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Test Drive: Toyota Prius C


Easter is just around the corner, and the traditional way to celebrate it is with brightly colored Easter eggs. Well, we didn’t have any spare eggs, so we decided to celebrate it with our own, slightly tweaked version — a pastel orange, egg-shaped hybrid ... close enough.

The hybrid is the 2012 Toyota Prius C, the latest addition to the growing Prius family. The C stands for city, as it was designed more for urban use than its siblings, and it is the smallest of the group. But saying it is just smaller is an understatement, as the Prius C is 19 inches shorter and a whopping 542 pounds lighter.

This is where the egg shape comes in handy. Outside of the un-aerodynamic rectangle, the egg shape is one of the best ways to get as much room as possible in a small package. This proved true for the Prius C, as it had ample room for both front and rear passengers of normal human proportions. It also provided excellent visibility with large windows and a small blind spot.

The seats in the Prius C were surprisingly comfortable, considering how thin they were, and should be no problem on long road trips. Our Prius C also came with some nice features such as navigation, climate control, satellite radio and Toyota’s Entune infotainment system. What the interior is lacking, however, is good interior materials. The interior is full of hard plastics on both the dash and doors that give the Prius C’s interior a cheap look and feel.

The Prius C’s engine and electric motor are also smaller than the regular Prius. The engine is down 0.3 liters to 1.5-liters and loses 25 horsepower to 73 horsepower. The electric motor is also down to 45 kW (from 60 kW) for a total system output of 99 horsepower, a total loss of 35 horses.

The smaller size and powertrain equals to a slight increase in city fuel economy to 53 mpg, but loses 2 mpg on the highway to 46 mpg for a combined 50 mpg. These claims are pretty accurate, as in our short, 20-mile trip we managed 51 mpg, which would have been higher if didn’t do our 0-60 mph sprint.

The Prius C was not designed for straight-line performance, and it doesn’t even try to act like it with 60 mph coming in an agonizing 11 seconds. Put the car in eco mode, which limits throttle input, and, well, make sure you leave an hour earlier than usual. But, hey, it’s a Prius. Just make sure you put on that “I’m better than you because I drive a hybrid” smug look that Prius owners are known for when everybody is passing you. I did it, and I have to tell you, it felt pretty good.

The CVT (continuously variable transmission) automatic transmission is also geared toward fuel economy more than acceleration, as you can literally hit the gas pedal and hear the RPMs increase, yet you’re going the exact same speed.

The Prius C does have an excellent turning radius, which can turn a 3-point turn into a U-turn. It also makes for easy parallel parking, which is all in line with its more urban focus. Body-roll is also subdued, but the steering can get a little heavy when turning sharply.

The regenerative brakes on the Prius C are great for recharging the battery a little bit, but what they don’t do well is provide linear braking, and I never did get used to the brakes in the Prius C.

The Prius C starts at a reasonable $18,950 and comes with four trim levels that are simply named One, Two, Three and Four. Our test car came with the Three trim, which costs an additional $2,685 and added navigation, push-button start, cruise control and split, fold-down rear seats. Add in destination fees and miscellaneous dealer add-ons like window tint and carpet mats, and the grand total comes to $23,024.

Prius owners are some of the most loyal customers for Toyota. The fact is, you’re either a Prius person, or you’re not. If you are a Prius person, and you want a Prius that is a little easier to park and comes in a pastel orange color, then the Prius C might just be the perfect car for you.

The test car was provided by Toyota Oxford.