Coming in March: 2012 Toyota Prius C (C is for City)

So there, we blew it all in the headline. But the Prius C’s big story is that it appears to be a quite good subcompact hybrid from the king of the hybrids. And it will sell in the U.S. “with a starting MSRP below $19,000.”

It will be lighter and cheaper than its competition and beat them by bearing the Prius nameplate.

Curb weight is 542 lbs less than the standard Prius; mileage will be about the same (50 mpg combined), with 53 mpg in the city. Four trim levels will be offered, with good safety features and the usual electro-tech stuff, plus optional Entune system.

Those who have driven the car in Japan, where it is labeled the Aqua, liked especially its drive feel and handling. Inside Line called it

the most un-Prius-like Prius that Toyota has made to date. Here’s an eco champ that’s unexpectedly taut, sporty and, yes, even fun. It’s a surprisingly far cry from the regular Prius, a lovable fuel miser well known for its numb steering and aversion to cornering.

The car feels “quick and alert,” accelerates from 25 to 40 mph in 3.6 seconds, has quick steering and 16-inch alloys with special tires (in the optional Touring package), and good brakes. It’s well balanced since the battery is under the rear seat.

Toyota really dumbed down the looks from last year’s C concept car, but it still looks better than the Honda Insight, whose lunch we predict it will eat.

The one big downside with the C—and with most small hybrids—is the CVT, which is not made for performance. The car does 0-62 mph in 10.7 seconds. But the CVT offers seamless, straightforward power for most all applications. Hot shoes should avoid this car.

There are three selectable driving modes: Normal, EV-only (gets you down the road about a gas-free mile if you keep it under 25 mph) and Eco (lower fuel consumption with less power). I think only true green nut cases will use the latter two, which Toyota could have eliminated to further reduce cost.

There is 17.3 cubic feet of cargo room in the back, accessible via hatch. The interior is rather spartan but doesn’t look cheap or shabby.

Is it finally time for a hybrid city car to make it in the U.S. market?


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1 Comment

  1. They’ve already made it Senor. This car will just be the best iteration for city drivers. It is small compared to the other Prii and is just as fuel efficient as its bigger brethren.
    For the urban and suburban driver, this seems like the best bet for economy and stop ‘n go traffic on crowded streets. From what I’ve read the premium one pays for this hybrid is only about $3K which is half of what other hybrids have build in less incentives. Other conventional high mileage vehicles can’t match the economic metrics of a hybrid running on electricity during peak driving times. This is a no brainer for folks that fit the urban demographic.

    It is too bad that we can’t make one of these rascals that has power and torque to match some of the conventional gasoline and diesel engines on the market. Perhaps Tesla should be purchased by another company to share its technology to show how these smaller cars can be goosed to feel like a regular vehicle. But even with Tesla we are all stuck with “range anxiety” and that is a mighty hurdle to overcome.

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