Eco­nom­i­cal Prius C of­fers sur­prises to de­light driv­ers

It might not ex­actly set the world on fire, but Toy­ota’s Prius C has a lot go­ing for it in terms of ev­ery­day driv­ing con­di­tions, ob­serves DAVE MOORE.

Central Otago Mirror - - FEATURES -

A col­league laughed like a drain when a Prius C was of­fered as a test car re­cently.

Toy­ota, to their credit, nei­ther named nor men­tioned the gen­der of the chuck­ler, but ev­i­dently the car was be­neath them, it seems. Per­haps they have the luxury of be­ing able to ac­cept per­for­mance cars only as test ve­hi­cles. I must be do­ing some­thing wrong. True, this, the least ex­pen­sive hy­brid on the mar­ket, is not go­ing to tear-up the tar­ma­cadam, but nei­ther is it sup­posed to. It’s meant to be much more than that.

It’s re­ally sup­posed to of­fer, for less than a Corolla bud­get and not much more than a Yaris one, a fuel-sip­pingly green hatch­back, with de­cent room, am­ple equip­ment and a lit­tle slice of per­son­al­ity to boot.

It suc­ceeds on most of those points and sur­prises in other ar­eas. I even sat in the back of it as we shut­tled fam­ily mem­bers about, and while there’s no doubt that the best seats in the house are up front, it’s no real trial be­ing in the back, with my knees press­ing gen­tly on the front seat back when that po­si­tion is oc­cu­pied by some­one big­ger than my 1.88m and us­ing all avail­able driver’s seat travel.

The in­te­rior uses some nicely tex­tured fab­rics and vinyls which while not ex­actly sump­tu­ous, are com­fort­able and def­i­nitely not cheap to the touch. They also work well, with the dash and door fur­ni­ture to make the car seem classy, well or­gan­ised and thought­ful in its lay­out, though the dou­ble-DIN-slot sound sys­tem was atro­cious in terms of its leg­i­bil­ity. It was easy enough to set-up for the phone and ra­dio sta­tions, but most peo­ple we tried the car with couldn’t read the ra­dio screen graph­ics un­less they craned for­ward to do so. Mind you with voice ac­ti­va­tion, maybe I should have shouted at it.

So far so good. What about Ruby? Ruby is our lug­gage vol­ume ex­pert who sniffs out those hatch ar­eas with suf­fi­cient width but not too much height, for easy ac­cess by ca­nine cargo. It works there too, and even gives our four-legged mates some light from the pointy rear quar­terlights.

The Prius C’s prac­ti­cal­ity has per­haps been over­shad­owed by its own pow­er­train. I was guilty my­self, con­cen­trat­ing on the car’s hy­brid set-up in­stead of re­gard­ing the wee Toy­ota as a use­ful hatch­back that just hap­pens to be able to travel an aw­fully long way on a litre of gas.

How cars like this achieve their rel­a­tive fru­gal­ity will soon be­come ir­rel­e­vant. It’s the re­sults we want, not an im­pos­si­bly com­pli­cated graphic screen full of pic­to­graphic ren­der­ings of what each part of the pow­er­train is do­ing what at any par­tic­u­lar time. We shouldn’t be dis­tracted by such things any­way. All we want to do is plug and play, as it were, and maybe the Prius C will be­come a plug-in hy­brid one day too, where with ju­di­cious use of home and work charg­ing, you can avoid us­ing petrol at all at times.

I just want to drive the car and be sur­prised how far it will go be­fore my lo­cal bowser jockey has time to try his lat­est rude joke on me as I fill up. While in our hands, our lit­tle or­ange ‘Vi­ta­min C’ as we called it could dip down to less than 3-litres per 100km on some runs while av­er­ag­ing 4.2L/100km, which in old money is as near as dam­mit to 69 miles per gal­lon. The fac­tory ad­vises that it should av­er­age around 3.9L/100km, and given the chance to use the car for a long-term ex­pe­ri­ence, I’m sure it’s achiev­able – how about it, Toy­ota? Any­way, one thing you can say about the Prius C is that it does what it says on the tin.

And it’s quite a good-look­ing tin, too, more of a wedge than the coathanger pro­file used by the other, larger users of the Prius name­plate as a sort of vis­ual short­hand for be­ing a hy­brid. The Prius C’s sil­hou­ette is of a fairly nor­mal hatch­back type, with big light clus­ters high on the rear pil­lars and a wee ves­ti­gial up­kick above the hatch­glass.

The three-model line-up fea­tures at­trac­tive al­loy wheels in its two up­per mod­els, but even the base car’s steel rims with trims look pretty smart.

Our vi­ta­min C colour - known as Tango, by the way - was bright, loud and un­miss­able, in a flu­oro jacket sort of way, and we didn’t mind it a bit, though the al­ter­na­tives are pretty smart too. There’s also a Zest green, and a smart Cherry flavour, but my favourite is a mid-blue, called Cool Soda. Those wish­ing for a tad more anonymity for their Prius C – my laugh­ing col­league, per­haps – there’s a dark char­coal tone, a sil­ver and metal­lic white, though a bal­a­clava would also be ef­fec­tive.

All packed-up for a beach run, with Ruby in the back and four adults in the cabin, one of the best tests of a small hatch’s suit­abil­ity for open-road run­ning is surely en­ter­ing the on-ramp at the Belfast end of Christchurch north­ern mo­tor­way. This ramp has lit­tle go­ing for it: it’s up­hill, it’s of­ten used as a quick sprint track by its users as they get up to mo­tor­way speed, and it de­posits its users into the over­tak­ing lane of the mo­tor­way, (a fea­ture I have never seen any­where else ex­cept New Zealand).

While our Vi­ta­min C had to work a lit­tle hard with both elec­tric and petrol power to reach the de­sired ve­loc­ity on this ris­ing route, it didn’t re­quire full throt­tle and the busy­ness of the en­gine can prob­a­bly be blamed on the CVT trans­mis­sion as it flares while shar­ing out the en­gines’ power and torque.

Once up to cruis­ing ve­loc­ity, the Prius C is a calm, well-planted wee car, al­most waft­ing along and rid­ing qui­etly, even over ex­pan­sion joints – of­ten a bumpy bug­bear for lit­tle cars.

You do have to learn to ease rather than mash the throt­tle, as the Prius C’s mid-range, com­bined torque de­liv­ery of 280Nm, cre­ates great flex­i­bil­ity. Four-up, we couldn’t repli­cate the fac­tory quoted zero to 100kmh of 12 sec­onds, but with just a driver, un­der 11 sec­onds was man­aged against the clock.

At the other end of the per­for­mance scale an­other Prius C facet, is that you can run the car on elec­tric power alone for up to two kilo­me­tres at city speeds, creep­ing al­most silently in slow-mov­ing traf­fic or into park­ing build­ings with­out of­fend­ing the lungs of pedes­tri­ans and cy­clists.

But over­all, the Prius C needs no de­fence from me - Toy­ota’s world­wide hy­brid sales tell that story. That it’s priced right in the mid­dle of the B and C seg­ment spec­trum is en­cour­ag­ing too.

The Toy­ota Prius C hasn’t changed much vis­ually since it was launched in 2011.

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