Vital Stats

Engine:
1.5L I4 / 45kW electric motor
Power:
99 HP combined
Transmission:
CVT
0-60 Time:
11.5 Seconds
Drivetrain:
Front-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
2,500 LBS
Seating:
2+3
Cargo:
17.1 CU-FT
MPG:
53 City / 46 HWY
Baby Of The Family Will Play A Big Role



Toyota's new 2012 Prius C doesn't look like a math problem, but that's what it is.

Hidden behind its attractive hatchback body and Toyota Synergy Drive hybrid powertrain, the Prius C is just a bunch of numbers. Numbers like the car's miles per gallon rating, its MSRP, how many can be produced and how many Toyota hopes to sell. Toyota ran these numbers through its "Do we build it?" formula, which is what caused the Prius C to come into being, but the good news is that this smallest of Prii adds up to more than what was put into it, and even introduces a bit of fun to the appliance-like Prius driving experience. Not much, mind you, but enough that its target audience – young people who want to buy the most efficient gas-powered vehicle on the market today – should take notice.

Here are some of the calculations that Toyota is making for its new Prius family. Instead of selling 136,463 "normal" Prius Liftbacks as it did last year (down from 140,928 in 2010), the Japanese automaker believes that three new models – the bigger V, the smaller C and the Plug-In version – will push cumulative Prius sales up to 220,000 in 2012 and then go up from there.

Last year, Toyota's group vice president for U.S. sales, Bob Carter, said he expects the Prius to be the automaker's number one nameplate by 2020. Sure, the Prius continues to sell well in green car circles and has been the best selling car in Japan for a year and a half, but for Carter's statement to come true, the Prius family would have to outsell the almighty Camry. Think about that. Think about the ambition – and challenge – behind those words. This is the equation that the Prius C needs to solve.
2012 Toyota Prius C side view2012 Toyota Prius C front view2012 Toyota Prius C rear view

Toyota is confident that it's cracked the hybrid sales code: Offer more models. During the recent launch event for the Prius C in San Diego, CA, representatives told Autoblog that they don't expect that the bigger or smaller Priuses will much affect sales of the Goldilocks standard model, now known as the Liftback, so their obvious challenge is to create more demand for the new versions of the world's most popular hybrid. The V does that with more storage (read: family) space. The C does it with its shifter.

Settling behind the wheel, the Prius C is, unquestionably, a Prius. There's the push-button starter, the slight delay in calling up the "Ready" light and the now-expected silence when the hybrid is on. But when you put the car into Drive, you notice that the C feels like something other than a Prius: There's an honest-to-god PRNDL shifter. All other Prius models do away with this relic of a simpler powertrain age in favor of that little flick knob thing where you just tap it into D or R or whatever. Since shifting in the C, like all other Priuses, is electronically driven, Toyota could just as easily have given the C the traditional Prius knob and made regular Prius drivers feel right at home.

2012 Toyota Prius C interior
2012 Toyota Prius C car comparison display2012 Toyota Prius C ECO and EV mode display2012 Toyota Prius C shifter

Satoshi Ogiso, the Prius' chief engineer and one of the few Toyota engineers who's been involved with every Prius model – he calls himself the patriarch of the Prius family – told Autoblog that this is exactly what he was trying to avoid. When brand new potential Prius buyers get into the C, they should feel right at home, he said.

"For the Prius C, we want to expand the customer base, including younger people," he said. "So we chose the conventional shift layout." This decision was slightly controversial, since the focus groups who were asked about this expressed an interest in both the new and the regular Prius shifter. Given that the non-Prius specific shifter is cheaper to produce, solving for X here meant going against tradition.




The shifter tries to communicate more driving fun, and so do the interesting colors available for the Prius C; ours was a great orange called Habanero. On the highest trim level, the C can accept either 15- or 16-inch wheels (we drove models with both sizes, but the subject of our photoshoot was wearing the larger size), and also comes standard with SofTex faux leather on the seats that actually feels gentle to the touch, but weighs less than real leather and produces 99 percent fewer VOC emissions when made than synthetic leather.

