It’s been twelve years since the original Toyota Prius came out. It wasn’t until the second generation, however, that people really started talking about the hybrid as the vehicle’s launch coincided with a spike in gas prices. Shortly thereafter, all the automotive experts were calculating the potential savings from buying “one of those new hybrids” versus a conventional Corolla or a Civic. The following years saw people talking about batteries and accident safety and, finally, the whole throttle pedal fiasco.
The Prius, like the tortoise in a long distance race, ignored all this, and did its own thing. In the process, it outsold all of the other hybrids on the market… combined. To call the Prius a success would be an understatement. Still, there’s always been the issue of its premium hybrid price tag versus the cost of comparable non-hybrids. With the all-new 2013 Prius c which starts at $19,710 that issue no longer exist.
This new 19” shorter, 2” narrower, and most importantly 570 pounds lighter Prius is based off the Yaris platform. It also utilizes the Yaris engine, which now features the Atkinson combustion cycle, all-electric accessories (no belt), and of course the hybrid system. Like the rest of the car, the engine and battery are proportionally smaller (.87kWh vs 1.2kWh) than the units used in the conventional Prius. All of that translates into a neatly packaged compact car, which is said to be able to achieve 53mpg in the city, besting the mark set by its bigger brother.
Outside, it looks exactly like what one would expect the off-spring of a Prius and a Yaris to look like; there is simply no mistaking it for anything else. The Prius influence took away the awkward Yaris lines but the designers restrained themselves from creating a mini-Prius. The result is a rather cute, well-proportioned hatchback. It’s too bad that Toyota isn’t offering more warm colors for it, as I think it would look especially happy in bright yellow.
The c comes in four trim levels, and nowhere is the difference more evident than on the inside. The top-of-the-line Prius c IV comes with heated height adjustable seats, smart key, and fog-lights. It also comes with a very nifty and easy-to-use infotainment system. The Entune™ system, in addition to typical radio and navigational duties, connects through your smartphone, and with the use of apps allows you stream Pandora, get the weather, find stations with the lowest gas prices, and check your stocks. I really liked how simple this Entune™ system was, and how well it worked.
Since Toyota thinks that the c will be purchased mostly by the penny-savvy Gen Y-ers, they included a videogame in each Prius c. The game goes like this: the car looks at your acceleration, cruising, and stopping skills from the fuel economy perspective. It then assigns a score between 0-100, just like your high school math teacher, based on how little you hooned. I must admit that this game is pretty addictive, and likely to change your driving style. There also a data-logging system of sort which can tell you exactly how much your trip cost and how it compares to other similar trips. Very cool. It’s geeky and provides way too much information, but still, very cool.
So how does it drive? It drives great! Until you get on the highway. At higher speeds, two things become apparent: there is just enough power (A/C on, two people), and there is a lot of wind noise. That noise is a blessing in disguise, however, as it mutes out some of the engine noise, which sounds extra annoying during accaleration because of the continuously-variable transmission that’s running at a steady-ish (no tach) speed while the vehicle is accelerating. Once settled at a crusing speed and around town it drove very nice.
While I’ve always appreciated Toyota’s hybrid system, the hoon in my hated the way the bigger Prius drove. In the c, Toyota says that it’s located the battery pack lower, reducing the center of gravity, which should improve handling. The automaker even offers a sporty wheel/tire package in an effort to make the car more fun to drive. While it won’t set any skidpad records it’s sure to be an improvement over the bigger Prius.
Overall, I was quite impressed with the little Prius c. It’s a nice, functional little commuter car with outstanding fuel economy. Someone will of course compare it to the conventional Yaris, and then calculate how many miles it will take to cover the price difference, but to most buyers it that won’t matter. For them, like the bigger Prius, it’s not simply about the numbers, and that’s where the Prius c delivers what its buyer want; a cute, eco-conscious and iPhone-friendly, commuter car.
I‘m quite certain that when the Prius c goes on sale in March, Toyota will sell every single one they can make.
Disclaimer: Toyota invited me (and about three dozen other journalists) to see this car in sunny Florida. I got there at midnight the night before, spent a day driving it and instead of going back home to my pregnant wife and child I went to my aunt’s house. The next day I went to the Dazer museum and then went home.