Prius family expands into hot hatch territory, sort of...
SEATTLE, Washington - The first thing you should know about the 2012 Toyota Prius c is that it is the most fuel-efficient vehicle you can buy in Canada, that does not plug into the electrical grid.
Under the NRCan protocol, it achieves a combined city/highway rating of 3.7L/100km, or 76 mpg!
The second thing you should know about the 2012 Toyota Prius c is that it is the first push back from Prius about the nameplate's infamous status -- deserved or not -- as the antichrist of auto fun.
New Prius proposition
The original Prius, now known as the Prius Liftback, recently welcomed a station wagon model to the fold called the Prius v (v for versatile). This new, third member of the Prius family is ostensively the smaller, sporty version for city folk (hence the c for city).
It's also the least expensive Prius ever -- a well-equipped base model can be had for $20,950.
We had a chance to drive this smaller and cheaper Prius in and around this city in the US Northwest, famous for its game-changing ways and citizens, including corporate citizens such as Microsoft, amazon.com, and Starbucks.
Toyota Canada thought the venue was appropriate because Prius c has been designed to change the mindset of the next great wave of auto buyers -- the much discussed millennium generation. Toyota says the group anticipates buying a hybrid at some point. Toyota has positioned Prius c to be their first hybrid.
Only the leading edge of that generation is approaching 30 years of age, the youngest expected age of Prius c buyers. Why not younger? Basically because younger people don't have much money.
So while the Prius c is cheap for a hybrid, it's not a cheap for a subcompact. In fact, Toyota says the car is positioned as a "premium" small car, and is equipped as such.
Every Prius c comes equipped with an automatic cabin temperature system, mostly because hybrids already have the necessary hardware to keep its battery cool. Also standard are six speakers, USB, Bluetooth, steering wheel controls, keyless entry, cruise, and 12-volt outlet.
The tester we got to flog was the Prius c Technology ($23,160), which features navigation -- the first time Toyota has offered it in a subcompact segment. The nav's corresponding interface and display system is pretty sophisticated, with voice command capability, cool graphics, and the ability to read back emails.
If you want more "premium," the $2,180 Premium package can be added to the Technology model. If offers up such niceties as 16-inch aluminum wheels, heated front seats, moonroof, fog lamps, leather instrument panel, and "synthetic leather" seats (called Softex in Toyota-speak).
The 60/40 seats don't quite fold flat, but the area still offers an impressive 484 litres of cargo capacity (17.1 cubic feet).
Time to hit the road.
On the Road
Might as well cut to the chase. The Prius c doesn't feel all that sporty. But compared to the 2012 Prius Liftback, which we also had a chance to sample on this route, the Prius c is way more agile and tossable.
It goes where commanded with little fuss. On the curvy parts of our ride you easily forget it's a hybrid optimized for fuel efficiency.
The platform can trace it roots back to the Yaris platform, but was completely re-engineered for this application. There's a front stabilizer bar up front, but not out back, where the torsion beam suspension was made from hydro-formed tubing, and deemed stiff enough.
In the cut and thrust of city traffic, the Prius c acquits itself very well. If you floor the accelerator, it jumps into action, the heavy lifting accomplished by the electric portion of its dual gas/electric powertrain, which, owing to the nature of electric motors, offers all of its available torque right from the get-go.
Prius c also has a great "D-shaped" steering wheel -- looks racecar-ish, fitted with useful controls, just the right feel and heft. The electric power steering system also dials in the right amount of steering weight.
New Hybrid Bits
The hybrid system in the Prius c differs substantially from the system in the regular Prius. Almost everything had to be downsized or lightened, especially the nickel-metal hydride battery pack, which is squeezed under the rear seat.
The hybrid transaxle, which contains the planetary gear-based CVT and electric motor, also got considerably downsized. Not only is it the most compact and lightest of all Toyota Hybrid transaxles, it is also the first to be cooled by just cooling the transmission oil (with the help of an oil-cooling radiator). Automatic transmissions are typically regulated with a coolant-based system.
Curb weight is 1,132 kg (2,550 lb), which makes Prius c just slightly heavier than comparably sized subcompacts, and about 19 percent lighter than a Prius Liftback.
The internal combustion engine is a 1.5L DOHC 16-valve I4, running on the Atkinson combustion cycle. Only the block is similar to the 1.5L I4 in the second-generation Prius; everything else is new and different.
When combined with the 60-hp electric motor, you end up with a total "net power" output of 99 horses and 125 lb-ft of torque.
So sporting intentions aside, there is no getting around the fact that Prius c is not overly powered, not overly light, features a not-too-sporting CVT, and rides on low rolling-resistance tires optimized for fuel efficiency. So like we noted early, not exactly a hot hatch.
But the other way of looking at it is that Prius c is a totally competent and handsome city hatch, with great premium features -- and gets 76 mpg!
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