By Barbara & Bill Schaffer
In case you haven?t looked recently or noticed the difference in the swarms of Prii (that?s the official Toyota plural of Prius, as determined by a vote of Prius fans) on the roads, there are now four different versions of the popular Toyota hybrid. ?When you put it all down on a sheet of paper, that works out to 13 different models, four different EPA fuel economy ratings and base prices ranging $19,710 to $40,285 including the $760 destination charge.
Like most stand-alone brands of gas-powered cars, each Prius has its own characteristics and advantages.? For example, the new ?c? is the city car – a bit smaller and more agile than the others.? The largest is the v, for ?versatile?.? It?s more wagon-like with significantly more room and cargo space than the others.? The Prius Plug-In is the real economy leader of the bunch producing up to 95 mpg for city driving as it acts more like an electric vehicle for short distances.? Then of course, there?s the third generation Prius, which is the one that started it all.
During the last few months, we?ve had the opportunity to drive all four models and here are our thoughts about each of them.
As the old advertising adage goes, the third generation is ?New and Improved?, but cautiously. ?Like most companies, Toyota doesn?t want to mess with success and that premise has made it easily the best-selling hybrid with more than one million sold in the U.S. as of April 2011.
Prius has dominated and defined the hybrid segment, and like the Volkswagen Beetle did in the 1960s, it?s taken over the American roads.? It?s difficult to drive down a mile or two of highways or streets without passing at least one Prius.
The 2012 Toyota Prius is the third year of the third generation, which was all new in 2010.?? It gets some updated lights and what seems to be the obligatory new front fascia and bumper, which we think manufacturers do so the dealers can tell the model year without checking the Vin number.
New features include some LED Daytime Running Lights, a standard Smart Key entry system and a few other trim-level specific changes.? At the top of the change list is a new audio/infotainment system for the three upper trim levels.
With EPA fuel economy ratings of 53 mpg city and 46 mpg highway, the Prius promises all the owners a gas pump saving.? We sometimes wonder, based on the number of Prii we speeding past us on the freeway, if some people don?t buy them as a rationalization for speeding.? You know the , ?I don?t have to drive economically because I?m driving a Prius.? mentality.? We know some people buy them just so they can qualify to drive alone in the ?diamond? lanes.
With four trim levels — Two, Three, Four and Five — the original Prius gets a high level of standard features escalating with each higher model.
For those who really make an effort, the Prius rewards with fantastic fuel saving capabilities from a comfortable spacious car.
We like the v because it is ?versatile.?? At the introduction a year ago, we both commented that it would make a good taxi.? It?s roomy, has plenty of cargo space and it must be about two or three times more fuel-efficient than those old Ford Crown Victoria?s that have dominated that business.
The v also offers active families the room to be able to carry more, whether it?s the lifestyle gear, or gardening supplies or more luggage for that cross-country trip. ?It?s powered by the Hybrid Synergy Drive system with the 98-hp Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine and 36-hp electric motor driving the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission.
It?s also about 230 pounds heavier than the original and a few inches longer, but we could notice very little difference in performance and handling.? Most hybrid owners are probably not as interested in MPH as they are MPG, so the 10.4-second 0 to 60 mph time shouldn?t make any difference.
2012 Toyota Prius c
The latest addition to the Prius family is the c.? About 19 inches shorter and over 500 pounds lighter than the original Prius, the c is the smallest of the group and we think it?s a great size for an economy or commuter car.? It also gets high marks for agility thanks to the size and the very tight 15.7-foot turning radius.
The littlest Prius is offered in four trim levels: One, Two, Three and Four.? Prices start as low as $19,710 for the One, and that price is actually less than the original Prius price 12 years ago when the hybrid debuted in the U.S.
The 2012 Toyota Prius?c pricing peaks at $23,990 for the grade Four trim level.? It includes niceties like Sof-Tex seating materials (a beautiful soft leather-like material), heated front seats and navigation.? That model is offered with two options: the $850 sunroof and $1,150 alloy wheel package plus several aftermarket-style accessories.
The c uses a scaled down version of the Hybrid Synergy Drive system with a 73-hp, 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine, which when combined with the 60-hp (45kW) electric motor produces a net 99 horsepower.? The transmission is a continuously variable (CVT) driving the front wheels.? It has disc brakes in the front, drum brakes in the rear and electric power steering.
The smallest Prius accelerates casually from 0 to 60 mph in 11.5 seconds according to Toyota and just because some people are curious — it has a top speed of 105 miles per hour.
The fresh European styling of the c includes a twin inlet grille and large wrap-around headlight pods mounted between the front fascia and the short sculpted hood.? The top, which has a concave sculpting in the center, slopes stylishly toward the rear hatch.? The combined design creates a low 0.28 coefficient of drag to help improve fuel economy at highway speeds and cut wind noise.
The interior appointments are simple and functional with a digital speedometer mounted just below the level of the windshield to the right of the steering wheel. Next to the speedometer is a 3.5-inch full color Thin Film Transistor (TFT) full-color multi-information display that helps the driver better utilize the hybrid features.? It almost makes a game out of saving fuel, plus it monitors actual savings.
Standard equipment in all c models includes Bluetooth? hands-free phone capability and USB port with iPod? connectivity? The c Three and Four models have standard display audio with Navigation and Entune?.? This navigation system has a convenient voice recognition system, but mastering the system requires practice that we didn?t get in just a week behind the wheel.
For drivers serious about saving fuel the Prius Plug-in makes the most sense.? It?s more money, but it combines the hybrid technology with efficiency of pure electric power.? The net result is an estimated 95 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) in the electric mode and 50 mpg in the hybrid mode.
This allows someone to run errands close to home and never need the gas engine.? In the electric only mode, it has a range of up to 15 miles at speeds up to 62 mph.? When the driver needs to go farther, there?s no range anxiety when the battery power drops, because the gasoline engine seamlessly activates propelling the Plug-in just like any of the other Prius models.
The Plug-in is the same size and has the same features as the original Prius, but with the extended electrical range and speed.
The Plug-in comes in a base and Advanced trim levels priced at $32,760 and $40,285 respectively including the destination charge.? The base model comes with a high level of standard features on par with the top Prius models.? The Prius Plug-in Advanced model adds other upscale equipment including Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Head-Up Display, hard drive navigation, aerodynamic LED headlights, JBL audio and more.
It?s easy to charge the Plug-in with the included 120 volt system that plugs into any outlet.? Charging takes only 2.5 to 3 hours, or if someone wants a faster charge, the 240 volt outlet can cut the charge time in half.