re predicting a pretty long line of buyers for this one.