First Look: 2012 Toyota Prius C

The word Prius has become synonymous with hybrid, and Toyota has been busy capitalizing on that brand recognition by adding new variants. The Prius V large hatchback is already rolling on U.S. roads, and a new compact version, called the 2012 Toyota Prius C, is scheduled for its turn in the spotlight in advance of its launch next spring.

Though far smaller than its progenitor, the 2012 Prius C retains much of the styling that's helped Toyota's hybrid stand out from the crowd. Its pinched nose, slit-like grille, triangular foglight openings, aerodynamic front splitter, and hood strakes are all reminiscent of the larger Prius. From the rear, too, the C apes its forbear thanks to a roof spoiler, clear vertical taillights, and an angular rear bumper. Seen in profile, the Prius C looks like Toyota simply chopped the rear off a regular Prius.

Dimensionally, that's more or less what happened. At 157.3 inches, the C is 19.1 inches shorter than a regular Prius and only four inches longer than the 2012 Yaris hatchback. The Prius C's wheelbase has shrunk by 5.9 inches versus the standard car, to 100.4 inches. Width and height are essentially unchanged, at 66.7 inches and 56.9 inches, respectively, for the C, and 68.7 inches and 58.7 inches for the standard Prius. Toyota says the five-door hatch design is aerodynamic and sporty looking, while the compact dimensions make for agile, fun driving dynamics (we'll see about that).

Propulsion is courtesy of the latest version of Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive system, and the Prius C application employs 1.5-liter inline-four engine mated to an electric motor and battery pack, although final power specs have not yet been announced. The regular Prius and Prius V, by contrast, use a 98-hp 1.8-liter inline-four coupled to an 80-hp electric motor. Because the C is smaller and presumably lighter than the standard Prius, it can use a less powerful powertrain. That will help boost fuel economy -- Toyota predicts the Prius C will return 50 mpg in city driving.


Lots of Standard Equipment

If fuel economy alone won't win buyers, Toyota hopes to sell them on the Prius C's generous standard equipment. Nine airbags, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, and Bluetooth phone connectivity are included. Options include Entune, Toyota's new touch-screen infotainment system that can access Pandora internet radio, allow Web searches via Bing, and even read e-mails aloud.

With a dashboard-mounted digital instrument display, four-spoke steering wheel, and angular dashboard design, the interior of the Prius C looks just like the inside of its big brother. A diagonal line sweeps from below the climate controls to the glovebox opening, but otherwise the styling is fairly ordinary. There is one major interior change: instead of the unusual joystick used to shift the transmission in other Prius models, the Prius C gets a traditional floor-mounted shift lever similar to that seen in the Yaris and other Toyotas.

Assuming the small hybrid actually does achieve an EPA-rated 50 mpg in the city (and we'd expect a similar number on the highway), the Prius C could be something of a coup in the subcompact segment, as other small cars have been busy hyping 40 mpg highway. The new Toyota hybrid will be shown publicly at the Tokyo Motor Show in late November -- where it will be called the Toyota Aqua -- then onto its U.S. debut at Detroit in January before rolling into Toyota dealerships.

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