2012 Toyota Prius c

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — Let’s play a game of word association. Say “hybrid” and what’s the first word that comes to mind? That’s right, Toyota Prius. The Prius family just welcomed its fourth member and the gateway into the Prius world, the five-door subcompact Prius c. The “c” signifying “city.”

Though designed primarily as an urban-friendly hatchback utility, a few minutes behind the wheel tells any driver this is in reality an all-day vehicle — as in one you could drive all day and not get tired.

As if the driving experience isn’t enough satisfaction, the vehicle ingratiates itself further by providing an EPA-estimated city fuel economy rating of 53 mpg. It is powered by a 1.5-liter aluminum 4-cylinder DOHC 16-valve VVT-I engine that puts out a “whopping” 73 horsepower and 82 pound-feet of torque. You may laugh at these anemic numbers but drive a Prius c in traffic and you will find it performs admirably.

Net horsepower from the hybrid system is more tolerable with a combined 99.  Full EPA estimated fuel economy numbers are 53 mpg city/46 mpg highway and 50 mpg combined — and it runs on regular unleaded fuel.

The motor is mated to an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (ECVT). Though not in an NHRA Top Fuel dragster class, 0-60 mph time is a tolerable at 11.5 seconds and top speed is 105 mph. It has a 9.5-gallon fuel tank so an owner can expect getting almost 500 miles per fill-up when driving at highway speeds. Prius c sports 15-inch low rolling resistance all-season tires with available 16-inchers.

Curb weight is only 2,500 pounds.

Though the vehicle is certificated for five people, you do NOT want to be the poor schlub sitting in the center of the rear seat. When four are riding, yes, there’s ample room. Total passenger volume is 87.4 cubic feet. The trunk isn’t going to be toting a foursome of golf bags but it’s adequate for almost any usual day’s activities. Total cargo area is 17.1 cubic feet.

There is a smallish center console with a cupholder or two and there’s even one at the rear of the console for the back seaters. Speaking of rear seaters they actually have a surprising amount of legroom with normal-sized adults. Granted, Prius c isn’t the Grand Canyon but it’s also not a 3 x 5 cell, either.     

There are four grades within the Prius c and they are appropriately named One, Two, Three and Four. Among interior technology in the top two grades is a Display Audio System with Navigation and Entune that has six speakers and a 6.1-inch touchscreen, SiriusXM Satellite Radio capability, HD Radio with iTunes tagging and advanced voice recognition.

Usually a car built on a small wheelbase (100.4-inches) gives a fairly harsh ride. Notice I said “usually.” Maybe it was the good Florida highways but there was little indication the Prius c would provide anything except a satisfying road trip.

Toyota’s engineers have pulled out all the stops to make this vehicle the peppy little scooter it is. The steering wheel feel is good and its flat spot at the bottom is right out of a racing shop. Plus, a host of redundant controls are located on the steering wheel so the driver doesn’t have to take his hands off the wheel to make adjustments to the audio system.

Ed La Rocque, Toyota’s national brand manager for advanced passenger cars, noted that since the first Prius was introduced in 2000, 96 percent are still in operation. Also, 50 percent of all hybrids sold in the United States are Prius, and there are 2.5 million of them globally. New buyers, he said, are being brought to the brand as opposed to cannibalizing sales from other vehicles in the Toyota line. (Speaking of Toyota, it’s going to be very busy in 2012, bringing out new or updated products every 19 days.)

For the MSRP of this vehicle — $18,950 for Prius c One on up to $23,230 for the Prius c Four — and the resultant fuel savings you’ll be able to load it up with as much content as you desire…and still probably have money left over.

If there is one complaint about the all-new 2012 Prius c it’s this — we don’t have one. Fortunately for those who share this dilemma Toyota has the perfect answer.

— Al Vinikour