2012 Prius C

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Date Posted: June 6, 2012
By Zack Spencer

The Prius family now includes this smaller version called ''C'' for city. This subcompact from Toyota with the lowest priced hybrid on the road.

The Scoop

On a recent fill-up, the price for gasoline was almost a $1.50 a litre. With every run-up in fuel costs, the interest in more efficient vehicles follows suit. Today there are more options for people looking to get fill-up relief whether it's looking at smaller, more efficient car, electric cars or hybrids. Electric cars have not hit the mainstream --with limited numbers being purchased buy the public. Subcompacts have always had a place and now buyers can drive a subcompact that is also a Toyota hybrid. Toyota is the undisputed leader in hybrid sales, with new models coming every year. The Prius, in light of new competition, remains the undisputed king of hybrid sales. The Prius name is synonymous with hybrid technology and so recognizable that Toyota has built a ''family'' of vehicles under the Prius banner. There is the regular model, a larger version called V for ''versatility'', and this smaller Prius, called C, for ''city''.

The Skin

Of the three vehicles sold under the Prius name, this C is the one that looks most like a ''regular'' car. In fact, it could be mistaken for any number of subcompacts on the road. Some hybrid buyers do like to be noticed for doing their part for the environment while others are happy to drive a car that is efficient and doesn't draw attention. The aqua colour on this test unit is a tip of the hat to going green. To be honest, after driving for two hours in the rain the car still looked clean, so aqua is okay in my books. One of the reasons for introducing a smaller Prius is to make a hybrid more attainable and to improve the driving dynamics, basically making the Prius more fun to drive. With a starting price of $20,950, this is the least expensive hybrid on the market but with options the price can creep up to the mid $20,000 mark.

The Cockpit

The Prius C is a car for someone who likes the idea of a hybrid or they needs to save fuel and can live with a little less in terms of interior finish. The dash and interior panels are covered with hard, inexpensive feeling plastic. This is acceptable on a $15,000 subcompact but not a $20,000 plus car. Yes the Prius comes with an expensive hybrid system but more could have been done to improve the feel of the interior. Considering the materials used the Toyota designers did as good a job as possible, the two-tone dash and layout is pleasant looking. Standard features include Bluetooth and radio controls on the steering wheel, USB and auxiliary jacks, automatic climate control and power windows and doors. Push button start, heated seats and faux leather all cost more. The room inside the Prius C is what we have come to expect in a subcompact car, and even with a hybrid system, the back seat folds down and the cargo area is ample, there really is no difference compared to a non-hybrid car.

The Ride

Other than saving fuels, which is a huge part of buying any hybrid, the other objective was to make a more engaging Prius. Because the C is smaller and lighter it is more fun to chuck into corners, it does feel more nimble. Because of the diminutive size, it uses a smaller 1.5L 4-cylinder engine and 60hp electric motor, compared to a 1.8L 4-cylinder and 80hp electric motor in the regular Prius. The same continuously variable transmission (CVT) technology is implemented, which plays a big part in draining driving pleasure. The engine drones under acceleration and the power is adequate for city trips but passing on the highway should be well planned out. Yes it is more enjoyable to dive but not much. This car is really a runabout with an eye on savings; in fact it is rated as the most efficient non-plug-in on the road, at just 3.5L/100km in the city and 4.0L on the highway. In real world driving I was achieving 5.0L/100km.

Verdict

Even though the Prius C has some shortfalls, the market for this car will be strong. First, it is cheaper than the regular Prius by roughly $5000. Buyers that don't require the extra back seat room and additional cargo capacity will be able to put the savings to more options and get a fully kitted C. Buyers that are already I the hunt for a subcompact car might make the stretch to the more expensive Prius C based on the long-term reliability of the brand and best in class fuel savings. If however you are only motivated by price, there are cheaper cars with nicer interiors, like the excellent Kia Rio or Ford Fiesta. Now that Prius has grown into a family, the regular car might be orphaned. Families looking at a Prius will more than likely be attracted to the new V, which has more room. Couples and single people, who don't require that added volume, will be attracted to this less expensive and slightly more engaging C. So where does that leave the original Prius? Only time will tell if it remains the king of the hybrids.

The Good, The Bad

The Good:

An affordable hybrid with a useful design.

Bad:

The interior could use better materials and the drive is only slightly better than the regular Prius.

The Lowdown

Power: 1.5L gasoline engine and electric motor produce roughly 100hp.

Fill-up: 3.5/4.0 L/100km (city/highway)

Backup: 8-years on hybrid system

Sticker price: $21,950

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