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Road Test & Review: 2012 Toyota Prius c

And, Baby Makes c

by Susan Mead
March 28, 2012
6 min. Reading Time

Babies are expected to grow. In life, that is. But, in the car world, babies are spawned, birthed with fanfare at auto shows and press events, and designed to stay small forever. There’s only one thing the parents hope will be big—and that’s sales. The newest member of the “Prii” Family is the 2012 Toyota Prius c. The all-new 5-seater, subcompact ‘baby’ in this popular hybrid car line has a mission: to bring new buyers into the family fold by attracting them to its starting price of $18,950; an EPA-estimated city fuel economy of 53 mpg; hatchback utility in a diminutive, urban-friendly package; and the  full-sized assemblage of comfort, convenience and advanced technology features.

Smaller and lighter than the third-generation Prius Liftback, the “c” shares the same platform as the Toyota Yaris and uses Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive for propulsion. It brings new features such as a Display Audio System that can be linked to the Entune multimedia system; a full-color Multi-Information Display; and new driver feedback that includes ECO Score and ECO Savings. The “c” also packs other Prius Family technologies such as Touch Tracer, streaming Bluetooth, and USB connectivity, as well as Smart Key and Push-Button Start.

It comes in four trims levels with numerical designations: One, Two (starts at $19,900), Three (starts at $21, 635) and Four (base MSRP of $23, 230), plus a $760 destination charge. Toyota says its newest model offers the highest city mpg of any vehicle without a plug; the 2012 Prius c goes on sale in March and, in case you’re wondering, “c” stands for city.

The Prii Family Tree

In 2000, when the first generation Prius went on sale in the U.S., no one knew that a vehicle that seemed like a funky science-fair experiment would become an icon. In fact, some didn’t think it was a “real car”. However, early “tech adopters” led the parade down the highways of America and soon it became an enthusiast’s car; purchased by opinion leaders in mainstream culture and celebrities, it has even played a few roles in the movies.

Since going on sale 15 years ago in Japan, it’s now become the top-selling hybrid in the world, with more than 2.5 million sales globally, and about 1.1 million in the U.S. Last year, Prius outsold all other hybrids combined, with the highest owner loyalty of all mid-sized models; Toyota also touts the hybrid’s dependability and durability and claims that 96 percent of all Prius sold over the past decade are still on the road.

Success has led to an expanded family line with four distinct models in the tree designed for buyers who differ in age, pocketbook, and lifestyle. Prius is now available as the 2012 Toyota Prius Liftgate (the original and third-generation model); the 2012 Toyota Prius v (it offers nearly 60 percent more cargo space than the liftgate version and class-leading fuel economy); the 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid (on sale in March, it can motor up to 15 miles on battery power and is expected to achieve the equivalent of 95 mpg); and the 2012 Toyota Prius c.

Toyota says the Prius c is the “gateway vehicle” for the Prius Family.  What that means is it’s been designed and priced to appeal to young, eco-conscious buyers on a budget (translated to mean Millennials, Gen Y or buyers with a “free spirit”). Toyota’s engineers have endowed the subcompact with responsive handling and its footprint makes it easy to park in congested areas.


You Move Me

The 2012 Toyota Prius c is a front-drive hatchback powered by Toyota’s eco-friendly Hybrid Synergy Drive; it is comprised of a 1.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine that achieves 73 hp. and 82 lbs.-ft. of torque, and an electric motor that can supply 60 hp. and 125 lbs.-ft. of torque derived from a nickel-metal hydride battery pack that captures power during regenerative braking. An electronically-controlled continuously variable transmission (ECVT) works the gears for the subcompact that weighs in at 2,496 lbs. (19 percent lighter than the liftback), with a hybrid battery that is more compact and 26 percent lighter that the “c’s” bigger stablemate, as well. The new fuel-sipping model has an EPA of 53/46/50 (city/highway/combined).

The “c” comes with all the safety features Prius and Toyota are known for, including nine standard airbags (driver and front passenger Advanced Airbag System, Driver and front passenger seat-mounted side airbags, driver knee airbag, driver and front passenger seat cushion airbags, and side curtain airbags) and the Star Safety System, that bundles  Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction control (TRAC), Anti-lock Brake System (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist (BA), and Smart Stop Technology (SST). Also included as standard are a Tire Pressure Monitor System (TPMS), Hill Start Assist Control (HAC), a Vehicle Proximity Notification System (VPNS) and a new Advanced WIL (Whiplash Injury-Lessening) structure that support the head and lower back of front seat riders in the event of a collision from the rear.

Of note: Prius c has a clever Vehicle Proximity Notification System (VPNS) to aid in the awareness of others outside the vehicle; VPNS makes a polytonic warning sound when the speed is above zero and below 15.5 mph, in EV mode or when engine is stopped, and the shift position is not in the park mode.


