There are a lot of different ways for a car to transform itself into an icon, a legend. For some, it’s by being the first of its kind and offering something that captures the automotive spirit. The Mustang, for example, was the seminal Pony Car. It started the genre and continues to dominate its arena.

The Volkswagen Beetle is an icon, as is the bus version, because of its charm, affordability and versatility.

The Humvee is a universal symbol of four-wheel drive excess. Its polar opposite, the Mini, is iconic for its innovation, fun factor and sheer chic.

All of these cars are universally recognized. Ask anyone, pretty much anywhere there are roads and they know about those names.

The Prius is the same.

Everyone knows what it is. Everyone knows that it’s a hybrid. Some people’s response is one of derision, but proud Prius owners don’t care. Greenie Hollywood celebrities demonstrate their Gaia-conscious eco-cred by buying one – Jessica Alba, Jennifer Aniston, Cameron Diaz and Natalie Portman all have one. Tom Hanks had one too.

By virtue of being almost the first (in the modern era) and the most popular hybrid, Toyota’s Prius has launched itself into the limelight. It is both the poster child and the pilloried comic foil for the green movement. Now in its third generation, the Prius is still recognizable from the first edition debuted in 1997.

I’ve driven the Prius V and C variants on different occasions, and was intrigued to try the mid-size hatchback, with a view to how I enjoyed those two. The V has incredible practicality and cargo space, while the C’s diminutive size and agile chassis plus tiny, tiny fuel use numbers charmed the socks off me.

The “real” Prius then, had a lot to live up to.

Firstly, the fuel numbers. I struggled the first few days with the Prius. Biting cold and half a dozen trips of less than 10 km each (school runs) resulted in a woeful 10 L/100 km. I never even got to use the battery on those -5 and below days. Frustratingly, the little battery level gauge still never read full – always one bar below. This has no impact otherwise on the efficiency of the car (the battery level reading that is) but rather is one of those annoying little things that bother me. I don’t mind it being not-quite full when I know it’s being used from time to time, but I’m positive this battery never kicked in!

After those first few days, things improved. I saw some reasonably long trips at an average of 4.7 L/100 km, and finished the week on 5.9 L/100 km. That is stellar when compared to other mid-size hatches that spent most of their time in the city, but a bit soft next to the 4.5 I scored in the Prius C. This sucks a lot, because they have the same combined rating of 4.7 L/100 km according to the EPA. The C has the edge in the city where 4.4 plays 4.6 but the regular Prius makes ground on the highway: 5.1 vs 4.9. If you’re wondering, the V is rated at 5.3/5.9/5.6 city/highway/combined.

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