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A More Conventional Unconventionalism

The 2012 Toyota Prius c

Since its introduction in 1997, there’s been one thing you could always say about the Toyota Prius Hybrid: Handsomeness was never its burden to bear. Not that all Priuses are downright ugly, but there’s just something of the “It has a nice personality” about them. I’m here to announce that with the arrival of the 2012 Toyota Prius c, you can now buy a Prius that will be difficult to find in the mall parking lot because it blends in better with other cars. And it still has a nice personality.

I’m not saying all cars should look alike. They shouldn’t. But there’s different, and there’s—well, different, and the c has shed the oddball Prius profile. It’s a smaller car than both the Prius hatchback and the Prius v wagon. And it goes to follow that the pricetag is also smaller. The Prius c One starts at $18,950 and is EPA rated at 53/46 miles per gallon city/highway. (For another $950, the Prius c Two offers a 60/40 folding rear seat, rear cargo area cover, and cruise control.) City miles per gallon figures are generally lower on hybrid cars because the engine shuts down at each full stop and doesn’t start up again until the car reaches 25 or so miles per hour, relying solely on battery power.

Smaller on the outside inevitably means smaller on the inside. To say there’s not much room behind the rear seat is being kind. Officially there’s just over 17 cubic feet of space back there, but if you’re used to having a conventional trunk, or just used to having a larger-than-subcompact hatchback, you’ll be disappointed if you’re planning on taking a long trip with four passengers (the belted-in maximum) and their luggage. Unless of course, they travel light. Or share clothes. Or are going to a nudist camp. But that’s the trade-off. We can’t on one hand harp about how “In Europe cars are so much smaller—why aren’t ours?” and then complain we can’t take everything we own with us on vacation.

If you’re wondering if the One and the Two are your only choices—no, they’re not. Can you guess what the next two pricier models are called? Give yourself a gold star if you guessed Three and Four. Apparently Toyota’s model-naming department was vacationing in the Japanese equivalent of the Hamptons when the time came to name the different models. The Three ($21,365) adds a smart key system, a touch tracer display—which I’ll explain in a minute—and navigation. Oh yeah, and the chance to order the optional sunroof. The Four ($23,230) gives you 15-inch eight-spoke alloy wheels, color-keyed power-heated outside mirrors, fog lamps, and heated front seats.

Now, back to that touch tracer display. It’s a display that shows up on the gauge face as you’re about to push one of the steering-wheel-mounted control buttons for the audio and climate controls. It highlights the button you are about to push, so you can be sure you’re actually raising the temperature and not the audio volume without having to look down at the steering wheel. That’s kind of cool, as those buttons can be confusing until after you’ve had the car for a while.

All of the Prius c models are powered by a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder, gasoline-powered engine which puts out 73 horsepower, and also by an electric motor which adds another 60 horsepower to the mix. The only available transmission is the continuously variable automatic, which is not totally surprising as most automatics these days do better, gas-mileage-wise, than do the manuals. It does take some fun out of the driving, but again, I imagine most hybrid owners are more about gas mileage than throwing their Prius c around multitudes of s-curves.

So, for now anyway, the Prius family of cars is complete. The hatchback, Prius v, Prius c, and the all-electric Prius plug-in round out the group. It will be interesting to see what they come up with next.

More info at

Read more of Jim Corbran's You Auto Know every other week in Artvoice, and more frequently on Artvoice Daily.

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