So the Prius C looks like fun. Once the shifter is settled into D and things start moving, however, you begin to realize that no matter how much Toyota wants you to think this isn't your momma's Prius, it still is. That's not a terrible thing, since a Prius drives the way it does because it's focused on fuel efficiency. The C doesn't even have a power mode like other Prius models do.


2012 Toyota Prius C engine

Still, in the C, focusing on fuel economy means that three of the car's all-important numbers are 53/46/50. Those are the EPA estimated city/highway/combined mpg ratings, and we'll gladly eat our Prius C swag hat if they aren't the three numbers that pull heaps of people into Toyota dealerships across the U.S. when the C becomes available in March. Add in the low, low starting MSRP of $18,950 and it's easy to see that the math works out. The high-end "4" trim line will start at $23,230, though these prices do not include Toyota's $760 destination charge.

Another number comes to mind when driving the Prius C: 11.5 seconds. That's how long Toyota says the C will take to reach 60 miles per hour, but the little hybrid doesn't even feel that quick. Thanks to the battery pack hidden under the rear seats, the C has a low center of gravity that's supposed to help with handling, but this is still a Prius and drives that way. The 1.5-liter aluminum four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine can often be heard struggling, especially up hills, as it spits out its 99 horsepower. This isn't particularly bothersome, especially if you're used to a normal Prius, but we're curious to see how newcomers to the fold will feel when they get in the driver's seat.



If you're familiar with the regular Prius and want to get a feeling for the C's size, imagine slicing 19 inches off the Liftback and making the wheelbase about six inches shorter. Then remove about 500 pounds. Now you've got a C, mostly. Since the C doesn't feel cramped in any way up front, it has to lose space from somewhere, and thus the back seats feel especially small. Still, with little in the way back there, at least rear visibility is quite good. Even with the diminutive rear seats, Ogiso told us that there is no plan to offer the Prius C as a two-seat coupe at any time.

We did like the view of the info screens that are available to the driver, especially the screen that let us know we were getting well over 53 miles per gallon on our 60-mile drive through the San Diego countryside. One great new feature is the Eco Savings screen, where you can tell the system how much it cost you to fill up and the car will track how much you're paying per mile. You can also input the MPG of a comparison vehicle, which gives you bragging rights if you can beat it, though there's no way to input MPGe here, so you'll have to do comparisons with plug-in vehicles by hand. Watch this Short Cut to see the Eco Savings screen and the other information options.


Given how useful these features are, we honestly don't know which we'd most likely use as our default. For now, Eco Savings is only available on the 2012 Prius C, but a similar calculator is also available in the Prius Plug-In and could come to other models in the future.

Speaking of other options, Ogiso said that adding a plug-in powertriain to the C "would be difficult right now," but made sure to say that Toyota is still considering all options and that nothing has been decided about future plug-in hybrid or all-electric Prius models. A plug-in V model would, of course, be easier because that car offers more room to accommodate the extra batteries and other plug-in components. We won't be completely surprised when we do finally get a plug-in C, because Toyota's stance is that plug-in hybrids are the right next step in advanced powertrains. The company line goes that, with a PHEV, you don't have any range limitations and they are easy enough to charge using standard 110-volt outlets. Toyota reckons that these are two important factors for people considering a more efficient vehicle. For now, we have to make due with a crippled EV mode in the C that allows for speeds up to 25 miles per hour for just half a mile thanks to its small NiMH battery that holds just 0.87 kWh of energy (the Liftback, by comparison, holds 1.2 kWh).



Add it all up and the question remains: Will all these numbers be enough to motivate tens of thousands – or hundreds of thousands – of people to buy a Prius C? It certainly seems to be the case in Japan, where demand is outstripping supply. Ogiso said that Toyota can build up to 60,000 Liftback or V models and up to 30,000 C models each month. That's well over a million Priuses a year, which is a target that Toyota has set for itself, but not yet reached.

