2012 Toyota Prius Review:
Goldilocks has nothing on the Toyota Prius.
With the introduction of the all-new 2012 c (for city) model, Prius now has bred a family of gasoline/electric hybrids. There’s the new papa bear station wagon, otherwise known as the Prius v (for versatile); the mama bear, which is the familiar mid-size hatchback (Toyota calls it a liftback), and now the c, the baby bear compact liftback.
And because everybody knows mothers get tired, there’s even an additional mama bear that plugs in for a jolt of extra energy. The plug-in charging extends the range in relaxed all-electric mode.
That makes four distinct models, with their individual variations, wearing the Prius badge. They now play a role in Toyota similar to that of other lines like the Camry and Corolla/Matrix.
The original Prius has done quite well. Since its introduction more than a decade ago, the four-door hatchback has accounted for more than a million sales in the U.S. alone, and nearly three times that many world-wide, making it the world’s No. 1 hybrid.
As gasoline prices continue their inexorable creep upward, hybrids are certain to become increasingly considered by buyers. That can only mean good news for Toyota, although the new c could be in short supply initially because of demand in its home market of Japan.
The new c and v models tackle buyers high and low. Tested for this review were the base c, called the One, which is the lowest-priced Prius available, and the Three version of the v, which comes with a high level of equipment and family-vacation capabilities. The numbers designate trim levels.
Newest, by a slight margin, is the c, a compact four-door hatchback based on the entry-level Toyota Yaris, a gasoline-engine economy car that delivers 38 miles to the gallon on the EPA’s highway cycle and is a nimble, engaging runabout.
The Prius c is not as nimble and costs a couple of thousand dollars more but is rated at 53/46 miles to the gallon on the EPA’s city/highway cycle. Do your own economic analysis to determine how long it would take for the higher price of the Prius to make it more of a bargain in the long run.
There obviously are considerations other than fuel economy. The Prius c is an ultra low-emissions vehicle, which puts it in a category close to that of a zero-emissions electric car. The carbon footprint is negligible.
With its 1.5-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine and 520-volt electric motor, the c has a total of 99 horsepower at its disposal, delivered to the front wheels through Toyota’s innovative continuously-variable automatic transmission, which eschews belts and pulleys for direct electric drive and a planetary gear set.
It’s enough to propel the c to 60 miles an hour in a wimpy 11.5 seconds, despite its anorexic 2,496 pounds. However, it feels quicker, especially with the pedal floored on a freeway on-ramp, so there’s no real feeling of inadequacy as long as you keep your foot in it. It is similarly comforting in freeway passing.
The steering is a bit sloppy and vague, although the c mostly tracks truly in a straight line at speed. There’s reasonable comfort from the big front seats and adequate rear seat room for two in back, as long as they don’t exceed about 5 feet 10 inches in height. Forget the center-rear position. Hard and busy plastic surfaces abound in the interior.
Two test runs in the c, in urban and freeway traffic with no attempt to maximize mileage, yielded 51.7 and 50.2 miles to the gallon.
With a plethora of subcompact hatchbacks and sedans hitting the market that manage up to 40 miles to the gallon, the c has a tougher case to make with consumers than its papa-bear sibling, the v, which is in a class by itself.
There are only a few mid-size station wagons left on the market, and most of them are in the upper reaches of the price scale. The v, on the other hand, is reasonably priced and delivers passenger room and cargo space similar to that of sport utility vehicles and crossovers—all while delivering 44/40 miles to the gallon on the EPA’s city/highway cycle.
It’s not much quicker than its sibling c, managing a zero-to-60 acceleration time of 10.4 seconds, according to Toyota’s specifications. Its hybrid power train delivers 134 horsepower in a vehicle that weighs 3,274 pounds. But it feels strong and solid, with a vast storage area and a price tag that will not induce apoplexy.
The tested v, in the Three trim, had a sticker price of $28,150, which included such amenities as a navigation system, backup camera, automatic climate control, pushbutton starting, and HD and satellite radio.
For folks who like to season their greens with mildly spicy condiments, prices that won’t break the savings account and a company with a solid track record of reliability even with complicated hybrid systems, the Prius name shines brighter with the new c and v.
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