2012 Toyota Prius c first drive review: Smaller, but not on fuel economy

The power/torque peaks don’t occur simultaneously, of course, and while Toyota took pains to make the 2012 Prius c as light as possible—coming in at a commendable 2,500 lbs—the Prius c accelerates only in the technical sense of the word. Toyota claims 11.5 seconds from 0 to 60 mph and the c feels as slow as the number Toyota courageously provided indicates. Do allow room for merging, especially uphill with passengers, and be careful of which bicycle riders you challenge to drag races.

The power control unit (inverter) for the 2012 Toyota Prius c is new, a design first used on the third-generation Prius, but smaller and lighter, 12 percent and 10 percent down respectively. By keeping the weight of the vehicle down, Toyota was able to get by with a smaller battery pack for the Prius c than the Prius Hatchback, and lighter weight begets lighter weight. It also meant that Ni-MH battery pack can be positioned entirely under the rear seat.

Toyota claims that with the battery pack placed low, the center of gravity is lower than other cars and that’s better for handling. Perhaps, but one shouldn’t allow hopes to get too high. With the standard 15-inch wheels, soft ride wins out over cornering ability. But ride only rates an “acceptable.” Ride is stiffer with 16-inch wheels standard on the top-level Prius c, and handling firmer with steering more direct, but even so equipped, the Prius c is no Honda CR-Z.

2012 Toyota Prius c

2012 Toyota Prius c (Click to enlarge image)

Once one surrenders sporting pretensions, however, can one explore the true capabilities of the 2012 Toyota Prius c, and that’s fuel economy. In addition to the normal mode, which allows electric operation under light throttle to about 25 mph (though one need be not quite so gingerly as with the Prius Hatchback to stay in electric-only operation), the Prius c also has an ECO mode, which smoothes out throttle response (though not ultimate acceleration for safety’s sake) but reduces throttle openings by up to 11.6 percent for better mileage.

An EV Mode helps keep the Prius c in electric-only mode longer at low speeds, which allows stealth operation as well as reduced emissions in certain low-speed conditions. The Prius c won’t be completely quiet, however, as production models will have a low volume speaker emitting a sound to warn sight-limited individuals of the vehicle’s presence.

It might be difficult for the 2012 Toyota Prius c driver to focus on the road, however, as the vehicle’s fuel consumption/economy/operation can be monitored in various ways on the color screen on the dash. The displays familiar to Prius Hatchback owners will continue, including the power-flow graphic and the fuel consumption for the last 30 minutes bar graph. The Prius c, however, adds several new modes, including rating drivers on start/cruise/stop performance, with against a score of 100. Another graphic allows the Prius driver to program in a cost of fuel and a fuel economy rating from another vehicle, and the Prius’ info center will not only calculate the amount of fuel used (as in, how much did that last trip cost?) but how that compares with that other hypothetical car.

2012 Toyota Prius c cargo area

The 2012 Toyota Prius c cargo area doesn’t have a flat load floor with the rear seatback folded. (Click to enlarge image)

In other words, the 2012 Toyota Prius c allows you to nag yourself efficient. The EPA fuel economy rating for the Prius c is 53/46/50 (city/highway/combined); the stubby length of the Prius c helps hold down the highway fuel economy; it’s hard to make a short and tall chassis aerodynamic. But our limited driving suggests that the 50 mpg combined rating will be easy to achieve in the real world, and our drive route, which combined urban and highway segments, proved that the Prius c really is much better around town than on the highway.

The 50 mpg rating places the Toyota Prius c in the lead for fuel economy, and it does so without major penalty for those with moderate capacity needs and no need to be anywhere in a hurry.

2012 Toyota Prius c

2012 Toyota Prius c (Click to enlarge image)

The 2012 Toyota Prius c is offered in four trim levels, appropriately enough named One, Two, Three and Four, progressively better equipped. One and Two, for example, have 15-inch steel wheels and hubcaps, Three has 15-inch alloy wheels and Four has 16-inch alloy wheels (optional on Three). Halogen projector beam headlights and LED brake lights are standard on all trim level, along with automatic air conditioning, power windows, tilt/tele steering column and keyless remote entry. Top-of-the-line Four includes SofTex trimmed heated seats plus the most advanced Toyota EnTune infomatics. Prices for each trim level are:

  • Prius c One $18,950
  • Prius c Two $19,900
  • Prius c Three $21,635
  • Prius c Four $23,230

Prices do not include $760 delivery.

The fourth member of the Prius line, which includes the Prius Hatchback, Prius V and Prius c, will be the Prius Plug-in Hybrid in dealerships in March. Even when that vehicle arrives, however, the 2012 Toyota Prius c will have “the best fuel economy of anything without a plug.” At least until something else comes along.