2012 Prius c front quarter view

Driving the Toyota 2012 Prius c in sunny Del Ray Beach, Florida

TorqueNews was invited to go to sunny South Florida and get hands-on with the new Prius c in the beautiful beach resort town of Del Ray Beach. The surprising little car was much more than expected.

When asked if I was interested in going to Florida to test out the new Toyota 2012 Prius c on behalf of TorqueNews, I didn't hesitate to say “Yes!” I left the wilds (and blizzards) of Wyoming and headed for the coast. Arriving at the beautiful town of Del Ray Beach, I met with several representatives from Toyota including Ed La Rocque, the National Brand Manager for Advanced Passenger Cars and Dave Lee of the University of Toyota.

I was presented with all four trim packages of the Prius c and decided on the top-end 4 package, which includes 16” alloy wheels, full smart phone connectivity, SoftTex upholstery, heated front seats, and fog lamps. Mechanically, all four trim levels are the same. This is the highest-priced of the Prius c trims, coming in at just under $24,000 after freight and delivery ($23,230 MSRP plus $760 freight). The base trim package starts at $18,950 plus freight.

Because the Toyota 2012 Prius c ("city") is a compact car, I was first and foremost concerned about how well someone of my size would fit. I'm six feet, three inches in height, 26 inches across at the shoulders and weigh 250 pounds, so I do not often fit well in compact cars. My co-driver, Dave Van Sickle (a former TorqueNews contributor, now of AllAboutAutos.com) is also of good size at about six feet and just over 200 pounds. So honestly, I expected the ride to be cramped.

Before going anywhere, I opened the rear hatch and examined the cargo space. It is bigger than it appears on first glance, as the top cover (easily removable) attached to the hatch makes it look smaller. It would easily fit a Saturday shopping spree or weekly grocery run's wares. The back seat is small and not comfortable for someone of my size, though average-sized people would not have a problem with it. It would easily accommodate two car seats or boosters for children, three teenagers, etc. The primary problem for me was head room there.

This had me worried about the front driver's and passenger's area, but my worry was for naught. Once I settled into the driver's seat, I found I had plenty of room (headroom was not dependent on the sunroof, though this did add another inch of clearance). The seating is very comfortable and ergonomic. Despite being so large, I would have no problem driving the Toyota 2012 Prius c as a regular car of my own.

Eager to cruise the community and beaches of sunny Del Ray Beach, Dave and I settled in and took off, hitting the streets with gusto. This was where I'd expected to start seeing real flaws. What I found is that not only is it comfortable, but for a hybrid compact, it's also extremely sporty and responsive. Visibility is better than I'd expected as well.

The Prius and a few others in Toyota's line, like the Avalon, have horrible rear visibility. The city suffers from the same extremely limited view at the rear, with a small box being your window from the rear-view mirror. With no backup camera, I expected this to be an issue, but the larger, angled mirrors on the sides make up for a lot of the loss of visibility and markedly improve what you can see while driving the Prius c versus others in the Toyota line like the Avalon. When I did a parallel park maneuver into a slim space near the beach, I put this to the test and found that while a rear-backup camera might have been nice, visibility without it was good enough to make a simple parallel easy.

The handling and awesome turning radius of the car didn't hurt either.

Cruising the city of Del Ray Beach, we got a good taste of how the c handles in traffic. It does remarkably well. Far from being sluggish leaving stop lights in stop-and-go, the little car actually has a lot of pep, even in ECO (economy) mode, which conserves energy. Braking is also another place where Toyota shines.

When stopping, the car uses regenerative braking to save both energy and brake use. Of all the hybrids I've driven, only the current-generation Prius (including this model c) and Ford's Fusion and Lincoln MKZ (both much larger and more expensive than the Prii) have perfected the ergonomics of regenerative vs. standard braking. Unless you watch the battery meter, as a driver you'll never know which is happening (one, the other, or both). This makes driving much smoother than in older generation hybrids that haven't quite gotten this down.

Once we'd had enough of the stop-and-go driving in town, we decided to aim for the freeway and see how this city car would do on the highway. Again, the sportiness and power of the diminutive engine and its car were showcased for us.

