So what do we know about hybrids? We know that they represent a minuscule percentage of total vehicles sold in the U.S. We also know that some are good and some aren’t worth the extra income spent for the “green thumb” label. Shoppers even buy hybrids just so they can scoot along in carpool lanes while others take advantage of substantial rebates and tax credits from a hybrid or electric vehicle purchase.
There definitely needs to be more education and information disseminated on the pros and cons of green vehicles due to the fact that some aren’t so green at all. Maybe it’s the reason why the total percentage of hybrids sold has actually declined in each of the last few years. Or maybe a hybrid purchase really didn’t save on fuel costs in comparison to the dollar premium of that hybrid purchase? Well, you won’t see that problem with Toyota’s newest recruit to the Prius family of “friendly fun” hybrids. Greet the new Prius c, which is the smallest of the crew and packs a punch as it relates to owner expectations.
Now in its third generation, Prius will expand to a total of four models when the Plug-in hybrid is introduced in 14 states within the next four weeks. The Prius v is the largest of the family and offers more cargo space and storage. Toyota sold 8,399 of them in just ten weeks in 2011, more than the Chevy Volt sold in all of 2011. Yet, this is no coincidence. Prius’ brand awareness is unprecedented both globally and in the U.S. It’s the number one selling hybrid in the world and represents a whopping 50% of all hybrid sales.
The Prius c equates to “city” which led the company to target younger crowds who demand urban mobility in an affordable but technological package. Get this, the miniature hybrids can achieve up to 53 city, 46 highway and 50 combined mpg. With fuel prices as high as they’ve been in years, suddenly a city edition Prius doesn’t sound like a bad idea. In Del Ray, Florida where we evaluated the vehicle, I achieved 46 mpg. Yet, I was treating its small 1.5-liter Hybrid Synergy Drive like an AMG Benz. Not sure why since everyone in that part of town cruises at no more than 35 mph. Probably because those ocean view mansions are so enticing to gaze at. Like “The Millionaire Next Door” it would have been most fitting to park my $18,950 hybrid in a posh $10 million driveway.
Built on a modified Yaris platform, every major component on the latest Prius has been reduced in size or weight. The 1.8-liter wouldn’t fit so Toyota went with a chain driven 1.5-liter. The smaller Nickel-Metal Hydride battery has been repositioned under the rear split-folding seat to allow for additional rear cargo volume and lowers the vehicle’s center of gravity. Don’t worry about charge degeneration; it is warranted for 10 years or 150,000 miles. Hybrid Synergy Drive provides a total of only 99 horsepower so don’t go zipping in front of merging trailers or attempt to jump a lane from a red light. This vehicle is all about efficiency. But once it accelerates to higher speeds the Prius c is amazingly stable and quick.
Two selectable drive modes – EV and ECO – helps the driver operate the Prius c effectively. EV mode can propel the Prius c for up to one-half mile at speeds below 25 mph. ECO mode reduces the amount of throttle control for heavy footed drivers who may have trouble manipulating the Hybrid Synergy Drive for the best fuel economy. It also reduces the power of A/C to save electric charge. ECO Score and ECO Savings indicators will give you driver feedback for each drive session. Basically, it tells you how much power is being used and how efficiently you’re driving.
Since Prius c is targeting younger audiences with this vehicle, Toyota has equipped it with Entune, their new multi-media interface (optional or standard depending on trim level). It uses a 6.1” touchscreen (with navigation) as the center of attention for apps like Pandora, Bing, iHeartRadio, and will report real-time traffic, fuel, scores, stocks and traffic. The downside is that Entune needs to tap into your mobile phone’s service to operate. So make sure you have an unlimited data plan. Bluetooth audio or USB can stream your smartphone’s music. Voice activations and SiriusXM Satellite Radio enhances the Prius c even further.
Safety features incorporate nine standard airbags including driver knee, curtain and seat cushion airbags, while the Vehicle Proximity Notification System allows pedestrians to hear the vehicle at low speeds since hybrids are quiet. Toyota even offers Hill Start Assist Control, steering wheel controls, a smart key, Brake Assist and much more than you could ever imagine in a value hybrid.
On sale in March, nine very vibrant exterior and two interior colors will be available for either four packages dubbed One, Two, Three, or Four. Two and Three will each represent 40% of buyer choices while One and Four will bring in 10% respectively. Three wheel and tires configurations including a 15” and a 16” are also at your disposal, depending on trim level.
The hybrid story only gets better for Toyota and its industry leading Prius. Next we will probably see a Prius SUV or convertible. Or not! But until then take that long awaited road trip and enjoy the freedom of the open road without pity on your pocket.