A pre-production model of the 2012 Toyota Prius c3. Photo by Don Bain.

Test drive review of the 2012 Toyota Prius C

After having the opportunity to drive three of the four trim levels of the 2012 Toyota Prius C during a media event in Austin last week, we were impressed with the compact’s handling and interior space, as well as its potential to provide economical transportation to young urban singles, couples and small families on a budget.

Each of the four vehicles driven was clearly labeled as a pre-production vehicle; even though final production models are due to arrive at dealerships late next month. Some pre-production models change significantly by the time they come to market, but chances are any changes to the final version of the 2012 Prius C will be imperceptible.

First impressions upon entering the The 2012 Prius C were simply it seems bigger inside than it does from without. Its silhouette almost exactly conforms to that of the Toyota Yaris, but climbing into the back seat out of sheer curiosity it fit my six-foot form well with plenty of legroom. It was necessary to move the seat back a little when taking the driver’s seat so tall occupants in both rows might be a problem, but chances are good unless you’re hauling a basketball team, a family of five would fit quite comfortably.

Driving the 2012 Toyota Prius C3 first, it handled better than expected for a car with a wheelbase just over 100 inches. This is a likely result of Toyota engineers moving the lightened nickel hydride battery to a position beneath the back seat, instead of between the back seat and rear deck as in other Prius models.
This repositioning lowers the center of gravity in the vehicle and produces the sensation it is glued to the road. In addition to allowing a 60/40 split fold down seat in the top three trim levels, it gives all four variants a nimble maneuverability, and lessens the intrusion of the road’s imperfections to be expected in a commuter car.


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When a car feels good to me while simply sitting in all its seats, it then, and only then, becomes an object for consideration. That little test of mine was the basis of our decision to opt for our '09 Corolla instead of a Ford Focus. When my test is applied to both the Prius and Prius v, they both fall short. From what I've seen of the new Prius C, that little car could well be in the running for future consideration. We have yet to learn if the new C will have a tilt/telescoping steering wheel -- an option lacking in the new Yaris. Add to that is the absence of a center-console arm rest, both of which I hope to find in the new C. If not, they will both be sorely missed to the majority of drivers, as even KIA's new Rio have both (available in its upper ranges). While both the Prius and the Prius v (I wish they'd just call it a VAN, and dispose of the "v" designation) are popular, the new C comes closer to looking like a regular car, both inside and out, like the new Camry Hybrid does. Perhaps as battery technology advances, the advent of batteries capable of filling spaces in a car otherwise left to air (the sidewalls of trunks comes to mind), then hybrids will come even closer to looking and feeling like a "regular" car. The time will come when the word Hybrid will be badges on all models, including "sport" options. When that day comes, the prices for hybrids will level out, and we'll all be getting better mileage as a result.
Toyota says that the "v" stands for "versatile" not "van" and the "c" stands for "city" (it's focus is on maximizing city driving and economy).