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Good value for hybrid dollar

There's a new mileage champ in town and it comes from a family well-known for offering some of the thriftiest vehicles on the road. The 2012 Toyota Prius C is the newest member of the Prius family of gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles.

There's a new mileage champ in town and it comes from a family well-known for offering some of the thriftiest vehicles on the road. The 2012 Toyota Prius C is the newest member of the Prius family of gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles. It joins the regular Prius and the larger Prius V. The C, or compact, model is smaller, lighter and more fuel-efficient than its brethren. Just as important, it's also cheaper, starting at $20,950.

There are a few areas of comparison:

Size

The C is a subcompact. It is 95 millimetres longer than the conventionally powered Yaris hatchback, but a whopping 485 mm shorter than the regular Prius. It has a fairly generous 2,550-mm wheelbase for a subcompact car.

Despite its compact dimensions, the C manages to equal the regular Prius in front-row headroom and is able to stuff 35 more litres of cargo into the back. The back-seat passengers don't fare as well, with headroom slightly compromised by a sloping roof. The C is a five passenger car, but with 50 mm less width (compared to a Prius), the three riding in the back had better be on good terms.

The C is 65 mm lower in overall height than the Yaris. It's more pronounced at the rear, where the roof slopes down. It makes for a small hatch opening compared to either the Yaris or the Prius.

Fuel efficiency

With a 1.5-litre instead of a 1.8-litre engine, the C returns a city gas mileage rating of only 3.5 litres per 100 km - that's 80.7 miles per gallon. It edges out the regular Prius's 3.7 L/100 km rating, the previous mileage benchmark. The two are neck-and-neck on the highway at 4.0 L/100 km. The only vehicles that top the C on the road today are pure electric vehicles.

Power

Although power is not a subject fuel-economy buyers rate as important, many change their tune when they try to merge on a freeway on-ramp for the first time.

The C is up to the task. With a combined net horsepower of 99, it is only four horses shy of the conventional Yaris and one horsepower more than the Insight. The Prius, with its 134 combined hp, sounds like a race car in this field.

Acceleration is adequate, but with the pedal planted to the metal, the C makes a sad, moaning sound on its 0 to 100 km/h dash. Part of the blame lies with the CVT transmission, which is tuned for ultimate economy, not acceleration.

Price

At a starting price of $20,950, the Prius C the leastexpensive hybrid in Canada. It's more than $5,000 less than the regular Prius and $1,000 less than its closest competitor, the Honda Insight.

There are two models, standard and the Technology package. We drove the latter with a Premium package - a fully loaded car.

The up-level Technology trim adds niceties such as steering-wheel controls, Bluetooth, navigation, satellite radio, push-button start and smart key. The Premium package adds a sunroof, synthetic leather seats, an alarm system, heated seats, larger wheels and tires. It hikes the price of the C to $25,340, about the same price as a base Prius.

I would encourage buyers considering the C to sit in the regular Prius as well.

Although the numbers say the C isn't that far behind the Prius, there is a sense of added space to the larger sibling. The cargo hatch on the Prius (which is much larger) amplifies the difference. Even the Yaris feels bigger than the C.

The cabin of the C looks and feels closer to the Yaris than the Prius, with acres of hard plastic. But that all changes when the dash lights up.

The younger generation will take to the instrumentation like ducks to water.

There are menus upon menus. There are graphs, there are facts, there are figures. There is even a calculator that gives a dollar amount to the drive - a feature that requires a driver's input on the ever-changing cost of fuel. Once that is entered, the Prius C driver will know how every penny is being spent - right down to the minute. It will be information overload for some, but nirvana for others. My advice is to get acquainted with the system while sitting in a driveway, or you will soon find yourself driving off the road after being mesmerized by the different screens.

As one would expect, there are both ECO and EV modes. If the driver is really, really light on the accelerator, the C will travel on EV mode up to around 35 km/h.

There is an ECO score (of course) to help a driver check progress.

The C has two screens. The upper screen is devoted to tracking fuel economy.

The audio and navigation are on the lower screen. If drivers are relying on the navigation system to find an address, they have to constantly take their eyes off the road to view the screen, which is less than ideal. I am also surprised Toyota did not include a back-up camera with the system. The lower screen's resolution seems poorer than the upper one and bright sunlight easily obscures the display.

I would be interested to hear people's comments about the fake leather found in the Premium package. I feel it's a step backward, as it looks it will be hot enough to fry the back of passengers' legs in the summer.

I would choose a model with just the cloth seats and save $2,210 (the price of the Premium package) in the process.

Apart from the niggling criticisms, the Prius C is an amazing package for those who want to maximize their transportation dollars. Apart from the size, the C does practically everything that its bigger brother can do. With its attractive entry price and class-leading fuel economy, I would be surprised if Toyota dealers can keep any of them on the lot as word gets out.

THE SPEC SHEET

Type: Subcompact five-door hatchback, front engine, front-wheel-drive

Engine: Gasoline-electric hybrid. 1.5-litre, four-cylinder Atkinson Cycle gas engine, 73 hp at 4,800 r.p.m., 82 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 r.p.m.

Hybrid system net hp: 99 hp

Battery pack: 144V nickel metal hydride

Transmission: Continuously variable transmission

Dimensions (mm): Length, 3,995; width, 1,695; height, 1,445; wheelbase, 2,550

Curb weight (kg): 1,134

Price (base/as tested): $20,950/$27,005 (includes $1,565 freight and PDI and $100 air-conditioning tax)

Options: Technology package $2,210 (includes steering-wheel controls, Bluetooth, navigation, satellite radio, push-button start and smart key), Premium package $2,180 (includes sunroof, synthetic leather seats, an alarm system, heated seats, 16-inch alloy wheels and tires)

Tires: 195/50 R16 on alloy wheels

Fuel type: Regular

Fuel economy (L/100km): 3.5 city/ 4.0 highway

Warranty: Three years/60,000 km new vehicle and roadside assistance, five years/100,000 km powertrain

parrais@timescolonist.com