2012 Toyota Prius c HD Video Review

To say Toyota has done well with the Prius is to say Apple just might have something with that tablet thingy they introduced a few years back.  Toyota fully believes the iconic hybrid will be their most important car by the end of the decade, bigger than Corolla (the best selling nameplate of all time) and larger than Camry (the best selling sedan in American for a decade).

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In March there will be a new Prius.  The big deal?  It’s small.

Toyota hopes that Prius c, (the letter stands for city) will attract the kind of customers automakers crave- young ones, though they probably won’t turn anyone away.  Toyota believes c sales will make up about 15-20 percent of the Prius family which includes the large Prius v now too.

Compared to the standard Prius (which Toyota now refers to as the Liftback), c is 19 inches shorter, 2 inches narrower and around 540 pounds lighter.  But the biggest reduction is one your wallet will appreciate.  Starting at $19,710 with destination, it’s about four grand less than big brother. So here, c stands for cost cutter.  I am driving a Three model that retails for $22,395.

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Power is Smaller Too

Providing scoot is a 73 horsepower 1.5-liter four-cylinder and a 60 horse electric motor for a total of 99 horsepower.  Toyota didn’t just drop the larger Prius’ hybrid system under the hood.

Everything from the battery to the power inverter and transaxle is different and smaller.  FYI, the engine is a slightly modified version of the one used in the previous generation Prius.  Air conditioning and power steering are electric, there’s nothing belt driven off the engine. It makes a guy wonder if there are other Prii coming since it isn’t cost effective to create a new drivetrain for just one vehicle.

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The transmission is a continuously variable unit and ditches the usual Prius joystick for a standard shift lever.  A nickel metal hydride battery is under the seat for a lower center of gravity and extra room in the trunk.

Drives Like a Prius

The expected hybrid synergy drive dynamics are here.  Starting out, a unique whirring sound warns pedestrians you’re silently pulling on electric power, the gas engine feathers in when more power is needed.  The battery is charged when coasting or breaking.

Eco Mode softens the throttle response to help lead foot drivers get better gas mileage.  C is for creeping, EV Mode means electric only operation for a mile under 25 miles per hour with a fully charged battery.  Apparently Toyota engineers often sneak back home late at night, those party animals.  Hope their garage door is quiet.

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With the Prius name, fuel economy is critical. Toyota estimates the EPA rating will be 53 city, 46 highway, overall about the same as the regular model at a 50 MPG average.  My short time behind the wheel finds that pretty accurate.

A new display feature allows the driver to enter the cost of fuel, Prius then displays how much the trip cost or how much is saved compared to another car.  This could be significant if your other vehicle is a Sequoia.

Comfort is Important Too

Historically, small cars have been referred to as penalty boxes.  These days that’s changing and the Prius c is a good example.  It’s fairly comfortable and quiet for a small car, even at highway speeds.

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Toyota posts an official 0 to 60 time of 11.5 seconds and top speed of 105 MPH (in case Al Gore’s kids are reading).  Using my fairly accurate Dynolicious app, I’m seeing 10.6 second on the most level piece of clear and safe asphalt I can find. The engine certainly makes itself known when heading up hills or under hard acceleration. The “c word” for handling is “controlled”.  C is not overly sporty like Honda Fit and Chevy Sonic, but it is solid and capable.

It is very maneuverable, u-turns on my Prius c Three tester are no problem at all.  FYI, the top-of-the-line c Four model (appealing to TSA workers with a sense of humor) has it’s electric power steering calibrated differently for the largest wheel option, apparently giving it a sportier feel but slightly wider turning radius.

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C is For Cabin

The interior uses good quality hard plastics and it’s easy to find a comfy position with a tilt/telescope wheel.  Digital gauges are center mounted, deeply hooded from the sun’s glare and a bit on the small side.  There’s a good amount of storage including a large glove box and a handy spot just forward of the steering wheel.

The exposed location of standard USB port makes it hard to hide an iPod if you want to leave an old one plugged in all the time.  It would be better in the covered center console, nice that the Prius c has one of those.  Also standard? Bluetooth for phones (expected these days) and automatic climate control (very surprising and welcomed).

