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2015-05-15

TOYOTA PRIUS c ECONOMY HYBRID SUBCOMPACT

TOYOTA PRIUS c ECONOMY HYBRID SUBCOMPACT

Whenever people get together and start talking about hybrid vehicles - a popular topic these days - the conversation often runs around the phrase “they’re great, but too expensive.” Car buyers often have the notion that hybrid vehicles are too costly and the extra price paid isn’t worth what you’re going to save at the gas pumps.

Of course, any kind of advanced technology is going to cost you more money - or is it? Not according to Toyota it isn’t. Although Toyota and upscale division Lexus have some very desirable and luxurious hybrids that do cost a fair bit, they’ll sell you a Prius c for just a handful of change over $21,000 - and that’s for a very well-equipped small car.

As with all models from any manufacturer, there are options available to boost the price higher, but in its most basic form, The Prius c is a fine little car that doesn’t cost a whole lot more than a similarly-equipped small hatchback with a gasoline engine from a rival maker.

All Toyotas are continuously upgraded year by year, but with the 2015 Prius c, one change is very noticeable. It’s the big black grille that’s become something of a Toyota trademark in recent times. It gives the Prius a whole new look, although much of the rest of the car retains its aerodynamically efficient bodywork and other detailing. Any hybrid car will give you great fuel economy, but endow it with a slick bodyshell like the Prius and the savings mount even more. Low rolling resistance tires also help with regard to fuel savings.

Toyota has been expanding its Prius lineup rapidly in recent times and now offers what it dubs “The Prius Family.” The rest of the Family includes the traditional “premium” Prius; the Prius v, which is a small crossover and the Prius PHV plug-in hybrid.

The easy-on-the-pocket Prius c is roomy and has great cargo space, is compact and easy to park and incorporate features of the best subcompacts on the market while adding a hybrid powertrain. It’s by far the least costly hybrid on the Canadian market. Toyota says that the “c” stands for “city-centric” and the car is aimed at buyers who don’t need the space offered by larger Prius hybrids or other vehicles like compact sedans, crossovers and SUVs.

Before the Prius c appeared, Toyota has been predicting fuel economy figures of 3.5-litres/100 km city, 4.0-litres/100 km highway and 3.7-litres/100 km combined. They delivered on this promise according to Natural Resources Canada, the government department that lists such ratings.

The Prius c is shorter than the “big” Prius by 490 mm and will thus prove even more ideal for city use - though the car has plenty of power for the highway when needed, as I discovered when I tested it Given its body length, it’s surprising that it features a full four-door layout and reflects considerable ingenuity on behalf of Toyota’s design team to package four passengers and their luggage so efficiently. A rear hatch allows easy access to the luggage area which can be enlarged by folding the rear seatbacks flat.

Expectedly, the Prius c uses a version of Toyota’s respected Hybrid Synergy Drive, incorporating a 1.5-litre double overhead cam 4-cylinder engine and a 45 kW electric motor. The transmission was designed specifically for hybrid vehicles equipped with the Prius c’s engine. The hybrid battery is located under the rear seat to create more space in the cargo area. It also lowers the car’s centre of gravity, which helps generate better road feel and sportier handling.

Output for the Prius c is an impressive 98-horsepower so the car is great fun to drive in any traffic situation and safe too. As with other hybrid vehicles, the electric motor provides a degree of “instant torque” when you take off, giving the impression that this is a much sportier car than it really is. The torque you get from a hybrid powertrain adds a lot to the “fun to drive” factor. As with other Toyota hybrids that use the automaker’s Hybrid Synergy Drive, the vehicle can be driven in “electric only” mode at lower speeds. The car also has a smoother, more luxurious feel to it in my opinion and this factor is one of the side-benefits of hybrids.

Clever colour-coordination by Toyota’s design people creates a modern look in the cabin and instruments and controls used most frequently are grouped together to maximize user-friendliness. Incidentally, for those who cross into the US now and again it’s very easy to set the speedometer to MPH from Km/h by pressing and holding a button near the odometer. The system even has the ability to provide dollars-and-cents fuel costs - a “first” for any Toyota hybrid vehicle.

Standard equipment on all Prius c variants is Bluetooth for hands-free communications and a USB connection - two features normally associated only with premium trim levels in the subcompact segment. Also standard are new LED projector headlights, both low and high beam, and a tilt-telescope steering wheel. A basic Prius c also boasts automatic climate control, 6.1-inch screen display audio, remote keyless entry and a 3.5-inch multi-information display on which hybrid performance can be monitored in various way. Add up these standard features and a rival conventionally-powered small hatchback with such extras added doesn’t seem quite so inexpensive after all.

For drivers who have been hesitating to take the plunge into the world of hybrid vehicles, the Prius c is the perfect starting place and the price tag won’t break the bank.

SPECS AT A GLANCE…

BODY STYLE: Four-door, four-place hatchback

ENGINE: 1.5-litre hybrid powertrain

TRANSMISSION: Continuously variable (VCT)

PERFORMANCE: Zero to 100 km/h in approx 9-secs

FUEL ECONOMY: 3.7-litres/100 km city/highway combined

PRICE: $21,055 base MSRP