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February 08, 2012

2012 Welcomes the Toyota Prius C

Prius c logoOne a recent trip to San Diego I was greeted by a magical vision of wavy mountain tops peeking up over the clouds as I coasted  to land in my big metal bird.  As we began our descent into the city, the clouds gave way to window views of ocean-side, metro scape, harbor and then a glorious touch down on the airport’s runway. 

After making my way off the jet, and down to baggage claim I was met by a black luxury chauffeured sedan and whisked to the Four Diamond award winning resort the Estancia La Jolla.  During our freeway travel I immediately relaxed and enjoyed being back in one of my favorite destinations.  The fresh air, ocean breeze, and green foliage of San Diego not only welcomed but embraced me.  

During our travel time I noticed a red smart car keeping pace with us on the interstate.  There were two things about the car that interested me.  The first being the Hello Kitty head which was painted on the side of it, the second was seeing that the T-tops were removed to fit the vehicles very large male driver.  Although it was amusingly odd, I thought there has got to be a story there – a Hello Kitty car being piloted by a burly giant.  More on that later, especially since my essential mission and reason for my visit was to learn about and test the soon-to-be-released Toyota Prius c. 

Estancia la joya gardenAs my car entered the lush tropical gardens, of Estancia La Jolla’s property accented by colorful florals and California sunshine I made my way to my room to ready myself for Toyota’s welcome dinner for automotive journalists. 

For our meal we were taken to the famed Eddie V’s restaurant located in La Joya’s eclectically chic shopping district.  During the evening we met our Toyota hosts and also had the opportunity to meet new journalist friends, and partake in a four course dinner complete with crème brulee! In the distance we were summoned to visit the porch area facing the ocean to listen to the muffled barking of the local sea lions. 

Hearing the sea lions was an exciting way to end a truly fantastic day.  On the trip back to the hotel I spoke with another female journalist and relayed to her my interesting freeway experience from my earlier freeway travels and sighting the Hello Kitty Smart Car.  She beamed and then told me that the car I saw was owned (and probably being driven by) San Diego Charger Defensive Lineman Antonio Garay.  Astonished I quickly googled this information to have it confirmed - then laughed at knowing that there really was a story behind the kitty kiddie-designed car and its  ‘big kid’ driver. 

After we arrived back to our hotel we said our goodbye’s to our new friends at Toyota and wandered off to our rooms in preparation for our upcoming day.  The next morning began with summaries of many aspects of the Prius c and the vehicle information was relayed by international engineers and Californians.  First off we were greeted by Satoshi Ogiso, the self-proclaimed patriarch of the Prius family who had a hand in engineering different aspects of every Prius since its 2000 inaugural model.  

Lone prius“The Prius c will be smaller but a little more feisty,” Ogiso said.  “It includes efficient packaging, contemporary design, fun to drive spirit, and fuel efficiency.”  Although the ‘c’ is centered around the 20-30 year age group it is, “Individualistic and modern and good for those who want a car that matches a practical yet active lifestyle.”

The practicality of the Prius c is the fact that the front seats are actually larger than the average compact car class seats.  The rear seats are also designed to fit three passengers and provide plenty of leg room but it would be a semi-tight fit.  So ideally the back seat quite comfortably seats two with a little extra space to spare.   

Ogiso added that the goal with the Prius c was to, “Create an obtainable hybrid which was not only fun to drive, but had edgy styling and no-compromising technology.”  Many of the technology features included in the Prius c can be seen in previous models, however, there are still a few additions which were included in this latest model such as more opportunities to track mpg’s and eco-efficiency.  The ‘c’ also makes more and better use of space as opposed to earlier versions. 

Since the ‘c’ is more hatchbacky than previous models, the engineers decided to keep the trunk area clear and instead of placing the lithium ion battery in the back, they engineered the vehicle to have the (now 26% lighter battery)  located snugly underneath the back seat.  This not only added to the vehicles center of gravity but assisted in increased stability and enhanced agility.  This allows the free and clear trunk to stow a full-sized bicycle when the rear seats are folded down.

Having a low-cost vehicle with a high concentration on engineering is especially comforting. Toyota has included their STAR safety system which features over nine airbags, a whiplash injury lessening system, additional steel reinforcements and welds, roof impact protection, ABS, Traction Control (TRAC), Stability Control, Smart Stop and Brake Assist.
Driving the Prius c causes one to feel very grounded and sturdy on the road even though the vehicle is much lighter than earlier models.   The focus on center of gravity, aerodynamics and stability were definitely noticeable during the vehicles test drive across the windy, hilly terrain of the city of San Diego.  Responsive steering in tight turns and moderate serpentines, along with immediate acceleration (regenerative) braking response performed very consistently. 

Although the ‘c’ includes MacPherson struts and additional suspension and chassis modifications there was still mild bumpiness experienced if the drive was not on the smoothest of roads.  But with such a lightweight vehicle, it would be nearly impossible to physically ‘mute out’ an uneven driving surface.

Driving the easy to handle with smooth steering and zippy response Prius c (even when going up a slight hill) was not only enjoyable but fun.  With a .28 drag coefficient it is also highly aerodynamic.  The "c" is not only a great sign of innovation, but ideal for a family of four who wants and enjoyable, safe, and dependably performing ride all wrapped up in an eco-efficient package.

With the cost of vehicles and gas today, families have been looking for new ways to scale down especially when it comes to vehicle, operation and daily costs.  The Prius c will offer 53 mpg. city/46 mpg. hwy. and will include the Prius’ famed reputation for being a long-lasting vehicle.  “96% of Prius's sold in the U.S. are still in operation today,” Bill Fay Toyota’s Group Vice President of Marketing said.  “The Prius is the number one selling hybrid in the world and has outpaced all other hybrid sales.  The Prius also touts the highest owner loyalty than any other midsized car,” Fay added.  (I put the Prius line in a compact category but not going to split hairs).  

Besides launching the Prius c, then the Prius Plug in EV (on sale in March), Toyota has, “A Good outlook for 2012,” Fay said.  “This year we will be releasing 19 new or updated Toyota’s, Scion’s and Lexus products with a release to be scheduled every 19 days (on average) this year.”

Prius c line upThe Prius c will have four different model levels from which to choose starting from level C1 (base) going to level C4 (extra packaging).  C1 is equipped with power windows, locks, information display, hill start assist, keyless entry and steering wheel-mounted controls.  The price for the C1 starts at $18,950 dollars.  The C2 will start at $19,900 and adds on cruise control, six-way driver seat adjustments and a six speaker audio system.

The difference from the C2 and the C3 is technology and for $21,635 dollars consumers get Display Audio with Navigation and Entune®, Touch Tracer Display, and push button start.  Lastly the C4 includes heated front seats, alloy wheels and fog lamps (along with all of the other features listed in the other grades).  The C4s price is $23,230 dollars and is sure to be one of the most equipped lowest priced hybrids of the year.


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