Tracing family ancestry back several generations is in vogue for drivers AND their cars; even if a few lose screws show up.
Starting this month, the family Prius grows to four members, including the all-new Prius C, the smallest and lowest-priced 2012 gas-electric Toyota
Motor Co. hybrid starting south of $20,000. Like three-quarters of Prius family members, Prius C self-charges its battery, foregoing the need for wall socket interplay.
The first-generation Prius liftback utilizing a nickel metal hydride battery pack went on sale 15 years ago in Japan, hitting U.S. shores in 2000. A third-generation arrived in 2010. An impressive 96 percent of Prius models sold over the past decade are still in operation. Just over 1.1 million Prius models have been sold in the United States since the millennial turn, the most successful gas-electric "full" hybrid by a mile. Not satisfied to simply rest on their rolling resistant tires, the Prius family tree is branching off in new directions.
Think of the long-running five-door Prius liftback as the patriarchal father carving out a lasting legacy for future offspring. Last November, a softer, kinder body style emerged when the2012 Prius V (V for Versatile) married into the picture. Prius V eagerly takes the roll of doting Mom with a 58 percent more cargo space to handle mundane yet necessary domestic chores.
What's a quintessential suburban family without a rebellious teenager in the mix. The Prius plug-in debuts in select markets in March of 2012 as the only one of the four utilizing an electric socket (he could have opted for a tasteful tattoo, why the extension cord? What will the neighbors say?) For the first 15 miles, a fully charged Prius plug-in utilizes pure electric power at speeds up to 62 miles per hour before a gas engine kicks into action. Chicagoland needs to wait until the 2013 calendar year for dealership arrival.
Also in March of 2012 (in all markets including Chi-town), the slimmed down, petite, yet aptly curvy apple-of-he-father's eye, Prius C debuts.
The C denotes 'City.' Its compact size and maneuverability are designed for stop-and-go metropolitan adventures. At 2,496 pounds, it's 19 percent lighter (540 pounds) than the patriarchal Prius thanks to a scaled-down battery pack and lighter overall components. With an estimated city mileage of 53 mpg the five-door Prius C has the best city rating of any vehicle without a plug.
For those who have never driven a "full" gas-electric hybrid like Prius, the rituals are no different from a conventional internal combustion engine. Jump in, turn the ignition key (or press the push start) and off one goes. Be forewarned though, the start-up process is whisper quiet since the gas engine doesn't switch on until approximately 13 miles per hour.
A well-tested 1.5-liter, four-cylinder gas engine works in tandem with two electric motors/generators. At lower speeds, a nickel metal hydride battery pack powers the electric motors and wheels, bypassing the gas engine. These two sources operate independently or together depending on driver demands. The battery pack recharges through exchanges with electric motors. During deceleration, kinetic energy is returned to the battery, a process known as regenerative braking.
Four front-drive Prius C trims are available with two starting below $20,000: Prius C1 lists at $18,950, C2, $19,990, C3, $21,635 and up-level C4 available with 16-inch tires at $23,230. Add $760 for destination charge. Push button start is standard in C3 and C4 while C1 and C2 opt for the old-school steering column ignition cylinder.
"Prius C will be the first in the family to get a new, standard, full-color multi-information display with new driver feedback like Eco Score and Eco Savings," according to Ed Larocque, National Brand Manager Advanced Passenger Cars Toyota
Motor Sales USA speaking at a February press briefing.
This 3.5-inch display fits inside an unconventional, browed, rectangular housing atop the dash along with a digital speedometer and fuel bar gauge. Driver information inside the display toggles forward and back with the assistance of finger-activated steering wheel mounted buttons.
Drivers get to play with Normal, ECO and EV driving modes. Prius C defaults to Normal mode if ECO or EV mode buttons located between the front buckets are not activated. The EV mode is for better monitoring stop-and-go traffic battery activity. The Eco mode maximizes fuel efficiency, energy storage and economy at all speed.
Size wise, the Prius C body borrows a shell structure similar to its distant cousin, the subcompact Toyota
Yaris; with Prius C's wheel base stretched two inches. A scaled down Hybrid Synergy Drive includes a battery pack (120 cells, 68 pounds) that's two-thirds the size of the liftback's (168-cell, 92 pounds). Prius C produces 99 horsepower utilizing both power sources.
The Nickel Metal Hydride battery along with the 9.5-gallon tank accepting regular unleaded fuel are stowed under the rear passenger seat and in front of the rear axle opening up generous storage capacity behind the fold-down second row. This location also creates a lower center of gravity improving handling dynamics.
The standard, beltless, CVT-like transmission unit is 16 percent lighter than the liftback's. In fact the Hybrid Synergy Drive system eliminates many accessory belts, replacing them with electric operation. Prius C also adds a component new to the Prius family in 2012: a noise maker of sorts. When the vehicle is in pure electric mode an under hood noise box creates a small whooshing sound to alert passersbys.
Inside sofTex cloth seats (weighing half of what leather trim does) are the material of choice as leather cushions are not offered. C2, C3 and C4 include 60/40 split rear seatbacks allowing more cargo carrying capacity. Above the glove box is a shelf for stowing portable electrics and adjacent to a well-marked USB port.
From the outside, a large, wide-bottom grill narrows towards the top, allowing ample air to be sucked into the hybrid synergy system. Prius C is 19 inches shorter than the parental liftback. Side mirrors smartly incorporate secondary blinker bands. The rear "D" pillar differs from other Prii (yes, Toyota
announced at the 2011 Chicago Auto Show that Prii is the plural of Prius) and the hatch's rear window is of a more conventional design then the liftback's angled slant. Toyota
predicts both the Prius C and Prius V to each account for up to 20 percent of family sales. The rebellious 2012 Prius Plug-in will grab about 5 percent of the family business with the tried and true liftback accounting for the lion's share.
Because the gas and electric motors work most efficiently together and lower speeds, Prius C's zippy acceleration dovetails nicely with brisk handling and flat cornering when traversing the city. When cruising the highway, the 99 combined horsepower lacks the punch expected found with larger engines. The trade off? Fifty plus miles per gallon in city travel.
Prius C targets singles, young couples and Generation Y (aka millennials). While the back seat, with scooped seat cushions and decent knee room can handle two aptly, Prius C is designed primarily for two front seat travelers. Indeed, if long-term use depends largely on two occupants, there's little reason to opt for the third-generation Pius liftback with Prius C's snappier handling, better balance and sub $20,000 window sticker. 2012 Prius CWheelbase:
66.7 inchesGas engine:
1.5-liter, four cylinderBattery:
Nickel Metal Hydride Total combined horsepower:
2,496 poundsHybrid-related component coverage:
Eight years/100,000 milesCity/Highway economy: