ARE YOU A PRIUS PERSON?
America is obsessed with cars and one way that people judge you is by what you drive. Enter, the Prius c. The moment you walk up to this car you are met with diminutive proportions, purposeful design and a feeling that this is not your average car. Is it above average or below average? That glaring question depends on whether or not you are a Prius person.
I set out on an unusually grim day in Hollywood with a friend on a journey to the top of the Angeles Crest Highway where our rendezvous was to be Newcomb’s Ranch. Newcomb’s Ranch is known by car and motorcycle/bicycle fanatics alike as a zenith destination along this winding, scenic and difficult stretch of road. Newcomb’s is an oasis to rest your mind and body after the extreme elevation changes, twists, turns and multiple weather patterns the highway throws at you.
We loaded up the absolutely red c with camera gear and hit the road. The c is very basic inside but it does have some creature comforts. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes, which was nice, although it needs to telescope further for taller drivers. The Entune navigation/entertainment system was user friendly and feature rich, although the touch screen could be more sensitive. I found myself hitting the onscreen “buttons” a couple of times to get them to respond too often. Entune includes such features as Bluetooth, navigation, Bing, weather and stocks. The issue I found when trying to use the “internet connected” features is that you must download the Entune app for your phone, run the app and connect the phone to the sole USB port. I, like many, have a 160gb iPod that was plugged into that USB port so I could have access to my 85+gb’s of music, but that all went away when I chose to use Entune. Toyota needs to allow Entune to use your phones internet connection via Bluetooth as not to interrupt your iPod supplied jams or supply an extra USB port connection to the head unit. Minor problem, otherwise the interior and the technology inside the c is very pleasant.
I fiddled with the cloth drivers seat, which adjusts forward and back, telescopes straight up and down and has a seat back adjustment. The position I found was good. The seats are not uncomfortable, but could use some fine tuning. A lumbar adjustment is in dire need as there is next to no lumbar to speak of and no form of bolstering which made spirited driving a chore; sentiments that were echoed by other full size Prius drivers I spoke with. I had plenty of head room once I lowered the seat to the floor (I’m 6’1″).
There was a time when carmakers would be lambasted for having hard plastics in their cars, apparently those times have changed. The c’s interior is comprised of hard plastic everywhere, though panel gaps were consistent and it seemed generally well assembled. I’m sure this was done as a weight savings measure, but nonetheless, the interior quality is about the same as others in the segment. One side effect of this combination of rough textured, stiff plastics was the thunderous crashes and creaks the interior emanated over the rough roads of Los Angeles, which were taxing on the suspension and the interior.
Speaking of the suspension, I was a bit perplexed. The c had a rough ride, typical of tiny econo-boxes, which transmitted every pebble, crack and undulation I ran over, yet when you toss it into a corner the body roll was excessive and inspired very little confidence for enjoying the twisties. I guess you could blame the pizza cutter tires, Firestone P175/65R15’s, but I felt the suspension could have been better dialed in for sporting intentions since this Prius is meant for the younger segment of customers. In a straight line, the c tracked well and it felt especially stable on the freeway at higher speeds, never feeling skittish, unsettled or blown around by other vehicles. Wind noise around the side view mirrors was very evident.
I know what you’re thinking, “Yeah, yeah, but does it go?” To that question I say yes and no. To a the typical Prius person I’m sure it accelerates just fine. To most other automotive customers I suspect the c’s level of performance will be seen as frustrating. Plain and simple, the c is lazy. The 11.5 0-60 times I’ve read about seem in line with what I experienced.
The c employs an ECVT to couple the gasoline and electric propulsion systems together and put the power to the ground. Most people either love or hate CVT’s, opinions may vary, this author tends to avoid them.
As with any Prius and any Prius person, the main concern is fuel economy. The Prius c is rated 53 city/46 hwy and 50 combined. Over the course of a week with predominantly city driving, I never saw less than 50 mpg. The “EV Only” mode worked as long as you did not press the gas pedal more than a centimeter or so, otherwise “excessive speed” would flash on the information center and the gasoline engine would rumble to a start. The fastest I was able to go in EV mode was about 14 mpg, practically idling, which may be useful in parking lot driving and stop and go traffic where idling forward is common and there is no need for gasoline supplied propulsion.
The trip up Angeles Crest was a mixed bag. The moment we began traversing the mountain, we were in dense fog and wet roads with visibility of about 15 feet. Perfect conditions for a photo shoot…. As we wound up hill, oncoming cars becoming visible mere feet ahead and 90 degree turns leaping out of nowhere, we encountered a crotch rocket hooligan laid out on a scenic outlook, motionless and in shock from his collision with a guard rail. He was ok so we pressed on. We finally crested Angeles Crest and were met with breath taking views and picturesque vistas. The c photographs well and appeared to be assembled solidly. We finally arrived at Newcomb’s Ranch bar and restaurant for some much needed lunch, refreshments and time to reflect.
So, at the $23,245 as tested price, is the c a buy? In response to that question, I would have to say, yes. The price tag alone should make the Prius c a hot seller; the 53 city/46 hwy is the icing on the cake.
Photo Credit: Copyright 2012 Chris Busenlehner / Car Fanatics Blog