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Toyota believes the c will appeal to younger buyers who need to be connected 24/7 to the internet.  For them there’s the Entune system. It runs apps like Pandora streaming music and Bing search.  Entune gets its data from your smart phone that gets plugged into the USB port.  It gives sports, stock and weather info, plus gas prices or a good restaurant.  Remember, it uses your phone’s data plan so you need a robust one.

Safety?  Si!

There are 9 airbags including units in the front seats that position people better to make the front bags more effective.  Hope you never need to find out if they really are.  Prius c uses a lot of high strength steel for a rigid structure that improves the driving dynamics and protects people.

Prius c is available in models One through Four.  I’m tooling around in a Three that gets keyless ignition, upgraded fabric and a touch screen sound system head that has Entune.  Go with the base One model and you’re starting the hybrid system up old school with an actual physical key.  I suggest splurging for the Two because One doesn’t get cruise control and the back seat drops in one piece, it does not split.

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Moving rearward, c does not stand for completely cramped or contortionist.  There are belts for three, room is decent for two adults with adequate leg room.  This is good for a small car. There is one seat pocket, a fold out cupholder, and no power port.

C is also for cargo and compact.  I’m at a press launch in San Diego so no TP trunk test, but my luggage is a good gauge.  My computer bag, tripod case and suitcase fit fine, but there’s no room for my big camera bag.  Translated that’s probably a three in the TP Trunk Test, four tops.  There’s a spare tire though, I’d expect the c to save weight with a simple repair kit.

Worth The Price?

Prius c is priced to move, whether the extra cost of the hybrid system over a standard car like Accent, Rio, Soul, Sonic,Fiesta and Toyota’s own Yaris is worth it depends on the type of driving you do.  If it’s lots of city slogging, the c shines since that’s where it gets its best fuel economy.  A number of non-hybrid compacts are highway rated at 40 mpg, and while that doesn’t reach Prius c’s estimated 46 number, simple math reveals it would take a lot of driving to make up the extra cost of the hybrid system.

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In urban driving, Toyota crows that Prius c is most the fuel-efficient car you can buy without a plug in.  It’s also the least expensive hybrid on the road.  So if you’re looking for high mileage, ultra low emissions , reasonable price, and you’re not in a hurry, the Prius c just might be letter perfect.

DCR ATTENDED A TOYOTA SPONSORED MEDIA EVENT FOR THIS STORY.

FULL MEGA GALLERY BELOW. ALL STILL IMAGES PROVIDED BY TOYOTA. MODEL SHOWN IN PHOTOS IS A PRIUS C FOUR.

18 Comments

  1. FinalBlue says:

    Uh, will there be a new review soon, Tom? It’s been almost 2 weeks!

    I predict your next video will be on…the Hyundai Genesis Coupe.

  2. juanba_racing says:

    Hey there Tom, from Argentina loggin in and just here to say what amazing reviews you do! Love them, learning a lot of the latest manufacturers products for 2012 and 2013. Very simple yet clear explanation of every aspect and features of each car, while at the same time, bringing in the competition and comparing with it.
    Unfortunatly in my country, the automotive market it is quite smaller in comparison with the american market, and also the price of the same products it’s a lot higher, not mentioning that there’s a hugh lack of cars and brands you can chose that we don’t. For e.g. the new AUDI A7 rises about 107 grands (priced in american dollars, of course) fully loaded, started on sale december past year, pretty late. Thankfuly, there’s people that can afford it anyway. Not my case though haha. But a veeeery nice car, love it! wish some day can have one of those.
    The problem we have, it’s not the lack of demand of high class cars. The drama here is that, manufacturers are blind enough to keep offering cars of very poor technology and lack of any kind of safety features (cars with no ABS nor airbags. Makes me upset. And our goverment don’t do anything to demand the manufacturers at least 2 airbags and ABS on everey stock car on sale, regardless the price, and I’m talking of the basics). Also to lower the taxes on imported high class cars, because, as you can see, there are ridicusly expensive. They know the one how buys it, can afford it easily, But the idea it’s that more and more people can access to that kind of automovile.

    Anyway, again remind you amazing car reviews you do, and hope some day you do one over the new BMW 3 series.

    Juan, logging out.

    • TV says:

      Hey there Juan,
      Thanks for taking the time to school us on what car buying is like in other countries. Many people here in the states complain that prices are too high but we have it pretty good. Plus we have a huge selection to choose from.

