2012 Toyota Prius cPosted on February 17th, 2012
Compact hybrid for active urbanites
By Nina Russin
The Prius may become Toyota’s best- selling vehicle, thanks to a new four-model strategy which adds midsized, compact and plug-in cars to expand upon the appeal of the original liftback. The compact Prius c is the final model to enter the Prius line-up.
The new entry-level Prius is geared towards young urbanites whose budgets kept them out of the other models. There are four grades, beginning with the Prius c 1 priced from $18,950 not including the $760 delivery fee. The upscale Prius 4 starts at $23,230. Toyota expects the Prius c 2 and Prius c 3 to be the volume leaders, priced from $19,900 and $21,635 respectively.
The compact Prius shares chassis components with the current Toyota Yaris. It is not only smaller than the Prius liftback but significantly lighter. Curb weight is about 2500 pounds.
Weight-saving reductions in the battery pack and under the hood combined with aerodynamic enhancements give the Prius c 53 mile-per-gallon fuel economy around town and 46 mpg on the highway.
Building upon a decade of success
When Toyota introduced the original Prius in 2000, the automaker expected a small following of environmentally conscious buyers.
Instead, Toyota’s first hybrid-only model quickly entered the mainstream. In addition to retails sales, fleet sales were robust. The Prius’ outstanding fuel economy, combined with reduced maintenance costs due to regenerative braking made a strong business sense to companies needing reliable, high-mileage vehicles.
Since 2000, Toyota has sold 2.5-million Priuses globally: 1.1 million in the United States.
Hybrid synergy drive system gets smaller and more efficient
In order to fit the Prius c’s drivetrain components under an aerodynamic hood, engineers abandoned the 1.8 liter engine in the Prius liftback for a smaller block. All models come with a 1.5 liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine rated at 73 horsepower with 82 foot-pounds of torque. An electric motor adds 65 horsepower and 125 foot-pounds of torque.
The engine has a high compression ratio: 13.4:1. This gives it the ability to burn fuel efficiently. Electronic engine controls prevent detonation, which can be the bane of high-compression engines.
Toyota has a tradition of simplifying parts under the hood whenever possible, as a way of containing production costs and maintenance procedures down the road. By using cooled EGR, an electric water pump, air conditioning compressor and power steering pump, engineers eliminated the need for rubber drive belts.
As drive belts get old, they dry out and break, often at inopportune times. Drive belts increase internal friction which reduces gas mileage. Eliminating them is a win/win for the Prius buyer.
While other automakers have opted for lithium-ion battery packs, Toyota continues to stick with older nickel-metal hydride technology. Although the nickel-metal hydride batteries are heavier than lithium-ion, they are also less expensive, helping to contain costs on the entry level compact car.
Toyota also cites reliability as a reason for sticking with the older technology. Ninety-six percent of all Priuses sold in the past decade are still on the road according to the manufacturer, with a battery replacement rate of about one percent.
Unlike the battery packs for the Prius v and Prius liftback, the smaller Prius c battery fits under the second-row seats. This enabled engineers to give the battery pack and 12-volt auxiliary battery next to it adequate shielding in the event of a rear-end collision. It also adds cargo space in back, and room for a compact spare tire under the cargo floor.
Test drive in Austin, TexasLearning about all of the technological advancements in the newest member of the Prius family made me anxious to get behind the wheel. At a recent media event in Austin, Texas, I had the opportunity to drive the compact Prius on city streets, suburban roads and highways. I drove three variants, including the base model and upscale Prius c 4.
Product planners made maneuverability a priority in Prius c development, and the car lives up to the promise. With the standard 15-inch wheels, the Prius c has a 31.4 foot turning circle (the optional 16-inch wheels add about six feet). I was able to pull out of what seemed to be an impossibly tight parking slot on the street in front of the hotel with ease.
