As Toyota’s first all-new hybrid since the Prius, the B-segment C has a lot riding on its little shoulders. It’s a car designed for the masses. Prius Brand Manager and Chief Engineer Satoshi Ogiso set out to reduce the “hybridness” of the Prius and focus on priorities that Toyota feels its buyers want. In essence, the 2012 Toyota Prius C is a hybrid for people who don’t want the social stigma associated with owning a hybrid. These folks just want a good car. As such, the C focuses on economy, driving fun and style.
For motive power, a 1.5-liter Atkinson-cycle inline-4 is mated to a smaller and lighter version of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system. Two electric motors work with each other and the internal combustion engine to create various effective gear ratios and these drive configurations: pure EV, gasoline only, or a mix of the two.
Most of the 500-lb. weight loss (as compared to a base Prius) comes from its smaller powertrain, size, and copious use of optimized grades of high-strength steel and aluminum throughout the unibody. Some of the weight savings, however, comes from the smaller 68-lb. nickel-metal hydride battery pack with 120 cells. The reduced weight and technical aspects of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive are all well and good, but if the Prius C is going to survive in the automotive landscape, it needs to follow the path that Ogiso-san has set out for it.
Is it stylish? Debatable, but it’s certainly not ugly for an economy car. It’s 5-door body with fold-down rear seat is perfect for the intended demographic. Is it economical? Thanks to the current (horrible) dollar to yen conversion rate, MSRP starts at $18,950 for a base C1 model, which goes up to $23,240 for a fully loaded C4. The price is high, but you get a fair bit of tech for your dollar. To lessen the sting, a quick look at the combination meter will let you know how much money you’re saving: Dial in the current gas price and the mpg of your old ride, or a comparison car, and see how much money you save as you drive.
So how does it drive? Perfectly normal. Unlike full size Prii, the C uses a standard gear shifter and key (on the C1 and C2 models). All the techno screens are kept sequestered on the central display, and the auto HVAC climate controls (standard on all trim levels) are on a stylish little pod that smoothly juts out from under the dash. If you buck up for the C4 model, you can opt for wider 16-in. alloy wheels (195/50R-16 versus 175/65R-15) and a quicker steering ratio. While we wouldn’t call it a sport model, it pleasingly firms up the feel through the steering wheel, although your turning radius is mildly increased.
To simulate the real-world experience, we took a C2 model out for a loop that was about half city and half highway. During our 1.5-hour tour, we averaged a respectable 58.6 mpg. Compared to a car that gets 30 mpg and with gas costing $3.99 a gallon, we saved $2.95 on just that one 45.5-mile trip. Impressive. EPA numbers for the Prius C are 53 mpg city/46 mpg highway, with a combined number of 50 mpg.
Although our stint with the 2012 Toyota Prius C was short, the real benefits will be bestowed onto owners who’ll own these cars for years. This smaller, livelier chassis is just the shot in the arm the Prius brand, and Toyota, need to stay relevant for the near-term future. The fact that it gets its efficiency effortlessly, and in a perfectly usable package, is just icing on the cake.
2012 Toyota Prius C First Drive Review, Price and Specs on RoadandTrack.com
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