      Interesting that you would would complain that your government doesn’t do enough to legislate safe cars. Here there are people who complain that government is too big and intrusive. Oh well…

      Glad you like the reviews, check in often! TV

      • juanba_racing says:

        Thanks for replying Tom, when you say that we are going to be heared, you actualy mean it! That’s really appreciated.

        Seen all of your reveiws in youtube so far, and read the written reviews of some of them, such as the passat, the A6 (delicious interior), the subaru impreza, the ford focus, the BMW X3 and the incredibly rare Civic natural gas. In my country the CNG is very cheap and popular. Gas tanks and gas injection retrofits are available as an after-market feature for instalation in normal petrol cars. I imagine it will have some good acceptance of the clean fuel enthusiast here. Not me. I’m into high performance petrol cars but anyway, good to have this as an option from honda.

        Seeing forward for your next review. Like a lot the TP parts, very easy way to compare trunks (that sounded very bad). And BTW, do more evil twin, makes me laugh a lot!! Keep it up Tom! You’re awesome.

  3. augaug says:

    I always find it amusing when people say that this or that hybrid costs more than this or that similarly sized car, so it’s a lot of money to spend, and you’d have to drive for years and years to make up the price difference, but when you actually talk to Hybrid drivers, you end up hearing what they cross shopped with, and it wasn’t similarly sized cars, but instead similarly priced cars. If you’ve got 20 to 24 thousand to spend on a second vehicle, and you want something, mainly for personal use, that get’s the best economy for your money, why would you not consider this car? You may lose some features that other cars have in this price range, but you gain a pretty impressive feature in the hybrid drive system. Hybrids are dirt cheap to run. The Toyota system has proven to have extremely reliable batteries. The maintenance on these cars is often less than similarly priced regular cars, and the gas is considerably less expensive than similarly priced cars. If you want an inexpensive car, you can buy a Fit, Fiesta, or Accent. But if you have 20 grand to spend on a fuel efficient second vehicle, and you want something that will be inexpensive to run, once you’ve paid your initial purchase, this car is hard to beat. I like it!

  4. JF says:

    Great review, as always. I really think Toyota has hit a homerun with this car; it’s a great value.

    By the way, would it be possible in your reviews (written and in video) to state the fuel economy in L/100km as well? There are a bunch of converters online that will easily convert the values. This would help some of us in Canada :)

    • TV says:

      I’ll consider it but you know, math is hard…

      BTW, I’m heading up to your fine country soon. Vancouver is sure a great city.

      • CalgaryGuy says:

        Remember that it isn’t enough to just convert from mpg to L/100.

        The Canadian sticker provides more generous fuel economy numbers (roughly 15%-20% higher, depending on the vehicle). Although we borrow the same test data, Americans revised their tests a few years ago to include cold weather testing and other demanding tests that we Canadians ignore (as if we, in Canada, could ignore cold weather tests!).

        As a result, Natural Resources Canada says they are describing fuel economy in “ideal conditions”. The US EPA number is for “typical driving conditions.” What’s worse is that at Canada dealerships, you will see L/100 km converted into Imperial gallons (good for ANOTHER 20% over US gallons).

        I use wolframalpha.com to convert to L/100km. If you want the (fantasyland) Canadian fuel economy numbers (in L/100 km or Imperial mpg) they are found at nrcan.gc.ca

  5. FinalBlue says:

    Awwwwww yeah, can I call those reviews or what? For both this and the Mazda5, I requested a review…and then the next review posted is about that car. Maybe I have some sort of cosmic influence over what cars Tom makes videos for.

    Anyway, the Prius C. My only thoughts on it are these: The center mounted gauges are still as attractive as roadkill, but I dig the interior overall (especially the temperature dial). It gets ~50mpg for ~$20k, comes in really expressive colors, and has an exterior that looks a little like a baby shark (in a good way). It will be more popular than oxygen. Go Toyota.

    • TV says:

      Oxygen is pretty popular. Toyota said around 40K copies for the c. Oxygen wins.

      Agreed, the looks are pretty cool though not as expressive as the concept (production cars rarely are).

      If you have that kind of influence on my fate I really wish you’d ask me to win the Powerball lottery. I’ll give you a cut FB…

  6. motorstreet says:

    I think this car is still too expensive. At $19700 it is $4000 more than a similarly equipped Fit, Fiesta, or Accent. All of those cars offer significantly more space, much better performance, and get great fuel economy. Even at 50 mpg it still takes over 120,000 miles to make up the $4000 price difference.

