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2012 Toyota Prius c Two: A Prius for the rest of us

April 22, 2012
Prius c front

Toyota Prius c doesn't scream 'PRIUS!' (Toyota USA photos)

Happy Earth Day! In the year 2012, nothing says “green” like the phrase “hybrid powertrain,” so a chance to drive Toyota’s latest is particularly apropos. Hit the jump to see the review.

BELLINGHAM—Not long ago, there were reports Toyota planned to make Prius a brand name, like Scion and Lexus. For now, that’s not going to happen, but if it did, a Prius brand would have a lot of models to offer. The Prius c is the latest.

The Prius c (called the Aqua in Japan) has certainly proven popular, selling 1201 units in its first three days on sale, a figure that (as Toyota likes to rub in) bests both Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF sales for the entire month of February, 2012. In fact, it’s selling so well in Japan that allocations for the U.S. market have been cut, making a Prius c a bit difficult to find at this writing.

That the Prius c is EPA rated at 53 mpg in the city certainly adds to its appeal. Not having to plug it in is also a plus, given the still-limited number of places to do so.

The Prius c (lower case, please) comes in four trim levels, called—wait for it—One, Two, Three and top-o’-the-line Four, which adds stuff like alloy wheels, fog lamps and “SofTex-trimmed” (???) heated front seats.

Really, the best thing about this particular Prius is that it doesn’t look like a Prius. It’s an attractive 5-door B-segment hatchback.

More importantly, it doesn’t carry the baggage of the original Prius, which is now called the Prius Liftback. I have never, EVER, seen any occupant of such a Prius smiling. The Prius c, OTOH, can’t be described as “schoolmarmish” at all. It actually looks like it might be fun to drive.

Prius c IP

Prius c dashboard with optional center-stack LCD

The Prius c’s user interface is very much in the mainstream. As with many compact and subcompact cars there’s a digital display with the important info along the base of the windshield. On the c Two this includes an iPod-size version of the Liftback’s center-stack LCD (a center-stack LCD is optional, and standard on the c Three and c Four), which is controlled by a steering-wheel mounted button. A lot less distracting, actually.

You select your direction of travel with a center console-mounted lever that’s just like what you’d find in a Yaris, vs. the little knob in other Prii. Unless you order the touchscreen, things are controlled with buttons.

The interior is chockablock with storage nooks and cubbies, plus no less than four beverage holders. It has supportive seats, and while visibility to the front and sides is good, like pretty much all new cars visibility to the rear is poor. Well, by 2014 there will be a rear-view camera.

Prius c back seat

Most people will find the Prius c's cargo space adequate, if not generous

A couple of soft duffle bags will fit in the boot with the back seat up; there’s much more space with the seat folded, of course. And as you can see, the seatbacks fold nearly flat.

On the road, the Prius c’s cabin is quiet, its ride smooth and well-controlled. Unlike the Liftback, its steering wheel feels like it’s actually connected to the front wheels, without the giant dead spot on-center you’ll find with most new cars. As with other hybrids, the brakes will be grabby until you discover how to modulate the pedal, this because regenerative braking is supplementing the wheel brakes.

In fact, the Prius c is more noteworthy for its similarities to other B-segment hatchbacks than for its differences, which from the driver’s perspective are slight.

If you find yourself crossing the U.S./Canadian border regularly, you’ll appreciate how you crawl along on the electric motor, saving lots of four-buck (five-buck in Canada) gas. There’s a button on the dash that will allow you do that anywhere, for short distances at up to 11 mph.

Prius c rear view

But is the Prius c fun to drive? In the sense that it would make you think of of excuses to grab the key and go blasting down Chuckanut Drive, no. The tuner crowd will be turning its attention to the Yaris.

The Prius c will shine because having a need for something more than a scooter won’t have to mean taking as big a fuel-economy hit. Favicon

Thanks to Nickole Bannerman at Wilson Toyota for the test drive.

Plus: Hybrid Synergy Drive® at a more affordable price; doesn’t look like a Prius

Minus: No more fun to drive than a Prius

The details

Base MSRP: $19,900 (Prius c One $18,950)
Built in: Japan
Construction: Pressed steel unit body w/front subframe
Curb weight: 2500 lbs (1134 kg)
Length: 157.3 in (3995 mm)
Width: 56.9 in (1445 mm)
Wheelbase: 100.4 in (2550 mm)
Front susp: MacPherson struts with coil springs, hydraulic dampers and stabilizer bar
Rear susp: Torsion beam axle with coil springs and hydraulic dampers
Front brakes: Power-assisted ventilated disc
Rear brakes: Power-assisted drum
Front tires: P175/65R15 86H
Rear tires: P175/65R15 86H
Engine: DOHC 16-valve liquid-cooled 1.5-liter 4-cyl w/EFI variable valve timing and electronic ignition/permanent magnet 144-volt AC synchronous motor
Transmission:  Electronically-controlled continuously variable (CVT)
Power/torque: 99 hp (74 kW)/125 lb-ft (169 Nm) (combined gas engine/electric motor)
  1. April 22, 2012 5:33 am

    I actually drove this recently. While nice let’s just say I was underwhelmed, there is no acceleration at all—which at times can come in handy. It is very, very quiet inside and that is not a bad thing but again when you’re used to hearing your car (I drive a manual) it’s a bit disconcerting. I did not notice any difference in braking. The back seat is actually pretty roomy and that’s a bit surprising because when you first look into the car you would not think there is a lot of room. One last thing, the 18-19K does not include any of the whistles and bells, if you want anything like AC (a must in Florida) the price is going to climb. The dealership I went to wanted about 28K for the model they had.

  2. April 22, 2012 1:12 pm

    Rob, I’m not surprised… that $28K price surely includes the dealer’s “Adjusted Market Value” or whatever they choose to call gouging. As I said, the Prius c is in short supply in the U.S. at the moment, but whether dealers can get the inflated prices they’re asking remains to be seen…

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