ANALYSIS: Prius C shrinks in size, price
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SAN DIEGO -- Toyota is enlarging the Prius family by adding a vehicle that is smaller and lower-priced than the original Prius.
The Prius C -- the C stands for "city" -- is based on the subcompact Yaris platform. It uses a smaller engine and battery pack than the standard Prius liftback.
Its sticker price sneaks in just under $20,000, including shipping, the company said today in a statement. When combined with better around-town fuel economy, the Prius C should attract thrifty younger buyers with a green conscience.
The basics: The Prius C weighs nearly 550 pounds less than the standard Prius liftback, but about 200 pounds more than a basic Yaris. The Yaris' underbody and chassis are reinforced in the Prius C to handle and protect the battery pack. A 90-minute circuit of typical highway and city driving returned 54.2 mpg.
The Prius C has an EV mode that runs on battery-only power up to 25 mph in crawling traffic. It also offers an eco mode that improves fuel economy 5 to 10 percent. But use of the heater or air conditioning will crimp the fuel savings.
Notable features: Toyota's 1.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine has been around since the 1990s, but the engine block was redesigned for the Prius C. Toyota has a newer edition four-cylinder, but it wouldn't fit in the engine bay.
The climate control and water pump are electrically driven, and not connected to the serpentine belt. The six-inch monitor screen that displays fuel efficiency has several more modes than the standard Prius, making it more gamelike.
Standard features include nine airbags, power windows, Bluetooth, 15-inch steel wheels, automatic climate control, remote keyless locks, halogen headlamps and a one-piece folding rear seat.
The Prius C will not be built alongside the other Prius vehicles. Instead, it will be produced in the Tohoku plant that builds the Scion tC and two Japanese domestic models. Tohoku was severely damaged in the March earthquake, and the Prius C has become a symbol of Japan's revival.
What Toyota says: Satoshi Ogiso, chief engineer for the Prius family of vehicles, said: "My goal was to create an attainable compact hybrid that would be fun to drive, have youthful, edgy styling, and not compromise the technologies, fuel economy and environmental friendliness the Prius was known for."
Shortcomings and compromises: Despite its supposed sporty character, the Prius C reaches 60 mph in a poky 11.5 seconds. Toyota says the handling is sporty, because the battery pack's location is near the longitudinal center of the car. But the suspension is choppy and jarring on undulating roads and speed bumps. The interior is a bit plasticky.
Because of the Prius C's tapered roofline, there is much less back-seat headroom than in the Yaris. To save costs, the gearshift is a standard PRNDL layout, rather than the joystick of the other Prius vehicles. The aggressive design of the concept car at last year's Detroit auto show has been quite diluted in the production version.
The market: Toyota wants sell about 35,000 to 40,000 units a year, which would be just under 20 percent of all Prius nameplate sales. That will be a small portion of global Prius C sales, which are estimated to reach 360,000 annually. In its first month on sale in Japan, the Prius C attracted 110,000 advance orders, which could slow supplies to the United States. It goes on sale here in mid-March.
The skinny: It's a powerful equation: 50 real-world mpg for less than 20 grand.
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