These lofty numbers show that Toyota is ready to reach quite high, and we can see the company actually achieving its targets before too long. After all, the Prius C is still a Prius – a popular car – and one that'll offer over 50 miles per gallon while starting at under $19,000. However you calculate it, that will sell.


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  • 194 Comments
      BlackDynamiteOn
      • 2 Years Ago
      Supply is the only thing holding this car back A 50 MPG Prius for under $19k? They could sell 150k on demand alone. BC of TMC says they expect 40-50k this year, but supplies may be limited, since it's got a waiting list in Japan longer than my.........IT'S PRETTY DAMN LONG! Will be the hottest car to find at dealers this summer, when gas hits $4.50 I expect the car's sales to double next year. Toyota says Prius ("Prii") will outsell Camry one day. I see no reason to doubt that....... BD
      Burabus
      • 2 Years Ago
      Say what you want about the Prius, but it seems to be one of the few cars that Toyota puts any passion into.
        throwback
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Burabus
        Very true. There was a time when that passion went into Celicas, Supras, MR2s etc. Hopefully the FR-S will get some of that passion, they would need to let the car guys out of the basement first though.
      Xedicon
      • 2 Years Ago
      Completely not for me, but I'm sure they'll sell in huge numbers. For once an inexpensive practical (if not exciting) hybrid. Too many hybrids either cost too much or don't deliver enough fuel economy, or both, to justify savings at the pump but this one certainly will. I fully expect the C to cut into the regular Prius sales, I think Toyota is fooling themselves on that one. Even so that's a happy problem. I grudgingly must give Toyota props for the C, they did a great job here.
      CarCrazy24
      • 2 Years Ago
      Being Prius hater, it's hard for me to admit this...but the C is a great looking little car. And those MPG numbers are fantastic! It's just too bad that it seems to have all the same driving characteristics of the rest of the Prius line-up, which is to say it will be slow, soggy, and dreary. A diesel will still be the ideal choice for many commuters like myself. Good try though Toyota, this is better.
      carinspector
      • 2 Years Ago
      This car I like
      emperor koku
      • 2 Years Ago
      Disappointed that this test doesn't reference steering feel, handling, or body roll. I know most people who drive Priuses (or Prii or whatever) don't care, but when you're looking for a very fuel efficient car that still is some fun in the canyons on the weekends, it matters. Right now a CR-Z is top of my list, but I'm interested in this as well.
        suthrn2nr
        • 2 Years Ago
        @emperor koku
        i have a cr-z, its a great fun drive and i get 40mpg AVERAGE (not just hwy), if u dont care for rear seats its a great choice. But I'll be keeping an eye on fuelly for the prius C's real world mpg for the wife.
          • 2 Years Ago
          @suthrn2nr
          [blocked]
      BG
      • 2 Years Ago
      "The shifter tries to communicate more driving fun, ..." That is utterly doofy. Driving fun comes from nimble handling, road feedback, steering effort and "feel", audible characteristics, and if there is a real transmission, from controlling the engine versus car speed. If it has an automatic transmission, the shifter coming out of the center tunnel makes absolutely no difference whatsoever regrading driving fun. The driver mashes it into drive and moves off, unlikely to touch it before he (she) reaches her destination.
      Rotation
      • 2 Years Ago
      I suspect the decision on the shifter was more because Toyota didn't design the Yaris with a different shifter location in mind and so making this car right now required leaving the shifter there to fill a hole. The idea that the young crowd is more interested in a traditional shifter doesn't make any sense. It's the oldsters that have seen console shifters for 40-50 years. AB: the gas engine doesn't have 99hp, so perhaps that is why it seems to wheeze so hard (as you say). It has a gas engine of 73hp with 99hp combined between gas and electric.
      Robert Fahey
      • 2 Years Ago
      Neato color. Reminds me of the 70s, when you'd see orange Datsuns.
      Ron Malinowski
      • 2 Years Ago
      I have owned a Prius C since mid March, and unfortunately it has been in an accident at 60 MPH from a driver who was spun ito my car and I have to say the safety systems in the car I feel allowed me to maintain control of car, and my best tank hand calculated is 58 MPG on a highway trip. I personally find it does better on long commutes with cruise. my lifetime average after 15,000 miles is 51.4 MPG starting to drop just a little as we get into the 30's and 40's for temperatures. was closer to 52-52.4 before fall. inside its no more basic then a Yaris, which I came from, and got 38 MPG.