Exterior design

The 2012 Prius c is an attractively sculpted urban runabout, with a wheelbase that is just over 100 inches and an overall length of 157.3 inches. Toyota says its designers worked to create a fun, youthful look for this all-new model with aerodynamic styling that is narrower on top of the beltline and wider below. A nifty new feature is fins on the side mirrors that also enhance the “slippery” look and sculpted rear flares that communicate substance and sport. Available colors include three new paints – Habanero, Moonglow, and Summer Rain Metallic – along with Blue Streak Metallic, Absolutely Red, Black Sand Pearl, Magnetic Gray Metallic, Classic Silver Metallic, and Super White.

Distinguished as an eco-conscious model by Hybrid Synergy Drive blue accent badges, the front end gets projector-beam halogen headlamps, while the back wears combination lamps with LED stop lamps. Color-keyed, power outside mirrors have integrated turn signal indicators and a color-keyed rear spoiler is beset with a LED center high-mount stop lamp. Base wheels are 15-in. aluminum alloys (16 inchers are available), with low rolling resistance all-season tires.


Inner Recesses

The 2012 Toyota Prius c has a well-equipped interior designed to seat up to five, with a selection of attractive—and eco-friendly seat fabrics and trims. The hybrid battery is stowed below the second seat giving more rear passenger room, and a 17.1 cubic-foot cargo area comes to life, when the back seats are folded. A 60/40 split rear seat makes way to transport snowboards, two bicycles, and other sports equipment.

The base  “c” gets an impressive host of standard features, including automatic climate control with air filter, electric compressor, humidity sensor, and push-button controls; a 3.5-in color TFT Multi-Information Display with customizable settings, outside temperature, clock, fuel economy history, cruising range, trip distance, EV miles driven, Hybrid System Indicator, ECO savings record, energy monitor, and warning messages; fabric-trimmed front seats with 4-way adjustable driver’s seat; 4-way adjustable front passenger seat; fold-down rear seat; tilt/telescopic steering wheel with audio, climate, Multi-Information Display, and Bluetooth hands free phone controls; remote keyless entry system with lock, unlock, and panic functions, and remote illuminated entry;  and a front 12V auxiliary power outlet. The standard audio system is an AM/FM CD player with MP3/WMA playback capability, 4 speakers, auxiliary audio jack, USB port with iPod connectivity, auto sound leveling, hands-free phone capability, phone book access and music streaming via Bluetooth.

Uplevel models add a wide variety of upgraded features and there are notable stand-alone factory options, as well.


Ride and Drive - for Five

We motored the new 2012 Prius c on a ride and drive in Del Ray Beach, Florida, on a route that incorporated both around-town and highway driving. The subcompact seems small from the outside, but grows to more ample size once in and situated, with good head room. With two adults in the front, we made note of the somewhat tight elbow room and tight leg room in the rear, when the front seats are fully extended rearward. Overall, we appreciated the quality look and feel of materials, especially in the “c’s” value-priced segment of the market. On the other hand, the cockpit and console have a busy look and feel, with lots of controls and technologies on board.

The “c” has three drive modes: Normal, ECO, and EV modes. A switch allows you to engage ECO and EV modes, when desired.; ECO mode changes the throttle opening, reducing it by up to 12 percent, whereas EV mode allows the vehicle to be driven a short distance using the electric motor and hybrid battery for propulsion. Also aiding fuel economy and handling is a 0.28 coefficient of drag, and the packaging of the battery and fuel tank below the rear seat; both contribute to a low center of gravity. Toyota says the suspension has been tuned to be responsive, especially for tight, urban driving and also comfortable on longer rides.

Although acceleration from 0-60 mph will not win any speed awards at 11.5 seconds, we found it fairly easy to navigate in and out of heavy traffic at highways speeds and appreciated the electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering on the bustling Del Ray Beach streets for tight maneuvers.


Prius c--Phone Home!

The console of the 2012 Prius c is home to Toyota’s new Display Audio System that incorporates a 3.5- to 6.1-inch touch screen and a navigation system with voice-recognition, depending on the model, upgrades or option package. Available for integration is the Entune multimedia system that will have updates like Open Table or MovieTickets.com, and other tech-smart features, as well as music selections from Pandora and i-heart-radio. Touch Tracer, streaming Bluetooth, and USB connectivity, ---

The new Prius c will also be the first in the Family to get a new full-color Multi-Information Display that delivers driver feedback to encourage smart motoring with info displays that communicate ECO Score and ECO Savings.


Warranty Protection

Toyota’s 36-month/36,000 mile basic new-vehicle warranty applies to all components other than normal wear and maintenance items. Additional 60-month warranties cover the powertrain for 60,000 miles and against corrosion with no mileage limitation. The hybrid-related components, including the HV battery, battery control module, hybrid control module and inverter with converter, are covered for eight years/100,000 miles. The Prius c will also come standard with Toyota Care, a complimentary plan that covers normal factory-scheduled maintenance and 24-hour roadside assistance for two years or 25,000 miles, whichever comes first.



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