I've always liked the Prius. We drove the previous generation model, back when it still had a 1.5 liter engine and the electric motor, and then we drove the current generation with the larger 1.8 liter engine as well as the improved electric powertrain.
The Prius, however, was never 'the answer' it should have been. It's heavy, it's not exciting to drive and, most of all, it has a prohibitive price tag of PhP 2.2 million that put it out of practical reach for many of us.
Perhaps this new Toyota Prius c could do what the Prius could not.
Launched early in 2012, the Prius c (known as the Toyota Aqua in Japan) is a more affordable and more compact derivative of the standard Prius, and designed to be more city-centric (hence the 'c'). The proportions are just right, and given that it rides on the Yaris's platform, it should deliver some interesting driving characteristics, but we're getting ahead of ourselves.
Style-wise, I like the more conventional design and simpler lines as opposed to the regular model. It looks quite hip and happening without screaming “I'm a hybrid”, yet somehome manages to earn close up looks from the people I encountered around in Manila and in Subic; my destination for the weekend.
If you've been in the standard Prius, one thing you'll notice is the more standard hatch tailgate as opposed to the glass-intensive liftback tailgate on the regular model. I never was a fan of that glassy liftback, so it's a welcome change. One thing I didn't like is the silver finish; it's just a bit too monotonous all around. Try a different color if you do get one.
Inside, what's apparent is that the Prius c has a more conventional interior than the standard model, making you feel like you're in an upgraded hatchback as opposed to a high-tech hybrid (like the standard model's dashboard). It's more plain, but they did incorporate a nice albeit unusual print pattern on the dashboard's materials.
The steering wheel is the same as the regular Prius, with the soft-touch satellite control pads for the audio system, climate, and the LCD multi-info displays. On the dashboard are a pair of LCDs; one on the left for the digital speedo, fuel gauge and gear indicator, while the one on the left is the multi-color display that shows the famous Energy Monitor, drive information, settings and other screens.
The radio is pretty standard for Toyota nowadays, and has Bluetooth, iPod compatibility, USB and aux-in ports, though the placement of the ports are rather unusual and can easily clutter up the dashboard. Climate control is standard, along with the start-stop button. What I do like is the familiar gate-type automatic shifter as opposed to the dash-mounted shift 'nubbin' (couldn't think of any other way to describe it) on the standard model. The shift gates have the typical P, R, N and D, and adds B for engine brake, quickly charging the Prius if youre driving downhill.
The backseat of the Prius c is, as expected, rather small. It's not 86-small, but decently comfortable in terms of legroom; just don't expect much if you've vertically blessed or drank too much milk as a kid. The cargo compartment is also much smaller than the regular model, but that's expected, though the rear seats can easily fold down for more space.
With the smartkey in my pocket, I step on the brake, press the button and viola... nothing happens. No vibrations. No noise. No engine running. Instead, the Prius will indicate on the green LCD (which is way too bright, FYI) that it's 'READY', and you just shift to D and step on the accelerator.
The really brilliant thing about the Prius line (including the Lexus hybrids as well) is Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive. This Prius c gets the smaller 1.5 liter Atkinson Cycle VVT-i engine, a new electric motor, a new inverter and a new battery, all of which combine with the CVT to become HSD.
It really is the best hybrid in the business. In town, if you're right foot is light enough and if you have a sufficient charge you can easily cruise up to about 50 km/h on electric power alone. It's virtually silent, apart from a slightly noticeably 'whirr' coming from the electric drive system. Once the battery reaches about 2 bars (roughly 20-25%), the electric motor will kick in, seamlessly sending drive to the wheels while charging the battery at the same time.
I actually prefer using the Eco Score display (as opposed to the Energy Monitor) as you can see how much accelerator pressure you're applying; under 50% the Prius c will drive in electric mode, go over and the engine will kick in, and if you floor it the drive will come from both the motor and engine for more power.
The unusual part about driving a Prius (c or standard) is that city driving is more efficient than highway, as on the SCTEx (cruise control, 100 km/h) I was logging 16.4 km/l. In town it actually becomes a neat little game, and given a lot of patience and a featherweight foot, I was easily getting 17.3 kilometers per liter in the city with moderate to heavy traffic, while at night when the roads are clear, city driving can get you upwards of 25.8 kilometers per liter.
What surprised me was the nimbleness of the Prius c. I remember driving the Prius liftback up to Baguio via the detour route (via La Paz, Guimba, etc.) and I just didn't enjoy it because the suspension was hitting the bump-stops almost regularly on each road cut, sending a jarring sensation into the cabin and its occupants (there was only 2 of us). This one is very different. I actually enjoyed the handling and light drive of the Prius c, not to mention the stability and low wind noise at high speeds, something that can be attributed to the low drag coefficient.
Now comes the important part: the price. At PhP 1,525,000 for this full-option model (PhP 1,475,000 for the entry-level variant) the Prius c knocked off 700k off the price of the Prius, but it's still nearly double the price of a similarly-sized Yaris.
That's just putting it in an honest perspective, as the taxes and costs really drive up the price of what could potentially be a highly significant model in the market. It's one of those cars that makes a compelling case to get legislation in place to reduce or exempt taxes for hybrids.
The Toyota Prius c is phenomenally efficient with minimal effort, is equipped right, is styled right, and is sized just right and light... I just wish the price was too.