Test Drive: Toyota Prius c

By Barbara Schaffer

There are certain areas of the country that I am familiar with, for example the Bay Area in California and Portland, Oregon, where there seems to be an overabundance of the Toyota Prius hybrids. ?I guess that?s to be expected with more than 2.5 million of them sold worldwide.

With gas prices on a rise again, the idea of getting 40 or 50 miles per gallon or better continues to have a strong appeal for many new car shoppers.

To take advantage of the Prius popularity and the prices, Prius planners added two new models in 2011, the larger Prius V Liftback and the super-efficient Prius Plug-In.? Now early in 2012, they have added a fourth Prii, the Prius c, with the ?c? standing for city.

The smaller Prius c is a hybrid version of the Toyota Yaris five-door outfitted with a version of the Hybrid Synergy Drive system. ?With its smaller size and lighter weight, the Prius c offers the highest city fuel economy of any car without a plug ? 53 mpg.?? Overall, the EPA rates the new C at 53 mpg city and 46 mpg highway for a combined rating of 50 mpg.

The littlest Prius is offered in four ?grades? or trim levels: One, Two, Three and Four, easy enough, right?? 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.

Prius c pricing peaks at $23,990 for the grade Four trim level, which includes niceties like Sof-Tex, trimmed 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.

Because the Prius c is 19 inches shorter and 542 pounds lighter than the original midsize Prius Liftback, engineers were able to use a scaled down version of the Hybrid Synergy Drive system.?? Rather than the 98-hp, 1.8-liter gasoline engine and 80-hp (60kw) electric motor used in the larger Prius to produce 134 net horsepower, the C uses 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. ?My husband would love all the statistics it provides.

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, and more patience than I have.

Entune is a new service in many Toyota vehicles.? It allows the driver or front seat passenger to use special apps to get information easily through services like Bing?, find restaurants and make reservations through OpenTable? using your compatible smart phone.? Apps also include connections to music services like Pandora? and iheartradio?.

The Toyota Prius c has a lot going for it with its well-organized, versatile interior and agile handling.? With the tight 15.7-foot turning radius, it?s perfect for scampering through tight traffic and in parking lots.? In addition, who can argue about its low price and excellent fuel economy.