Hybrid cars in Australia are still seen as a bit of a question mark; Toyota continues to keeping plugging along to try and answer that question with the Prius range. A Wheel Thing looks at the smallest one, the Prius C.
The Driven Heart
Being a hybrid there’s a combination of a 1.5-litre DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder petrol engine with a surprisingly low 54kW of power. Torque is also a little lower than one would expect with this engine size, with 111Nm on tap. The electric side of thing swings in with 45kW and twists out 169Nm, powered by the nickel metal hydride battery hidden under the rear seat. Power to the ground is put down via CVT and into the front wheels. As the air-con compressor and power steering aren’t driven by the engine via belts, this allows all of the grunt to be put to the tarmac or hitched to the electric motor when required plus the cooling for the electric engine has also been plumbed into the “normal” engine’s cooling.
On The Road
It’s a keyless start system with the car reading the keyfob; all the driver needs to do to get in when the car is locked is essentially stand next to the car and pull the door handle. Once settled into the driver’s seat, it’s foot on brake, press the button and……..nothing. It’s dead silent, apart from a couple of muted clunks as the system prepared for start up while the driver was getting ready. Select Drive or Reverse via the cobalt blue topped gear selector and go. There’s a whir from the front before the petrol engine kicks in, lending its oomph (what there is of it) to getting under way. Acceleration is…..surprisingly brisk. The digital speedo changes quickly, urgently with a heavy welly, the driver hardly being thrown back in the seat however, feeling at odds with the visually change of numbers. Compared to Holden’s purely electrically driven Volt, it feels slower but the speedo tells the story. Underway the Prius C shows a hidden talent, with a comfortable, easy handling ride, absorbing shopping centre carpark bumps without so much as a glance. It’s flat on the freeway, with no float in undulations and a low centre of gravity helps in lane changing requirements. Steering feels precise, with turn in well weighted and roundabouts are measured in not very much understeer, indicating a well sorted chassis, considering the skinny 185/60 tyres on 15 inch alloys. Sporty it is not but it is tidy and and decent enough.
The Prius C is roughly the same size as the Yaris, meaning it’s not a big car. It’s a shortish wheelbase at 2550mm, with overall length a sneeze under four metres, with not a lot of overhang front and rear but does cop an aerofoil at the trailing edge of the roof. It’s just under 1.5m in height and slim at 1695mm. Angular headlights match an upright, transparent taillight and hatch setup with a not unexpected aero look in profile. From the front the headlight cluster adds a slightly aggressive look, atop a pair of wide spread driving lights.
It’s an interesting look that Toyota has chosen for the seat covers. Ostensibly “leather”, the look and feel is of a vinyl, with a print pattern that is unusual, to say the least. A series of lines intersecting in a semi-geometric look certainly appears different….at least the seats were comfortable and supportive. The dash layout is also a touch odd, with a centrally mounted info cluster atop an angular shaped console. If there was a positive to take out of the design, it looks as if it would be easy to do a left and right hand drive version by simply swapping the moulding (simply, in the broadest sense) plus there’s no sweep into the door trim as one would anticipate. Switchgear for the aircon is about as minimalist as it gets with the most striking feature being the temperature dial. A multicolour screen for the information covers engine workrate, charging, which system is driving the car and an idea of fuel usages costs as well. These are accessed by touch sensitive buttons on the tiller, responding to a feather’s breath to change the info shown. It’s clever, well thought out and executed nicely. The interior colour scheme is a contrast; night black vs an almost bone white providing a sense of enclosure around the body and a sense of airiness for the beltline and above. Bootspace is, naturally, small.
It’s not ugly but it’s not pretty. It’s not quick but it’s quick enough when pressed. It’s not big however it’s not meant to be. The Prius C has a low $23990 RRP +ORCs, a low running cost and an unfortunately low profile. Toyota struggles to make the Prius attractive to buyers or buyers just aren’t that engaged by it. It’s not overly Star Trek like the Volt, it drives and handles well enough plus is clearly fuel efficient. Perhaps Aussies still like a bit of noise whilst getting the shove in the back….
More info on the Prius C can be found here: http://www.toyota.com.au/prius-c#its-your-prius-c-virtual-tour