Although the Toyota 2012 Prius c will never win any land speed records, it does very well in freeway traffic and driving conditions. It had no problem getting up to speed through the on-ramp and onto the freeway, or with keeping up with traffic once there. In fact, jumping from a moderate 60mph to 75mph to pass around a semi-truck showed that the little car had a lot more going on than either of us expected. We also noted the very quiet nature of the c, which has none of the road noise that is almost expected out of most entry-level compact cars today. Toyota's engineers did a great job of baffling and muffling to keep the noise levels low, which makes the 6-speaker system in the Trim 4 package all the more awesome.

One thing to note, however, is that the Prius c is really made for city driving and is less efficient on the highway, though we managed to get 45mpg there and well over 50mpg (close to the 53 the EPA gives the c) in town.

Satisfied with the Prius c's freeway performance, we left the fast lane and went back to surface streets. We tried a few U-turns, more parking, and even a short distance over a pothole-filled dirt road running an alley between homes, and found that the city has extremely tight, responsive handling and does well in every condition you could expect a commuter to find itself in.

Our next objective?

Obviously, if you're in Del Ray Beach, Florida, you're trip is incomplete if you don't actually visit the Beach that's in its name. So we headed for the sand like eager, pasty-skinned northerners looking for a day of surf and sun.

At a beautiful 80 degrees on a winter day, with a slight breeze to take the edge off, it was perfect for the experience. We parked the car on a private road right on the beach's edge, scoffed at the “No Dogs Allowed on Beach” sign and remarked that we would pointedly ignore that rule were we here with our own dogs, and set about getting photos of our ride for the day.

All in all, the Toyota 2012 Prius c was a lot more than I'd expected out of an entry-level c-segment car, let alone a hybrid. It's very efficient and very capable of doing what it's meant to do: carry 1-5 passengers and some of their stuff while acting as a single's or couple's daily commuter and everyday get-around car. It's responsive, sporty, and very comfortable and ergonomic for both driver and passenger. Rear seat passengers may not find it as comfy, but the split-bench rear seat is adequate for occasional use and folds down to give full access to the cargo area to significantly expand carrying capacity.

For the DIY home maintenance mechanic, the city also sports the company's signature ease of access as well. I'll get into that in my next segment on the 2012 Prius c. The city also has an awesome Entune package and smart phone connectivity for the gadget lover, which I will also cover in another segment.

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Comments

Backup camera on a 13 ft. car? Buddy if you can't parallel park one of these you need lessons. Only visibility problem I found is since you can't see the hood it's hard to tell how close you are to the curb - something that will pass as you grow accustomed to it.
Buddy, you'd better learn to read before you make comments: "With no backup camera, I expected this to be an issue, but the larger, angled mirrors on the sides make up for a lot of the loss of visibility and markedly improve what you can see while driving the Prius c versus others in the Toyota line like the Avalon. When I did a parallel park maneuver into a slim space near the beach, I put this to the test and found that while a rear-backup camera might have been nice, visibility without it was good enough to make a simple parallel easy."
Thank you for finally addressing the visibility! I haven't seen any other reviews that make this a consideration. And for lots of people considering jumping to the Prius family, it's a big consideration. Great review! I appreciate you actually testing all normal scenarios instead of most auto reporters who whine about it's 0-60mph speed.
Thanks, Nora. There are some cars where 0-60 matters, but for most people in 99% of the vehicles being built, that frame of reference means little. Most of us just want to know if it can accelerate well enough to keep up with traffic and merge onto the freeway.
I found Nora's observation very true, especially the V8 and ute loving nation in Australia. Car journalists don't even bother covering the imminent of Prius c release, which is scheduled in April 2012. Apparently, a 10s to 0-100kmh time is not good enough for Aussie road, every car must have excellent handling, a mean look and a very loud muffer. Fortunately, average people are smarter than these know-it-all journalists, large car sales are falling faster than a knife, petrol prices skyrocketing through the roof. I am betting the sales of the Prius c would surprise a few people comes April!.
Is the new Prius C as big as Toyota Matrix or smaller like the Yaris hatchback? It may be the same size as the old generation Ford Focus hatchback? How would you compare the size?
The C is based on the Yaris and is about the same size. The Yaris has a little more room in the back seats as far as headroom, which was restricted somewhat in the C to accommodate the Prius body design with a more sloping roof. I'd have to look up specs, but it's a difference of maybe 1/2 an inch. Unlike the Yaris, though, the C has a much stiffer build and sportier drive. The electric power steering assist and stronger frame make it more fun, I think.