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2012 Toyota Prius c Ride and Review By Larry Nutson +Video

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2012 Toyota Prius c

“c” for city!
By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor, Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel

Delray Beach, Florida, February 2012 – Notwithstanding the mild winter Chicago has enjoyed, a visit to Florida in the later part of February is always welcome. Toyota gathered journalists in this oceanfront town to acquaint us with the newest member of the Prius family, the Prius c. Florida’s coastal communities are known to have rather congested and slow moving traffic during the winter “snow bird” months. At first blush this would seem like a poor location choice to test a new car. However, as it turns out it was a perfect location to drive the new Prius c since it provided exactly the kind of driving conditions most owners will experience.

Toyota’s hybrid Prius, now in its third generation, owns fully half the hybrid/electric car market in the U.S. Early adopters, environmentalist, and technology lovers adopted Prius immediately from its 1997 introduction in Japan. Brought to the U.S. in 2000, Prius has been so successful that Toyota is now making a whole family of it – adding last year to the original Prius Liftback a larger version, the Prius v, now adding the smaller Prius c and also a Prius Plug-in Hybrid. For the first two months of this year, over 32,000 Prii (the plural) have been sold.

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The Prius c is 6-inches shorter than the Prius Liftback at 157.3 inches making it very much suitable for in-city urban driving and, of course, ease of parking. Weight is 540 pounds less than the Prius Liftback, and a recalibrated trusty 1.5-liter gasoline engine comes from other small Toyota cars. The Nickel-Metal Hydride battery pack uses the same cells as the Liftback but about a third fewer, resulting in about 20% less weight. A reason Toyota uses Ni-MH batteries is cost; they’re about a quarter of the cost of a Lithium-ion battery used in many pure electrics. Toyota’s proprietary Hybrid Synergy Drive controls it all. The new Prius c weighs only 2,500 pounds.

Prius c will be offered in four grades with a starting price of just $18,950. The Prius c One, is nicely equipped with automatic climate control, 3.5-inch multi-function display, tilt/telescopic steering wheel with audio, climate, phone and information controls, remote keyless entry, power windows, and 9 airbags. The standard audio system has AM/FM/CD and MP3/WMA capabilities with iPod and USB port and Bluetooth, and four speakers.

The other grades – Two, Three and Four – add increasingly more features, like upgraded audio, cruise control, navigation, Toyota’s Entune with 6.1-inch screen, satellite radio, smart key, alloy wheels, heated seats and power moonroof. Ed LaRocque, Prius National Brand manager tells me that the volume is forecasted to come from the Prius c Two ($19,900) and Three ($21,635) with each selling at about 40% of total sales. The One and Four ($23,230) will make up the rest at 10% each.

Watch TACH's exclusive Prius c interview

“Sans-a-belt” that’s the Prius c. With electric water pump, electric air conditioning compressor, and electric power steering this new version of the 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine is “beltless,” reducing maintenance costs over the long run. The major drive system components are a gasoline engine, electric motor within a continuously variable transaxle, the Ni-MH battery, power control unit, dc-dc converter, step-up converter, and a hybrid control computer. The gasoline engine and the 144-V Ni-MH battery combine for a total hybrid system output of 99 hp.

Gasoline today is pushing $4 a gallon making the EPA fuel economy ratings 53 city mpg and 46 highway mpg something of great interest. The Prius c is the highest mileage car on the market without a plug, Toyota says. If you maintain a light foot, pay attention to the car’s instrument display tutorial and have favorable road and weather conditions you might do even better. In slow moving traffic you have the advantage of being able to keep it on electric power a good deal of the time, up to about 25 mph. Prius c only needs a 9.5-gallon gas tank to give you a driving range of over 400 miles and perhaps even 500 miles.

The Prius hybrid powertrain provides regenerative braking and an instrument readout on the dash tells you how efficient you’re braking. The batteries can only absorb the energy at a certain rate so gentle braking is more efficient.

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From the driver’s seat, instrument panel design is pleasant and driver-focused with the instrument cluster high and to the right, making it easy to view from the road. Other controls and an information screen are high on the center stack – again, making it easy to use. Readouts, graphs and displays telling you about your driving efficiency are easily viewed by driver and passenger making for interesting conversation. The ECO Drive Monitor displays an overall score on your efficiency. Great for family competition.

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Prius c seats two up front and two in the rear. Seats are comfortable and fairly generous for a subcompact. The rear seat back folds for increased cargo carrying from the 17.1 cubic feet behind it. A one-piece design is on the Prius c One and a 60/40 split on the three other grades. The “c” is very roomy for a small car with easy ingress and egress.

The battery pack and all hybrid-related components are warranted for 8 years or 100,000 miles while the rest of the car is 3 years or 36,000 miles. The powertrain is covered for 5 years or 60,000 miles.

Our ocean front drive around Delray Beach very much replicated the typical pattern of slow to moderate speed driving, and taking care of around town errands and such. We had a nice expressway excursion. On-ramp acceleration is quite adequate and noise at highway speeds is very comfortable for conversation. The Prius c is pleasant to drive with confident handling, steering and braking.

Deloitte LLP has been mapping Gen Y trends for a number of years. According to a recent study a majority of Gen Y who own cars are interested in “electrified” vehicles. Gasoline-hybrids are the overwhelming choice of these 19- to 31- year olds.

It looks like the Prius c is right on the money.

Larry Nutson