Toyota’s newest Prius puts the ‘c’ in city with sporty feel, fuel economy

Toyota’s newest Prius puts the ‘c’ in city with sporty feel, fuel economy

Consumers and dealers can expect to hear a lot from Toyota in 2012. The Japanese automaker will launch 19 new models this year alone – that’s a new or updated car every 19 days. For January, it was the Prius c, a subcompact hybrid that is sure to make waves in the entry-level car market for those who desire both function and fuel economy on a budget.

Coming off the heels of the Prius v introduction, the c is the smallest member of the Prius Family. Toyota recently invited Be Car Chic to take its petite hybrid all around San Diego, Calif. Read on to hear about our experience and to learn what we think about Toyota’s 2012 Prius c.

The Prius effect

Prius has the highest brand awareness among hybrid vehicles. With 1.5 million sales in the U.S. and a total of 2.5 million globally, Prius has out-sold all other hybrid vehicles combined. And if that’s not an impressive stat for you, here’s one: 96 percent of the Prii sold in the U.S. are still in operation today.

“Early adopters helped to make [the Prius] an enthusiast car for a new kind of enthusiast.”

~Bill Fay, group vice president, Toyota Marketing

Same creator, different driver

Satoshi Osigo serves as the chief engineer of Prius. He has been with Toyota since 1983. Osigo worked on the development of the original Prius during the 1990’s and has been involved in the development of every hybrid model since. Now, his colleagues dotingly refer to him as the “Father of the Prius.”

“[The c] is younger, smaller, and a little more feisty,” said Osigo, adding that it is smaller, nimbler and more affordable for a younger demographic. Toyota’s targeting singles and couples in their 20’s and 30’s with this uniquely fun-to-drive Prius.

According to Bill Fay, group vice president of Marketing,  Toyota’s aiming the c squarely at Generation Y buyers. The carmaker should have no problem breaking into that market if a 2011 study that showed this demographic prefers to buy Japanese is any indication. Fay defined the c as the gateway vehicle to the Prius Family lineup, noting that efficiency, styling, affordability and connectivity were the subcompact’s key tenets.

Prius c Photo Gallery on Flickr:

First impressions

The driving day began with a little education for the journalists and bloggers in attendance. Following a morning briefing on the car’s details, we broke into pairs and drove a charted course from La Jolla to Coronado and back. My partner was Jessica Caldwell from; we had a fun time getting to know each other and the Prius c.

At first glance, the c appears as a cutesy junior companion to the mainstream Prius (known in the Toyota community as the “Liftback”). Upon closer examination, it is easy to see that this Prius got its looks from its older sibling.

The exterior is sporty, with an aggressive front fascia (at least for a Prius). The c’s stance shouts, “I’m ready to zip around town with you!” The aesthetic pays homage to the third generation Prius, particularly with its angular taillights and smooth body lines. These and other design cues flow throughout the Prius c, signaling that Toyota is serious about breaking out its hybrid lineup from the rest of its offerings in order to maximize market share.

The interior comprises of basic, but thoughtful, layout and touches. There is a surprising amount of head, hip and leg room in both the front and back seats. The technology in the dash is fancy on the higher-end models, but overall the inside is not memorable in the same quirky way as the Liftback’s.

How it scoots

I was pleasantly surprised by the car’s handling. The drive felt responsive and sporty, which was likely due to the c’s lighter weight, shorter stature, and new placement of the battery pack beneath the rear seats. The Prius c is 542 lbs. lighter than its popular big brother and a full 19.1 inches shorter. But don’t let those 19 inches fool you. The wheel base of the Prius c is still plenty long to give you a comfy ride – 100.4 inches to be exact.

While road feedback was minimal and handling around tight corners was sticky, the wind noise above 50 miles per hour was disappointing. Additionally challenging was getting up to speed on a major highway; however, this Prius’ “c” is for “city” and we believe that’s where it will thrive best.

Suzie’s Farm – an urban farm in San Diego, CA

Driving sustainability

During our driving tour of San Diego, we also stopped to visit Suzie’s farm, an organic farm located within the city limits. We learned about the plants grown there (Suzie’s grows 100 different varieties of them on 40 acres of land leased from a nearby Naval base) and tasted many of them right out of the ground! Afterward, we dined at a farm-to-table restaurant that sources its produce from Suzie’s. Check out the photos from our farm tour on Facebook.

While the trip to Suzie’s may not have involved much driving, it was part of Toyota’s positioning of the Prius brand as a sustainable vehicle for the future. Toyota has been at the forefront of hybrid-electric technology since the 1990’s, and the Prius has become more than a brand for its drivers – many consider owning a Prius a lifestyle.

The final word

For around $20,000, the Prius c will bring you a good amount of performance in and around the city. Beyond the city limits, you may feel a bit underpowered at highway speeds. We’d recommend going with one of the higher-end models if your budget allows. They are more refined and feel less like a car you’d get stuck with at the rental counter.

Overall, the Prius c is a good bargain for young buyers. It offers style, comfort and safety all for a price that’s lower than the initial cost of a first generation Prius 12 years ago. If you need a car to safely get from point A to B, but don’t want to sacrifice style or fuel economy, then check out this subcompact hybrid – it’ll be available in dealerships in March 2012.

Read what others have to say about the Prius c: Review of the 2012 Toyota Prius c (

Driving the 2012 Toyota Prius c (

The Prius C: Not a Swan, but Maybe a Damn Fine Duck (


Disclaimer:  Toyota paid for the author’s travel and accommodations related to this ride and drive event, with the exception of personal costs such as parking at the airport and meals while traveling. The author was offered nothing in exchange for the content of this review. The author provides strategic communications services for organizations that represent the auto industry, including Toyota. The views expressed in this post are solely the author’s and were not solicited by any third party.

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Melanie Batenchuk founded Be Car Chic in 2009 as a way to help consumers make smart decisions when buying and selling their cars. Her prior work at the dealership, trade association and manufacturer levels has provided her a deep understanding of the complex facets within the auto industry, making her a leading woman in her field.