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2012 Toyota Prius C

  

Though based on the Yaris, the Prius C shares no styling elements with its mainstream showroom mate 

 Car tested  2012 Toyota Prius C
 Body style  Four-door hatchback
 Engine  1.5L-4 (99 horsepower combined gas and electric)
 Transmission  Continuously variable transmission
 Base price  $20,950
 Price as tested  $20,950 (includes the Premium package)
 Observed fuel economy  5.25L/100 km

History
With the original Prius, Toyota repositioned itself as the “green” car company. Toyota’s Prius C (for City) is the third Prius model offered in Canada and signals an effort by Toyota to broaden the appeal of its hybrid technology that debuted in Canada 12 years ago. Mainstream consumers have not embraced hybrids due to their additional cost and some of the perceived trade-offs involved in owning one. This is especially true since the generous rebates once offered by the Federal government and the various provinces were withdrawn. As the cheapest hybrid vehicle offered in Canada, the Prius C does a good job at overcoming comsumer cost objections and delivers a great deal of technology for the price.  

Based on the Yaris, the Prius C is built on a 40 mm (1.6 inch) longer wheelbase, is 65 mm  (2.6 inches) and is longer and taller. The Prius C is powered by a 1.5L four which combines with an electric motor to produce 99 horsepower. Power reaches the front wheels via a CVT (continuously-variable transmission). Like Toyota's other hybrids, the Prius C is currently Made in Japan.

Key Competitors
Honda markets its Insight to the same potential customers looking at the Prius C, but the Insight's inability to run in a full electric mode condemns it to "also-ran" status. Other potential cross-shops include conventional small hatchbacks like the Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio and Toyota's own Yaris. 

 

Small digital instrumentation package mounted under a dash top brow, to the left of the driver

Performance
Toyota’s hybrid concept adds an electric motor and a Ni-Cad battery pack recharged by the gasoline engine, to share duties with a smaller-than-usual gas engine. Toyota's hybrid system  incorporates a number of technical innovations to reduce fuel consumption. These included a continuously-variable automatic transmission with infinite gearing to optimize performance and fuel economy, electric power steering, regenerative brakes that return energy to the batteries, and aerodynamic tweaks to lessen wind resistance.

While no fireball, the Prius gains speed with acceptable alacrity and is more refined when working hard than the larger Prius models. The Prius C's drivetrain is relaxed at highway speeds, but cruising is marred by noticeable wind noise from about 80 kilometres per hour onward. The CVT works efficiently. The stop-start system functions imperceptibly; transitions from electric to gasoline modes are seamless and the car is eerily silent at stoplights. The Prius C can operate in full electric mode when crawling in stop-and-go traffic; it's a key advantage over the Honda Insight, which requires the gas engine to be running for the vehicle to move. The Prius C features an EV mode that will operate the car solely under electric power for a limited time, as well an ECO mode to smooth driver inputs with a view to maximizing fuel economy. Outward visibility is very good.

The Prius C's suspension is very stiff over bumps and exhibits a bit more lean in corners than the Yaris does. The electric power steering is slightly slower than that of the Yaris, and the C has a more planted feel, especially on the highway.

The regenerative braking systems on hybrid cars, which convert braking energy into power to return to the batteries, seldom operate in as linear a fashion as conventional brakes. Those of the Prius C work reasonably well for what they are, and brake pedal response is superior to other hybrids the APA has tested. 

The Prius C's cabin is fronted by an elaborate dashboard containing needlessly small digital instruments wedged into a small brow at the left side of the centre of the dashboard. There is plenty of dashboard acreage available so it is a mystery as to why more space wasn't devoted to instrumentation. The climate controls are located at the lowest extremity of the dash centre and are simple to operate. The audio system and its related screen are poorly integrated into the dashboard and have an 80s-like appearance. The audio system produces good sound but its controls are frustrating. Buttons on each side of the steering wheel control a number of functions, including a comprehensive trip computer that owners can use to track numerous aspects of fuel economy.

The currently in-vogue, high-contrast, mid-20th-century cabin two-toning is not a Prius C feature universally appreciated by APA staffers. While some plastic surfaces are a bit shiny, cabin fittings are attractive considering the low price charged for a car boasting such advanced technology.

The front seats are large, comfortable and supportive. With a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, most drivers should be able to find a more comfortable driving position in the Prius C than in the Yaris, which lacks the telescoping feature. There is a comfortable centre armrest between the two front bucket seats. Rear seat comfort and legroom were acceptable for a car this small.