      • 2 Years Ago
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        • 2 Years Ago
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        • 2 Years Ago
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        mylexicon
        • 2 Years Ago
        I do not allow myself to be associated with liberal political culture, but you are making a big mistake to politicize this car. Your economic analysis is lacking as well. Car buyers often pay more money for larger more powerful engines. The premium engine always carries a higher price tag, and higher fuel costs. Due to CAFE, the performance engine is often mated to an unsporty gearbox, and much of the performance benefit is lost to gearing. We pay more, but we get almost no real benefit. Just coolness. Same with luxury cars. A big chunk of the price difference is paying for the inefficiency of low volume production and narrowly focused development costs. A majority of the car stuff we buy has economic drawbacks or no economic benefit, we simply want it. Hybrid technology is unique b/c it is about the only thing you can buy for your car that saves money. Consumers who care about improving our balance of trade, reducing the consumer-price-index, and reducing pollution, receive lots of non-monetary benefits as well. Those benefits are enjoyed by other people who may not purchase fuel-efficient vehicles.
        scraejtp
        • 2 Years Ago
        Using reasonable numbers, even a $3k premium isn't too bad. Assumption: 100k mile lifetime, $3.50 gallon (low figure over life of vehicle) Prius C, combined avg 50 mpg - $7000 Sub-compact competitor, combined avg 35 mpg - $10000
          WillieD
          • 2 Years Ago
          @scraejtp
          Like you said, those numbers are conservative as a sub compact competitor would probably get a few MPG worse as well as the price of fuel will most likely rise. And as this should be a reliable car you should easily be able to get 200K+ miles out of it, increasing the savings to over $6000 (possibly $9000+ if you increase the average cost of gas to $4 and change the subcompact's avg. to 32 MPG) over it's lifetime.
          rem
          • 2 Years Ago
          @scraejtp
          You can also take into account the ridiculous resale value these things manage to achieve. Every time gas spikes, there's a run on them too.
          regionrat
          • 2 Years Ago
          @scraejtp
          And if ANYONE thinks gas will average just $3.50 a gallon over the next 7 years, they're as stupid as....well, half of the posters in this thread, at least.
        • 2 Years Ago
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        desinerd1
        • 2 Years Ago
        @ Sea Urchin So I guess all Christians are liberals because they sure have ideology of hate, intolerance and stupidity.
          Big Squid
          • 2 Years Ago
          @desinerd1
          That is a hateful, intolerant, and stupid thing to say.
          • 2 Years Ago
          @desinerd1
          [blocked]
          regionrat
          • 2 Years Ago
          @desinerd1
          In response to an "all liberals" comment. It's called making a point. But thanks for the laughs, Sea Urchin, implying conservatives are tolerant of anything except their own race and wealth. Hysterical.
        tump
        • 2 Years Ago
        lol, i make more money than you.
      • 2 Years Ago
      [blocked]
        • 2 Years Ago
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          A P
          • 2 Years Ago
          If somebody thinks that a Prius is too slow for the US then that person must be a terrible driver, period.
          carnut0913
          • 2 Years Ago
          Well, I could enjoy a Buick much more than either of those two cars. 11.5 sec. to 60. That is dangerous in the US Freeway system. I know its not politic to say so but there it is. There should be a minimum in the US, to be rated for the freeway like mopeds or something. But then, I'm an advocate for the same thing for drivers :-)
          • 2 Years Ago
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          BG
          • 2 Years Ago
          @A P, that is exactly the problem: most people ARE terrible drivers. In US roads, most today drive reactively rather than anticipate conditions ahead. You can blame entertainment and distraction, and can definitely blame automatic transmission, but regardless, high power has let people get sloppy and make up for lack of anticipating with brute acceleration..
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