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2012 Toyota Prius Liftback First Impressions

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Mike Goetz
Original Prius, now called Liftback, gets revised and a refined role for 2012
SEATTLE, Washington - The Toyota Prius is the number one selling hybrid in the world, and the poster child for the hybrid movement, but suddenly finds itself at a curious crossroad.

2012 Toyota Prius Liftback

Despite being sold in Canada since 2000, and displaying almost bulletproof technology, it is still not selling anywhere near anything what could be called mainstream. If fact, it's not even the top-selling Toyota hybrid -- a distinction that goes to the Camry Hybrid.

Toyota is rebooting the Prius brand through a new, multi-vehicle strategy. It will offer you a Prius Hybrid model that will match your lifestyle, versus making you adjust your lifestyle in order to partake of legendary Prius fuel-efficiency goodness.

Hence the recently introduced 2012 Prius v and 2012 Prius c, and the coming Prius PHV (the plug-in version). Essentially, Prius becomes a sub-brand within Toyota. A "Prius for Everyone" is the new marketing tagline.

Where does all this leave the original Prius? Well, for starters it's been re-christened as the 2012 Toyota Prius Liftback.

Same Prius focus
For 2012, the Prius Liftback also receives a mild exterior and interior revision, some equipment upgrades, and a new lower base price -- $25,995.

Its somewhat polarizing looks have typically appealed to those that want to signal their environmental attitude to the rest of the world. The new headlamp and front grille treatment, and the new taillamp and rear bumper treatment, don't change that message.

Same thing for the new dash, console and display. Step inside the 2012 Prius Liftback, as we recently did, and you immediately know you are in a hybrid, and one optimized to declare its hybridness.

Since the launch of the Prius v, it has garnered 66 percent of overall Prius sales. Some sales may be a result of impeded Liftback supply, due to the tsunami production fallout, and some are no doubt to due to v's increased versatility, but I surely think that some sales are a vote for the more conventional lines of the Prius wagon, versus the "hey I'm different" personality of the original Prius.

In any event, with more Prius models to shoulder the sales load, the Liftback doesn't have to go more mainstream. It can continue its wedgy, edgy ways.

2012 Toyota Prius Liftback front 3/4 view
For 2012, the Prius Liftback receives a mild exterior and interior revision and a new base price -- $25,995, $1,805 less than 2011 model. (Photo: Mike Goetz/Auto123.com)

Same Prius experience
With no drivetrain updates, the 2012 obviously behaves on the road as the 2011 model, which is to say, it rides relatively firmly and competently, and for its intended purpose as fuel-efficiency champ, handles well enough. Because it doesn't "feel" agile or overly peppy, driving fun is limited.

Its 1.8L gasoline engine, and electric motor, combine for 134 "net" horsepower, and help the Prius score outstanding NRCan fuel efficiency numbers: 3.7L/100km city, and 4.0L/100km highway.

2012 Toyota Prius Liftback engine
The gasoline portion of the 2012 Prius’ powertrain is a 1.8L Atkinson-cycle inline-4 with variable valve timing. (Photo: Toyota)

Revised interior
The Prius Liftback offers a lot of passenger and cargo space for its footprint.

Standard for the first time are backup camera, Bluetooth, USB audio input, a new audio display, and all-season mats.

But the biggest and brightest new piece in the interior for 2012 is the new fuel saving monitor, similar to the one found in the new Prius c.

The monitor on the previous Liftback model featured real-time fuel consumption metres, and Eco Lights, which light up when you drive greener. The new system adds several new or revised tools, such as Energy Monitor (monitoring the various modes of the drivetrain), Drive Information (fuel efficiency by trip), ECO Score, Five Minute Consumption, and ECO Savings.

The latter allows you to input a current per-litre gasoline price, and a comparable vehicle, and then it calculates how much fuel you saved driving the Prius on a particular trip, compared to that other vehicle.

Base price is lower, and so are the option packages, which all include navigation. Moonroof Package rings in at $29,245, Touring Package at $29,550, and Technology Package at $34,080.

2012 Toyota Priu Liftback interior
Standard for the first time are backup camera, Bluetooth, USB audio input, a new audio display, and all-season mats. (Photo: Toyota)

Final say
Toyota's most iconic hybrid, this original Prius, continues to resonate as a distinct and interesting choice, for those craving or prioritizing fuel efficiency -- even for model-year 2012, when Prius Liftback is suddenly only one of three Prius models on offer from Toyota fitted with a liftback.

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    2012 Toyota prius
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    2012 Toyota prius
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    Mike Goetz
    Mike Goetz
    Automotive expert