There is a new generation of car buyer that keeps car company execs up at night like no other generation has before: Generation Y, or the Millenials. Why is this? For Generation X and generations before, getting a driver’s license and a car was a passport to freedom. It was a means to socialize with our friends, and explore the world beyond our hometown borders. Many members of Generation Y don’t exactly see it that way. They are putting off getting their licenses, and in many cases, seem disinterested in cars. Yet, if the subject turns to smartphones, now you’re speaking their language. The problem seemed to be that this generation perceived the car as leaving them less connected than they otherwise would be. Also, in an economy where jobs are still hard to come by and cost of living continues to rise are major contributors to this changing automotive landscape.
Enter the new Toyota Prius c. Toyota has so much equity in the Prius name it’s a wonder it has taken so long to capitalize on it. The Prius has been a very successful car for Toyota, and has made many buyers comfortable with hybrid car ownership-not a problem with Gen Y, as they devour new technology as soon as it becomes available to them. While the Prius’ sheetmetal was designed to eek out as slippery a shape as possible to maximize fuel economy, the end result isn’t very fun to look at. The ‘c’ in Prius c stands for city, and at first glance you can tell the design language is not about advertising to the world you are driving a hybrid, it is about urban chic and looking youthful. Although our test car came in a conservative Classic Silver, Toyota offers the Prius c in some fun and funky colors sure to appeal to buyers looking to make a fashion statement. Overall, the Prius c is arguably one of the most hip looking hybrids available today. It’s fun, it’s cute, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. In other words, just the right look for the young, or young at heart car buyer.
Step inside, and the Prius c will be a familiar environment to anyone who has spent seat time in a Prius. In other words, center-mounted digital gauges and plenty of plastic. One departure from other Prius vehicles is a traditional shifter instead of the joystick you toggle to go from drive to reverse, and a button to park. I prefer this no-nonsense approach. Although Toyota will let you get funky with exterior colors, inside it is a two color combo of black and grey or nothing. Yes, the contrasting colors and blue piping on the dash and door panels break up the monotony, but the Prius c’s interior seems too staid compared to the car’s youthful exterior. The front seats offer decent comfort but little support. The good news is there is plenty of room, even for my 6’1″ frame. The bad news is the rear seat is cramped with tight quarters, and with the back seat up, luggage space is limited to a few grocery bags. Thankfully, most Prius c models offer a split folding rear seat for expanded cargo room.
The Prius c is powered by a 1.5L four working in conjunction with Toyota’s familiar Hybrid Synergy Drive System to produce 99hp. Like other Toyota hybrids, the only transmission available is a Continuously Variable Transmission. For a car that is 19″ shorter and over 500lbs lighter than the traditional Prius, you might expect something more fun to drive. After a few miles down the road, the Prius c reveals itself to drive like, well, a Prius. The Prius c is painfully slow, and isn’t much of an interstate cruiser. And, that is why they added the ‘c’ at the end, because this is a city car, where squeezing into a tight parking space is more important than how well it accelerates from 50-70mph. The c’s small size makes it a great candidate for slicing through urban traffic. And of course, any review of a Prius is incomplete without mentioning fuel economy-with the Prius c, EPA figures are 53/46MPG city/highway, or a combined 50MPG. Very impressive numbers indeed. With an increasing number of Gen Y moving into the city, the Prius c makes sense. Yes, it is fully capable of trekking out to the suburbs to visit Mom and Dad, but the city is where this car will shine.
Like its Prius siblings, the Prius c is available in four numbered trim levels, One being the base model, Four being top of the line. All Prius c’s have automatic climate control, power windows, keyless entry and Bluetooth with iPod interface as standard equipment. Our test car was a Prius c 3, which adds cruise control, 6.1″ touchscreen with navigation, keyless ignition, SiriusXM satellite radio, HD Radio, iTunes tagging, Voice Recognition and Entune, Toyota’s means of integrating your smartphone to your car. Traffic, weather, movie tickets, dinner reservations, Pandora radio-all those apps and more available through your car. Our test car has a base price of $21,635USD. Adding delivery and our modest options list of carpeted floor mats/trunk mat and cargo net raised the grand total to a reasonable $22,689. Other options are limited to 15″ alloy wheels and a power sunroof.
At The Garage, we measure how good a car is in how successful it is at what it was designed to do, and ultimately if it reaches the expectations of its target buyer. With the Prius c, it is clear the desired buyer is the quintessential urban dweller Generation Y individual. The c’s small footprint, low price, exceptional fuel economy as well as Toyota’s sterling reputation for reliability check off all the right boxes. What trumps those qualities is the level of technology card carrying members of Generation Y demand in a modern car, and the Prius c has it in spades. If the latest smartphone is what gets this generation excited, Toyota has created a car that is literally an extension of their phone. If what makes your phone cool is the apps you can get, well, what makes your car cool to these buyers is access to those desirable apps. Not acceleration or skid pad numbers. On that basis, the Prius c speaks directly to the wants of Generation Y, or any buyer who places technology and frugality above driving excitement. On that basis, the Prius c is a success, and should do well in appealing to its target market.