A new type of car doesn’t come along every day. In a market that’s already saturated with vehicles, it’s not easy to dream up something entirely new. It’s yet another challenge to execute it successfully and build that concept into a car people actually want.
|1. Rated at 50 mpg combined, the Prius c is 34 percent more fuel efficient than even the greenest sub-compacts.
2. Designed for urban driving, fuel economy is 53 mpg city and 46 mpg highway.
3. With the battery pack located under the rear seats, nothing gets in the way of the rear cargo area with 17 cu-ft of space and a folding rear seat.
4. A combined 99 hp from a 1.5-liter gasoline engine and electric motor mean the Prius c is slow, at 11.5 seconds to 60 mph.
Is it any good? Will people and should people buy it? That’s what we traveled to the land of the Prius (aka Southern California) to find out about the newest addition to the Toyota dedicated hybrid lineup, the Prius c.
NOT JUST ANOTHER SUB-COMPACT
It may not be a game changer, but the smallest Prius is in a class of its own. True, there are already plenty of sub-compacts, there’s even the Yaris in Toyota’s own lineup, but it’s unfair to classify them in the same group for one particular reason: fuel economy.
As a Prius, the c gets outstanding numbers with a 50 mpg average rating. Other economy machines may boast 40 mpg stickers, but that’s just on the highway and a combined rating comes closer to 33 mpg. The difference between the two is significant – 34 percent. If a car had 34 percent more horsepower than another, you’d never think of comparing them.
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As a Prius, the c also delivers as promised. In fact, it does better, with fuel economy during out initial drive often above the claimed 50 mpg rating. We had hoped for a higher figure than that of the Prius, especially considering the car’s significantly reduced weight, coming in at over 500 lbs less than the Prius liftback at just around 2,500 lbs., but there are known engineering challenges to overcome in order to achieve that. Of note, how the Prius c achieves that combined number is quite different than the regular car, with a higher city rating of 53 mpg and a lower highway rating or 46 mpg. The combined total may be the same, but for the target urbanite buyer real world fuel economy should be better.
SMALLER PRIUS STILL OFFERS PLENTY OF FUNCTIONALITY
Down-sized in all ways over the conventional Prius, including being 18 inches shorter in length and 2 inches less wide, the Prius c also makes use of a smaller engine. Shared in size with the second generation Prius, it’s a 1.5-liter unit, compared to a 1.8-liter in the current Prius, and makes use of smaller electrical components as well. In fact, the battery pack has been reduced in size to the point that it will now fit under the rear seat, freeing up the rear hatch area. As a result there’s 17 cu-ft of space in the back – though it does seem smaller. Plus, the rear seats fold down, although not exactly flat.
An efficient use of gas and space, the Prius c was designed to fulfill several other criteria in order to appeal to a target audience of urban gen Y types and millennials including: style, technology, driving enjoyment and price.
Decidedly more bubbly than the styled-by-a-computer Prius liftback, the c still has enough of a unique look to please. But style is as much about how a car looks as what it says about you and in that respect just having the Prius badge will help this car sell. Those looking for added excitement will also be pleased with a fun palette of color choices, ranging from Blue Streak Metallic to spicy Habanero.
Perhaps more important for the smart phone generation is in-car technology and the Prius c has gobs of it, with the usual items as well as some innovative added-value features that make the Prius as much of a green video game on wheels as it is a car.
GET YOUR GREEN GEEK ON
High grade trim levels get the optional Display Audio screen with a Toyota’s Entune telematics system. Along with great XM Apps like being able to check fuel prices at the nearest gas stations, Entune is one of a growing number of systems that acknowledges the auto industry can’t keep up with the pace of the tech industry. The solution is to then make the in-car unit sync with an app from your smart phone, allowing access to other apps ranging from Pandora music streaming to the Bing search engine. It avoids any subscription fee, but does feed off your smartphone’s data plan. Perhaps its best feature is that it’s future-friendly and can be updated with new apps added whenever they’re available.
Currently an option on numerous other Toyota products, the Prius c gets some unique new toys as well, accessible on an additional 3.5-inch display screen. Along with the usual hybrid drive monitors, Toyota has added an Eco Score screen that will rank your current drive’s fuel efficiency compared to the past 100 trips. It will also give you a 1 to 5 ranking on how efficiently you come to a stop, how effectively you start off from a stop and how green you cruise. Not only are these great coaching methods to help you drive more efficiently, but they actually add another level of enjoyment to you drive, challenging you to improve.
In addition, an Eco Savings feature adds yet another level of green fun, allowing you to punch in the current fuel price and the car will then tell you how much your trip costs. Taking it a step further, you can even drop in an mpg rating for a second vehicle, be it one of those sub-compact “rivals” or a Cadillac Escalade, and it will deliver real time info on just how much money you saved by driving the Prius c. Perhaps too eco-geek for some, it’s a big value-added novelty for others.
In addition, everyone will appreciate the fact that Bluetooth is standard across the model range.
Apart from the technology add-ons, the cabin is a mixture of traditional Prius components with newer Toyota styling cues like we’ve seen on the Scion iQ. Unique two-tone cloth seats look good and despite a plentiful use of hard plastics, particularly on lower trim levels, the car’s modernity manages to eclipse its on-a-budget materials.
YOUTHFUL, BUT HARDLY ENERGETIC
If there’s anywhere the Prius c doesn’t deliver its in driving enjoyment. It’s undoubtedly a more dynamic package than the Prius, although the majority of the change in personality can be attributed to the lighter weight – a surprising number that actually puts the Prius c below some non-hybrid competitors. In addition, Toyota’s ability to move the battery pack underneath the rear seat helps deliver a center of gravity below what it might otherwise have.
Base Prius c One to Three trim levels come with tiny 175/65/15 steel wheels with hubcaps, with some grades available for a 15-inch aluminum wheel upgrade. Those same rollers come standard on the Four trim level with a tighter steering wrack, with an option for 16-inch wheels with wider 195/50/16. The handling and enjoyment factor increase considerably with this package, but the ride quality suffers more so.
It’s a good thing the Prius c delivers so much technology fun (and that hybrid buyers aren’t interested in performance), because the combined 99-hp gasoline-electric output results in a 11.5 second 0-60 time – significantly slower than even the conventional Prius, which has a comparatively zippy 9.8 second time.
PRICED FROM $18,950
Not surprisingly, considering its hi-tech drivetrain, the Prius c doesn’t cost like a conventional econo-box either, though the numbers are substantially lower than the liftback. Starting at $18,950 the c One is a basic machine with flare limited to a tilt and telescopic steering wheel, 3.5-inch multi information display, projector headlights, remote keyless entry and nine airbags. Trim level Two ($19,900) adds an upgraded audio system with Bluetooth streaming audio, two-tone seats and cruise control. Prius c Three models ($21,635) then toss on the 6.1-inch display audio system with Entune, Touch Tracer controls on the steering wheel and keyless access with a push button ignition. Load it up to trim Four ($23,230) and you’ll get 15-inch aluminum wheels, SofTex faux-leather seating and fog lights. Compared against a Prius liftback, you’ll save roughly $4,000 to $5,000 depending on the trim level.
The fate of a new segment often rests on the success or failure of the car that launched it. Build a car people want (take the original Prius for instance) and it will have rivals. The Prius c is just such a car.
It may be a little dull on driving enjoyment, but that quality is arguably last on the list of qualities of anyone looking for a vehicle like this. Instead, the unique look, functionality and geek-tastic green goodies make it more than just a 50 mpg sub-compact. Plus, you can’t underestimate the cache of the Prius name
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