First Drive: 2012 Toyota Prius C toyota hybrids first drives
2012 Toyota Prius C. Click image to enlarge

Preview: 2012 Toyota Prius C
Test Drive: 2012 Toyota Prius V
Test Drive: 2012 Toyota Prius V

Manufacturer’s web site
Toyota Canada

Review and photos by Greg Wilson

Photo Gallery:
2012 Toyota Prius C

Seattle, Washington – Starting at $20,950 in Canada, ($5,045 cheaper than the mid-size Prius hatchback), the new-for-2012 Toyota Prius C (‘C’ for city) four-door subcompact hatchback is now the least expensive hybrid car in our market. It’s also the most fuel efficient hybrid car on the road – or for that matter, the most fuel efficient internal-combustion vehicle of any kind on the road – with the exception of plug-in hybrids and extended range electric cars. Toyota advertises a combined fuel economy rating of 3.5 L/100 km city (81 mpg Imperial) and 4.0 L/100 km highway (71 mpg Imp.). It’s also one of the least polluting vehicles on the road with an emissions rating of Tier 2 Bin 3.

Still, an immediate concern is its price to size ratio: the Prius C’s retail price range of $20,950 to $25,340 (plus $1,565 Freight) seems rather pricey for a four-door subcompact hatchback. The recently redesigned Toyota Yaris hatchback, for example, is about the same size as the Prius C and ranges in price between $13,990 (CE, two-door, manual transmission) and $19,990 (SE, four-door, automatic). Subcompact models from other manufacturers, such as Ford, Kia, Hyundai, Honda, and Nissan can be even less expensive.

First Drive: 2012 Toyota Prius C toyota hybrids first drives
2012 Toyota Prius C. Click image to enlarge

A closer look reveals that with more standard equipment than most non-hybrid competitors (not to mention better gas mileage) there is some justification for the Prius C’s higher price. A base Prius C ($20,950) includes such standard features as automatic climate control, steering wheel audio and climate controls, telescopic steering wheel, power door locks with keyless entry, power windows with driver’s automatic up/down feature, cruise control, power heated mirrors, variable intermittent front wipers and fixed intermittent rear wiper and washer, power heated outside mirrors, and nine standard airbags.

A fully-equipped Prius C with the optional Technology and Premium packages ($25,340) includes synthetic leather seats and heated front seats, keyless ignition and push-button start, a navigation system with touch-screen, voice-activated audio system, satellite radio, screen display of artist, song and album art from music devices, telephone phonebook access, SMS-to-speech and e-mail-to-speech feature, and Toyota’s “Touch Tracer” steering wheel controls that project an image of the controls onto the upper display screen.

Obviously, Toyota Canada is marketing the Prius C as a “premium” hybrid rather than an inexpensive entry-level hybrid. That’s a slightly different approach to Toyota in the United States where the base Prius C model has fewer standard features and starts at $18,950.

First Drive: 2012 Toyota Prius C toyota hybrids first drives
First Drive: 2012 Toyota Prius C toyota hybrids first drives
2012 Toyota Prius C. Click image to enlarge

Pricing aside, the new Prius C is a major step forwards in the evolution of Toyota’s hybrid technology. Everything about the Prius C is smaller and lighter than in the regular Prius hatchback, and that required a complete re-design of Toyota’s “Hybrid Synergy Drive” system which integrates the operation of its smaller 1.5-litre gasoline engine, electric motor, continuously variable transmission, 144-volt nickel-metal hydride battery, and the various electronic controls. The combined output of the Prius C’s 73-horsepower engine and 45 kW (60 hp) electric motor is 99 horsepower (74 kW), and 125 lb.-ft. torque which compares to the regular Prius with 134 hp (100 kW) and 153 lb.-ft.

The hybrid system in the Prius C works the same way as in other Prius models: it runs on electric power alone under light load conditions such as when cruising or when in EV mode; a combination of engine and electric motor when more power is required; and engine power only if the battery is low. The gas engine stops automatically at traffic lights or when stopped at intersections. Coasting downhill and braking helps recharge the battery.

The Prius C driver can choose three different drive modes: Normal, Eco, and EV mode.  Eco mode reduces overall energy consumption by reducing throttle input and moderating the climate control. The EV mode allows the Prius C to be driven solely on electric power for a short distance (about one kilometre) below 40 km/h. The Prius C includes Toyota’s new Vehicle Proximity Notification System that emits a sound in EV mode when coasting at speeds under 24 km/h to warn pedestrians that the car is approaching.

First Drive: 2012 Toyota Prius C toyota hybrids first drives
First Drive: 2012 Toyota Prius C toyota hybrids first drives
2012 Toyota Prius C. Click image to enlarge

We drove the base Prius C and the Prius C with the Technology Package around the Seattle, Washington area in both urban and suburban drive routes. Being smaller than the regular Prius, it’s easier to manoeuvre in city traffic and features a Hill Start Assist that prevents the car from rolling back on a hill after you take your foot off the brake pedal and before you hit the gas pedal. This feature proved valuable on Seattle’s steep city inclines. The brake pedal feel is much improved over earlier Toyota hybrids – it’s not too grabby or too sensitive as a result of its regenerative braking capability.

In the city, we found the electric steering very light and easy on the arms but rather sloppy with some steering movement before the car actually starts to turn. However, the steering feel does firm up on the freeway and feels more responsive and accurate.

The most impressive thing about the Prius C is its nimble handling, particularly when compared to the boring handling of the regular Prius and Prius V. I wouldn’t say the Prius C is fun to drive – its numb steering and droning CVT spoil the party – but it feels lighter and better balanced than the regular Prius, mostly because it is lighter and better balanced. The Prius C weighs 246 kilograms (542 lbs) less than the Prius hatchback, and the hybrid battery and fuel tank are positioned beneath the rear seat within the wheelbase, thereby improving weight distribution. The Prius C also has a low roof height (65 mm lower than the Yaris). Its very tight turning circle (9.6 metres/31.4 ft.) allows easy parking and manoeuvring in crowded environments. The suspension is front MacPherson struts/rear torsion beam setup that provides a ride that’s comfortable over smooth pavement and firm but not jarring over rough surfaces.

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