Cabin storage space is at a premium, but the Prius C's trunk is spacious considering the diminutive size of the car and deeper than expected given it shares space with the battery pack and the temporary spare wheel.

On really hot days, air-conditioning output seemed marginal.   

 

 Prius C dashboard 

 

Prius C cabin showing high-contrast two-toning

Fuel Economy
Official U.S. government fuel consumption figures for the Prius C and the Yaris are as follows.

Car City Combined
Prius C 4.4L/100 km 4.7L/100 km
Yaris five-door LE automatic 7.8L/100 km 7.4L/100 km
     

The APA's Prius C test car consumed 5.25L/100 km of fuel is combined driving, a great deal of which was on the highway. That is 25 to 30 percent more frugal than results logged with the best conventional small cars the APA has tested. That said, the Prius C used roughly the same amount of fuel in the APA's hands as the larger compact/intermediate Prius. According to published reports, the Prius C uses less fuel in town, and slightly more fuel on the highway, than the original, larger car. 

Why hybrid
Check the table below to see the fuel savings enjoyed by Prius C owners, and how they can help offset its higher acquisition cost. The fuel cost savings are based on travelling 20,000 km per year with fuel priced at $1.30 per litre.   

Yaris five-door LE Convenience Auto Total fuel cost City Total fuel cost Combined
One year $2028 $1924
Four years $8112 $7696
Five years $10,140 $9620
     
Prius C Base    
One year $1144 $1222
Four years $4576 $4888
Five years $5720 $6110
     
Prius  C fuel savings versus Yaris    
One year $884 $702
Four years (if leasing) $3536 $2808
Five years (if financing) $4420 $3510
     
MSRPs    
Prius C Base  $20,950  
Yaris LE five-door Auto with Conv. package   $16,990

 

Reliability
New vehicle, insufficient data. Previous Toyota hybrids have been reliable and predicted reliability is excellent. Three-year/60,000 km bumper to bumper warranty, five years/100,000 km on the powertrain, and eight years/160,000 km on the hybrid components.

Pricing
With an automatic transmission, air-conditioning, power windows, door locks, Bluetooth, cruise control and a USB port, the base Prius C, at $20,950, is very well equipped for the price. The Technology package is very good value; the Premium package price reflects the value of its contents. Tempting lease offers. The base Prius C is priced $1040 less than the similarly-equipped Honda Insight and generates lower monthly lease and finance payments than the Honda.  

Hybrid buyers seldom buy their clean, fuel-frugal rides just to save on gas; they also want to feel they are doing their bit to help the environment. Comparing five-year projected ownership costs for a base Prius C to a five-door Yaris LE automatic with the Convenience package demonstrates that Prius C owners can help the environment and save money while doing so. 

The following table uses pricing and other data obtained from Toyota Canada's consumer website. Monthly payments lease and finance figures given are tax-in with $0. down. The fuel savings are based on the combined fuel economy figure. Despite the higher purchase price, after five years the Prius C owner comes out ahead. The savings continue to accrue the longer the you keep the car.

Car Lease Finance
Prius C $371/month      $17,808 total $480/month      $28,800 total
Yaris $268/month      $12,864 total $384/month      $23,040 total
Total supplement for Prius C

$4944

$5760

Fuel savings

($2806)

($3510)

Adjusted supplement for Prius C

$2138

$2250

Higher predicted resale value*

$1901

$3143

Total predicted five year Prius C
cost savings. 
 

$1263

*Using Toyota Canada lease residuals

Safety
Occupants of a vehicle this small are at a disadvantage in a collision with other vehicles, which are likely to be larger and heavier. On its recent small cars, Toyota appears to have tried to level the odds, and the Prius C is equipped with nine airbags; there are two in front, two seat-mounted side airbags, two front seat cushion mounted airbags, one for the driver's knees, and two side curtains for head protection. All Prius Cs are equipped the stability control (standard on all cars for 2012) and ABS. The Prius C is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick and was rated Good in the front, side, rear and rollover crash tests. 

 

Rear view of the Prius C  

Summary
The Prius C is not as refined, fun-to-drive, roomy, versatile, or as luxuriously appointed as some of the best cars in the B-segment class, but it is a true hybrid car sold at a compellingly low price. The Prius C's price makes hybrid technology available to a wider pool of environmentally-conscious buyers, with an impressively low total cost of ownership that should appeal to buyers who want to save money.