COMPACT, cute, city, call the ‘c’ in Toyota’s latest hybrid what you want. But there’s no denying the compact Prius is packed with clever ideas – and charisma.
The c (which they insist is in lower case) is Toyota’s third hybrid and will soon be joined by a seven-seat model called the V, underscoring the brand’s belief that hybrid technology is the way of the future.
And Toyota should know, having had 14 years and 2.5 million sales in Priusland.
The super-economical c, which has official fuel stats of 3.7 litres/100km on the city cycle, comes in two spec levels, priced at $23,990 and $26,990.
That’s about $6000 less than any other hybrid on the market.
Prius c has a 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine and a 520-volt electric motor that work in tandem to provide 74kW, which is delivered to the front wheels via an electronic continuously variable transmission.
The engine has no power-robbing belts and the car can be driven for short stretches on the electric motor only.
There’s also an Eco-mode, which inhibits performance, but gives about 12 per cent better economy in city traffic.
The regular c is pretty hi-spec, with standard gear such as a 6.1-inch touch screen display audio, CD player, Bluetooth, multi-info display, USB port with iPod connectivity, auto aircon, cruise control, fog lights, keyless entry and start, hill-start assist, reversing camera and the gamut of electronic driver aids.
Seven airbags are also standard.
For $3000 more, the c i-Tech adds satnav, alloy wheels, self-levelling LED headlights, premium seat covers and trim, and retractable outside mirrors.
The car is shorter, lighter, narrower and lower than a regular Prius, but has ample space for five people. It even has more hip and leg room than a Corolla.
The battery and fuel tank are fitted under the back seat, leaving an uncluttered boot – and a full-sized spare wheel.
The boot holds 260 litres and the back seat has a split-fold function.
There are also lots of storage nooks front and rear.
Fuel economy is another big factor.
Oddly, the c uses less fuel in the city than on the open road, due entirely to its shape.
Its shortness does nothing for aerodynamics, hence figures of 3.7 in the city and 3.8 in the country.
The economy gauges include one switchable to show the cost of the petrol used on a trip. We did an easy 35km cruise and recorded $2.59.
Another gives the driver an economy score out of 100.
The dash has a funky, double-deck, angular design, black and grey in the base, all-black in the i-Tech and the gear lever has a bright blue knob that looks as if it was on special at the Supa Speed Shop.
I expected it to glow or perhaps pulsate to hip-hop music.
But it just stayed blue, no matter which of the many dashboard modes I selected. Bugger, as Toyota folk tend to say.
Toyota describes the c as an ‘active, sporty’ car, but although it handles pretty well on its squishy 185/60/15 tyres, the sprint to 100km/h takes nearly 15 seconds.
It is, however, quite quick to 80km/h, so it’s zippy enough for the city and cruises the open road OK, too.
It’s light and easy to drive, parks in tiny gaps and has quite distinctive looks: it’s obviously Prius in front, the side windows are rather Citroen C4-like and the tail is a jaunty bit of fun that goes well with the car’s trendy image.
There are nine colours to choose from, including ‘sunrise’, which we were asked to please not refer to as orange. Well, mandarin, then.
How many will Toyota sell in Australia?
“As many as many as we can get from Japan,” divisional manager Peter McGregor said.