    Car companies need to start selling some of their smaller displacement diesels here. Hyundai just brought out a version of the Elantra GT in Europe that has a 126hp 1.6L turbo diesel and is rated at 60mpg. It has more space than a Prius, better fuel economy than a Prius, and would be $5000 cheaper than the Prius. All the major campaniles have cars like that in Europe. I have the VW Golf TDI, which I love for its great combination of fuel economy and performance. I like my car’s 2.0TDI engine more than the 1.6TDI engine, but I think the 1.6TDI’s lower cost and Prius beating fuel economy would be more appealing to most buyers.

    • K G says:

      Many items here to discuss. But I’ll just pick one anecdotally.
      Euro fuel economy – rating.
      Example: Fifth Gear testing Kia Rio which is rated at 88 mpg.
      http://tinyurl.com/7pjdmt9 start watching at 9 minute mark for mpg reveal.
      The three of them noted they achieved 34, 45.7, and 18.0 mpg.
      And, one must then convert to USAmerican Gallons, and factor in the higher priced USAmerican diesel fuel. (I’ve had a diesel, too, btw).

      Taking into account this “rated-to-observed” AND the Imperial-to-USA AND Diesel-to-Petrol implications, the Elantra above could return a possible 41 (best case/dream) down to 15.2 (Fifth Gear observed factor used) US miles per (equivalent gasoline) gallon.

      See chart here: http://tinyurl.com/7wlmlot

      Yellow being Kia Rio Diesel (and Fifth Gear observed factor)
      Green being same conversion done on the Elantra

      Now, that’s a bit closer to apples-to-apples than saying 60mpg and comparing it to 53 mpg of the Prius.

  7. K7GMGPbotzP1wxwn4J9uP says:

    I have been watching the videos via iTunes subscription on my iPod Nano 3G for some time now. I saw a recent review where you mentioned the site and forum. So, I dutifully followed your request to come here and be heard.

    I like your reviews. You do a good job; though the evil twin kind of scares me a bit. You should have him sit up front; I’d be wary of him being behind me like that!

    Prius C – Can’t wait to drive one. My daily driver is a 2001 (first US year!) Prius with over 142,000 miles on it. And I get just under 50 mpg all-around for the life of my years as owner. Wife likes the Prius V we sat in at a local car show. Reclining rear seats are nice. Not sure how they fit another row in the Euro-version of it, though.

    So, the PriusC and my car have the same 1.5L drivetrain, sort of. And I find that my family of five can be hauled around with my puny 70hp ICE + paltry ‘lectric motor’s power just fine.

    As opposed to what most people say, I’ve ALWAYS turned in better highway fuel efficiency than in-town/city driving. The key is that one must drive for at least 20 minutes for the whole system to reach maximum efficiency. When I drive in-town, I rarely drive for anything substantially greater than twenty minutes. So, my resultant F.E. is under 50 mpg. While driving up and down the Great Smoky Mountains, I thought I’d get very crappy F.E. but for whatever reason I averaged 53 mpg on the tank. Once at the top of a peak, my downhill effective mpg was pegged –> or showed greater than 100 mpg all the way down. But, the Prius does not shine in up and down mountain driving, imo. It’s CVT does a lousy job of smoothing out transitions in elevation, and drones a bit.

    I reckon the Prius C is the first ORANGE Prius? It wears it well. But another color might fare better, imo.

    What do you do with all your warehouse-loads of toilet paper? LOL

    • TV says:

      Welcome to the site K7 (I won’t attempt the rest of those letters and numbers)!

      I buy lunch so I’m not worried ET will try anything too tricky. He’s rather cheap.

      If you look at the 3rd row of a RAV4, they’re supposed to be similar to the ones on the v.

      That color is called Habenerjo. In person it almost looks like an orange Cremesicle. I prefer the red personally.

      The TP? Wish I had a funny story but the nice folks at Costco let me borrow it for an hour while I shoot the trunk test. It’s a bit legendary here in Seattle now so I have to budget extra time to talk to people when I’m there.

    • motorstreet says:

      They fit the third row seat in the European version of the Prius V (called the Prius+), because it has a more compact lithium-ion battery instead of the U.S. model’s nickel-metal hydride batteries.