Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Review: 2012 Toyota Prius and 2012 Toyota Prius C

If a car were a just a bunch of numbers, the Toyota Prius family won’t make much economic sense: priced at P 2,250,000 for the Prius (the White Pearl in these photographs adds another P 15,000) and P 1,475,000 for the Prius c (the Full Option model lent is at P 1,525,000) these cars aren’t cheap. In fact, on price alone, you can get any one of these other Toyota cars: the luxurious Camry, the practical Fortuner, and even the sexy 86, and still have enough money left over for some accessories. However, after spending a week back-to-back with the Prius and Prius c, it shows that these cars are more than just the sum of their parts. They start to offer more than just their price tag: they imbue a sense of environmental responsibility that you can’t get anywhere else. And that may be its greatest achievement.

Although the Prius and Prius c have a very sleek and futuristic shape, this is actually necessitated by the need to cut the wind. The small grille, raked windshield, bubble roof, and sweeping profile are all there to cut the drag co-efficient to a minimum; making these cars look unique is an added bonus. And while the Prius c is an aerodynamic champ in its own right with a co-efficient of drag at 0.28, its bigger brother cuts it by a further 0.03 thanks to a unique sharply raked hatch area; it’s so raked that it requires two separate pieces of glass just to give decent rear visibility.

Shape aside, both of these cars are gifted with interesting design cues which make them instantly recognizable. Upfront, both cars have arrow-shaped headlights and bluish-hue on the back of the Toyota ‘T’ grille logo. At the back, they both have clear crystalline tail lamp clusters with LED lighting for the brakes. And despite the large disparity between the two Prius, they’re fitted with similarly-sized 15-inch alloy wheels (195/65 R 15 for the Prius and 185/60 R 15 for the Prius c). Although this setup looks perfectly fine on the Prius c, clearly the larger one suffers from an “undertired” look. Perhaps Toyota should consider upgrading the Prius to the Touring package with its 17-inch alloys.

Inside, both the Prius and Prius c offer the same futuristic design theme. Front and center is a tachometer-less green LED instrument panel (though the Prius c ups it a bit with a full-colored supplementary display) that displays all of the pertinent information including drivetrain condition and even vehicle settings. Both cars have leaf-like patterns scattered throughout the dashboard adding some “green cred”. The four-spoke leather steering wheel is clearly shared between the two complete with the very same touch-sensitive “Touch Tracer” buttons that control most functions including the climate control. And though the seats look like they’re covered in leather, they’re actually SofTex: a synthetic leather material that’s lighter than real leather but maintains the same feel and is produced with 99 percent fewer emissions.

In the realm of ergonomics, there are pros and cons between the Prius and Prius c. On one hand, the Prius’s dashboard looks more futuristic with the floating center console and stubby electronic shifter. On the other hand, the Prius c’s is more straightforward and easier to understand. In terms of seating, the Prius makes you sit a bit lower, while the Prius c is higher. At the end of the day though, both of these cars have equally comfortable driving positions, though there’s some mastery needed given the complex hybrid drivetrain that they offer. Given that the Prius c is 480 mm shorter (with a wheelbase lopped by some 152 mm); all that trimming must have affected something. Although the front seats are relatively the same for both cars, the Prius c’s rear accommodations are quite diminutive. You can still sit three in a pinch, but it’s not advisable for longer trips.

Utilizing Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD), driving the Prius and Prius c are remarkably similar. Settling behind the wheel, there’s a push-button starter. Press it and a “Ready” light comes up. You’re now ready to go. That’s it. No engine rev, no cranking, no sound. At startup, the Prius uses its battery and so the eerie silence as the car moves is all part of the driving experience. The Prius has a little shifter that you simply “flick” when you want to go from D or R or whatever while the Prius c has a more traditional gated shift knob with an honest-to-goodness PRNDL layout. Though both of these cars have no mechanical linkages to their gearboxes, the reason behind the Prius c’s conventional gearbox is to lure first-time hybrid buyers (it’s actually easier to master than the Prius’s shifter).

Feathering the throttle rewards a full EV or Electric Vehicle experience on both of these cars up to around 40 km/h. At which point, the internal combustion engine fires up and does one of two things: it either charges the battery or assists the electric motor. Everything is seamless and controlled by a complex computer brain, so the driver only needs to concentrate on driving (though the HSD’s current status may be viewed on the Energy Monitor). The Prius c runs on a 1.5-liter engine (from the previous-generation Prius) with a combined output of 99 horsepower while bigger brother has a 1.8-liter outputting 134 horsepower. Despite trailing the larger Prius in terms of power, the Prius c’s lightweight design (approximately 250 kilograms less) means they’re almost on equal footing on the road. Neither of these two cars burn up the road in terms of straight-line performance, but they offer exemplary fuel economy in city driving: 20.51 km/L for the Prius and 20.30 km/L for the Prius c. It must be said though that the Prius can be surprisingly quick when the “Power” mode is engaged (it can speed past 170 km/h with little difficulty).

Although both of these cars are part of the same family, it’s funny how their platforms are unrelated. The Prius rides on its own unique platform while the Prius c rides on a modified Yaris platform. So despite Toyota’s best efforts to give the Prius c sportier dynamics, again, they behave more or less the same way. They’re not built to be canyon carvers, so there’s some degree of body roll and resistance when transitioning through corners; but the overall experience is stable, secure, and comfortable. The ride is a bit on the firm side, though the Prius c is remarkably the more comfortable of the two. The traction control kicks in at the slightest provocation (including going through manhole covers) and there’s absolutely no way to turn it off. Plus, the braking feel is quite odd but that’s because they have brake energy regeneration built in.

With such an expensive price tag and just the minimal convenience features (no HID, no moon roof, no USB input for the Prius), it’s really hard to justify getting the Prius or the Prius c. As mentioned in the beginning, Toyota already offers remarkable value within its fold trouncing the value proposition of its very own hybrid line. Although the Prius and the Prius c won’t sell in large numbers locally, it gives a glimpse of Toyota’s willingness to innovate; to answer the call to create environmentally-friendly cars; to make people realize that car companies can be part of the solution to create a sustainable future. The Toyota Prius and Prius c showcase that way of thinking, and perhaps just because of that, they’re worthy of your consideration.

1 comment:

  1. Do you think that, when Toyota launches the all-new Toyota Prius next year, that will lower the price? I believe it's a bit overpriced for the current-gen.