Unlike other Prius models, base grades of the Prius c come with a conventional key-in ignition and shift lever on the floor. I must admit that I was a little disappointed to not find keyless ignition and joystick shift device on the dash, even though it is a cost-containment measure. The more conventional devices work fine, but they soften the Prius’ high-tech cache.
Other accouterments, such as a complex energy meter, ECO and electric vehicle modes, are as they should be. The energy meter shows the driver how much time the vehicle has run on pure electric power, average speed and cruising range. It also displays an eco-score for each drive, with enough memory for 100 trips. The driver can enter the cost of gas to determine the fuel cost for each trip, as well as cost per mile. He can also compare Prius c fuel costs to other vehicles in his garage.
Because of its smaller engine and battery pack, the Prius c lacks some of the pep of the larger models, which is especially noticeable during hard acceleration and uphill driving. Zero-to-sixty acceleration is 11.5 seconds. The compact model gets the job done, but loses some fun factor due to reduced low-end torque.
Engineers offer buyers of the upscale Prius 4 the option of upgrading to 16-inch alloy wheels and tires. Vehicles with the factory option get a quicker steering ratio for more aggressive handling. While these options make a small difference, they seem out of character with the car whose mission is more focused on fuel economy.
The Prius c suspension consists of a MacPherson strut setup in front and torsion beam rear end. It works fine for the car, with enough compliance for uneven city surface streets. The brakes consist of discs in front and drums in the rear. Braking is firm and linear on dry pavement, but I don’t like drums in wet weather. They tend to fill with water which can make braking uneven. Service is more difficult, especially if rust ridges build up inside the drums.
Visibility out the back suffers from the same small rear glass as the Toyota Yaris, and there is no rear backup camera to help the driver see obstacles when driving in reverse. Visibility to the front and sides is fine. I had no problems monitoring traffic in adjacent lanes on the highway.
Aerodynamic enhancements, including roof insulation to shield against solar loads, keep the interior quiet. Low rolling resistance tires keep road noise to a minimum.
Versatile interiorAlthough Toyota product planners consider the Prius c a subcompact, its interior space classifies the five-door hatch as a compact car by federal standards. All grades come with a fold-flat rear seat. The base model has a single bench, while upscale grades fold in a 60/40 pattern. I didn’t have a chance to try putting a bicycle in back, but the extended cargo floor seems large enough for a road bike with the front wheel removed.
All but the upscale Prius c 4 grade come with cloth upholstery. A new leather replacement called Softex comes on the Prius 4.
Grades 3 and 4 come with available Entune, which enables drivers to pair their smart phones to the car’s infotainment system with apps including Bing and Pandora. An available navigation system includes real-time traffic and weather updates.
Manual adjustments on the driver and front passenger seats are easy to use and provide adequate lower lumbar support for drives up to an hour. Redundant steering wheel controls enable the driver to change audio settings and engage the cruise control.Rear seat passengers have adequate head, leg and hip room for small to average-size adults. There are plenty of cup and bottle holders, in the center console and doors. A shelf above the glovebox holds cell phones and music players, which plug into USB and AUX ports in the same location.
A small sunroof is optional, bringing some additional ambient light inside the car.
All models come with Toyota’s star safety system which integrates antilock braking, traction and stability control. There are nine standard airbags, including a driver’s knee airbag and seat bottom airbags in the front row. The seat bottom airbags inflate the front edge of the seat during a collision, to keep the driver and front passenger from pitching forward.
The urban-oriented Prius c rolls into dealerships in March.
Likes: The Prius c starts under $20,000, extending the model’s reach to entry-level buyers. The car’s small footprint makes it very maneuverable for city dwellers driving in thick traffic and who must park on the street.
Dislikes: Engine lacks the low-end torque of other Prius models. Visibility out the back is poor, due to the small rear glass.
Model: Prius c
Base price: $18,950
As tested: N/A
Horsepower: 73 Hp @ 4800 rpm*
Torque: 82 lbs.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: 11.5 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standad
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 53/46 mpg city/highway
Comment: Electric motor adds 60 Hp and 125 lbs.-ft. of torque
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