First Drive: 2012 Toyota Prius C

As is often the case for Canadian new model launches, our first taste of the 2012 Toyota Prius C came this week, a full month after the US media launch. Unlike some other manufacturers though, when Toyota Canada invites the press out to an event, they put considerable thought into the location of the event, relative to the product they are showing. This week’s Prius C event brought us to Seattle, Washington.

As the birthplace of Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Starbucks and the home of Microsoft, Seattle could be considered one of the hippest cities in North America not to mention being green in a few senses. The historic downtown area from Pike Place to Seattle’s infamous red light district provided a perfect combination of old world sights and steep hills to put the C for City moniker to the test. From there, we headed out to the lovely countryside around Lake Washington, where we got to see how the C handled a wind swept causeway and some twisty country roads.

As the newest edition to the Prius family of vehicles, the Prius C has been positioned as an entry level city car, with enough space for a practical single or young couple. There is a lot of techno babble that can be incorporated into the review of any hybrid vehicle, but I suspect that potential buyers of the Prius C really aren’t that interested in the dirty bits. The want to know that the car fits their daily needs and budget. As youthful but environment conscious drivers, they still want to have a bit of fun behind the wheel. We’ve seen that the Prius and Prius V can fulfill the green and practicality needs, but fun to drive and budget friendly don’t necessarily come to mind with the C’s older siblings.

Toyota has been building the Prius for a full decade. Most technology becomes more affordable with the advancement of time, and Toyota’s Hybrid Drive System is no exception. When it first came on the market, Prius had a starting price that was as much as ten grand more than similarly equipped more traditional cars. With the drive tech becoming more affordable, Toyota has been able to launch the baby Prius at a price that is surprisingly close to its non-hybrid competitors. Here in Canada, the base Prius C is rings in at $20,950 and includes all manner of goodies that were once considered luxury bits. Pump up the jam for the Technology Package, which includes satellite radio, navi, push button start, smart entry and 15″ alloy wheels and the price of entry bumps by $2,210. The premium package switches up to 16″ alloys, heated pleather seats, fog lamps and a power sun roof, adding up to $25,340.

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With four doors, the Prius C provides comfy seating for 4, although it can be a tad cozy for big boys like myself and my drive partner Big Willy. On paper the C carries 5, though fitting 3 in the back seat might be a challenge if they are over 10 years old. That back seat however has a 60/40 split and folds down to create a very generous cargo area. Two people could comfortably carry enough gear to go camping for a week.

One would expect a smaller Prius to perform well at the pumps, and the C does not disappoint. With a combined city & highway fuel economy rating of 3.7 l/100 km, Prius C is rather miserly. To help buyers make themselves feel good about their purchase, Toyota has created a neat techno feature that tells drivers how much money they have saved while driving. Just punch in the current gas price and the combined fuel economy rating of another model you had considered and the car will tell you how much money you saved during each drive. It might be a bit gimmicky, but it aims to help boost one’s confidence in having made the right purchase. The thing is, Prius C drivers won’t need to be reminded that they made a good choice, as they might just fall in love every time they drive the little bug.

Where most hybrids fall flat on their face is in the lack of excitement in the driving experience. Even the big brother Prius tends to feel a bit heavy and sluggish around town. A nice drive, but certainly not fun. Toyota’s engineers looked to improve that aspect when they penned their newest addition to the family and the good news is that they succeeded. Regular readers know that I’m a sucker for a small, lightweight hatch, with around 100 horsepower that likes to be tossed around. While the C isn’t exactly lightweight, weighing in at 2,500 lb, it feels like it could easily be 3 or 400 pounds lighter. Nimble off the line, the Prius C accelerates strongly to highway speeds. The seat of my pants say it does the zero to sixty run in about 8 or 9 seconds, which is beyond respectable for a 99 horsepower hybrid with a pair of fat guys on board. In the twisty bits, the C is downright tossable. A mild touch of understeer on corner entry can easily be transitioned to gentle oversteer with a quick throttle lift largely in thanks to the low center of gravity and short wheel base. Vehicle dynamics aside, the Prius C handles well enough that 2 serious driving enthusiasts had a great time driving the car, so much so that we both commented that this was a car we would be happy to own. That says a lot!

Just like hybrids aren’t for everyone, a stripped down, $21,000 sub-compact hatch is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. For those that want to drive a green car, that gets great fuel mileage, is super practical and most of all fun to drive, the 2012 Toyota Prius C is the best bargain on the market.


  1. says

    I like my 2004 Prius, but its acceleration has always been sluggish. When it's time to move on, I'll consider this model.

    I thought the gas station was a cool backdrop too.

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