The driver transferring me from the airport to a downtown hotel here said it made a lot of sense for Toyota to be previewing its new Prius c in his city. “The Prius is the most popular car in Seattle,” he stated.
I’m not sure how accurate my cabbie’s facts were, but I can say that, after a few days in this city, I’ve seen more Priuses on the roads here than in a year of driving back home. Taxis, families, couples, singles — forget demographics, they’re all being drawn to Toyota’s signature hybrid. In fact, Prius is the top-selling hybrid globally and accounts for 25% of overall hybrid sales in Canada.
Expect that market share to increase as the Prius family grows with the introduction of the 2012 Prius c (for city). This all-new subcompact hybrid joins the original liftback model and the Prius v compact crossover introduced last fall.
The c is intended to be a gateway model to the Prius lineup, offering the gas-saving advantages of hybrid technology at a more affordable price point. It starts at $20,950, making it the least expensive hybrid on the road.
With the c, Toyota is targeting youthful buyers, the Gen Y types. It has developed this five-door hatchback with features that appeal to them — a fun-to-drive flavour with nimble handling, a tight turning radius, some eye-popping colours and a lengthy list of connectivity and other technologies.
It’s designed to be most at home in an urban environment, making the hours many Canadians spend commuting each day as comfortable and enjoyable as possible while operating at a high level of efficiency. With a combined city/highway fuel consumption rating of 3.7 litres per 100 kilometres, the c is the most fuel-efficient vehicle without a plug on the road today, says Toyota. It even surpasses its larger liftback sibling, which is rated at 3.8 L/100 km combined. It’s also one of the cleanest vehicles, with an emissions rating of Tier 2 Bin3.
Toyota has achieved this high fuel efficiency by trimming weight and size. The c, at 1,132 kilograms, is 19% lighter than the liftback and its new 144-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack weighs 26% less. Its Hybrid Snergy Drive system is the smallest, lightest version in Toyota’s 15 years of hybrid development. It uses a 16-valve 1.5-litre four-cylinder with double-overhead camshafts and variable valve timing with intelligence to generate 73 horsepower and 82 pound-feet of torque running on the Atkinson cycle. To reduce energy drain on the engine, the water pump, air conditioning compressor and power steering system are all electrically driven. The gasoline-fuelled engine is augmented by a new, oil-cooled hybrid transaxle. The system combines to produce a net 99 hp, channelled to the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission (CVT.)
Driving on a variety of roads here, from urban residential to rural highways and interstates, the powertrain did manage to answer all my requests for go power. It was certainly not neck-snapping but perky enough to fit well with the surrounding traffic. Perhaps the biggest surprise came when I decided to pass a big rig on the interstate — the c responded promptly, making the move smoothly without causing my heart rate to climb. Even in hilly terrain — and, here, that occurs frequently and with serious degrees of steepness — this Prius “light” had no difficulty keeping pace.
A fair bit of road noise did intrude into the cabin during the test run, however, especially while driving on some of the rougher road surfaces. The harder, low-rolling-resistance tires may have been a contributing factor, despite Toyota’s efforts to ensure interior quietness with the addition of several sound-dampening materials.
The Prius c is based on a modified version of the subcompact Yaris platform, not the liftback chassis. It uses rigid L-arm MacPherson struts, a stabilizer bar up front and a torsion beam in the rear. While this setup gives the car a nimble, sure-footed feel when negotiating curves and turns, I found the ride to be somewhat harsh — certainly less compliant than its larger liftback sibling.
The steering, with its electric assist, was quick to respond to input and the turning radius was indeed impressive — just 4.8 metres. That’s certainly an asset when trying to manoeuvre through tight city traffic and crowed parking lots.
Another feature put to good use in hilly Seattle was the car’s hill start assist control. When stopped on an incline, you simply push the brake pedal to the floor and hold it there momentarily. A chime and light indicate when the assist system is engaged and it then holds the car until the gas pedal is pushed, preventing any rollback.
I found the interior of the c to be surprisingly roomy for a car with such diminutive exterior dimensions. Its sleek, aerodynamic body sits on a 2,550-millimetre wheelbase, with an overall length of 3,995 mm and width of 1,695 mm. The car is just 1,445 mm high, yet access was easy and the headroom was generous. So, too, was front legroom — I had no issues getting my 6-foot-1 frame comfortable in either the passenger or driver’s seat, which manually adjusts fore and aft, with a reclining seatback and height-adjustable seat cushion. The steering column also tilts and telescopes, while the D-shaped steering wheel features controls for audio, climate, Bluetooth, trip meter and multi-information display.
The 60/40-split rear seatback folds down to provide plenty of room for bulky items. With the seatback up, there’s still 17.1 cubic feet of cargo space.
Amenities include a six-speaker audio system with USB port with iPod connectivity, standard automatic climate control, keyless entry and power windows. A factory-installed advanced navigation system with voice recognition is available — a first for a Toyota subcompact.
For owners keen to chart their driving habits and keep a record of fuel consumption, the Prius c has a centre-mounted display screen on the expansive instrument panel that monitors energy and drive information, calculates an ECO score and computes fuel savings — not just in consumption rates but in dollars spent and saved. When you shut the car off, it even provides a performance summary of the trip just completed.
The Prius c, now in dealers’ showrooms, is available in three trim levels: the base model, with $1,565 in freight charges, lists at at $22,650. You can step up to the Technology package for an additional $2,210, which adds 15-inch alloy wheels, the navigation system, Touch Tracer steering wheel controls, a Smart Key system and push-button start. A Premium package can be added to the Tech pack — for another $2,180, it adds 16-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats, power sunroof, fog lamps and synthetic leather SofTex trim on the seats. Even fully loaded, the Prius c still costs less than the Prius liftback, which starts at $25,995, making it truly a more affordable way for budget-conscious consumers to enjoy the advantages of hybrid technology.
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