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Little Prius C has big urban appeal

In its own special way the Prius C is one of the most exciting cars of the summer. Small cars are in, fuel prices are approaching $4 per gallon and recession-addled Americans are tired of syphoning gasoline from their lawnmowers just to make it to the grocery store. 

Enter the Prius C, a coyly smaller Prius that’s infiltrating the sub-compact market. Starting at just under nineteen grand the C has every reason to whip out its fuel economy numbers with trump card confidence: 

53mpg city, 46mpg highway. 

That’s 50mpg combined kids, hands down the best fuel economy a mass-produced modern car can offer without plugging into an electrical outlet. 

Whether driven in normal, eco or all-electric mode the C’s heads up display keeps you relentlessly up to date on just how much fuel the car is capable of saving when driven to its full hyper-mile potential. 

For those interested in training their right foot to reduce their carbon footprint in real time, the C will rate you on scales of one to five in categories such as braking, acceleration and driving at speed. The less throttle used the better your score.

I had a particularly negative experience with this interactive technology when I asked a friend for five dollars in return for a twenty minute drive to and from the grocery store. He pointed to the heads up display which had taken to the liberty to show the trip only cost me $0.17 in gas money. 

I sense an internet basement-troll is about to point out a flaw in the C’s fuel economy numbers in the comments below. Before he does it should be mentioned that while impressive, the C’s 50mpg combined is nearly identical to the standard Prius’ ratings even though the C weighs nearly 500 pounds less. 

If the C is all that and a double rainbow shouldn’t it be pushing the 60mpg mark then? 

Not necessarily. The C uses a smaller version of the Synergy Drive hybrid powertrain found in the standard Prius, a 1.5L I4 with a 45kW electric motor producing a combined 99hp to be exact. The smaller setup saves weight but also makes 35hp less than the standard Prius, causing the C’s power to weight ratio to push out nearly identical fuel economy numbers with its bigger brother’s.

But that isn’t the point behind the weight loss. For now most people aren’t going to turn their noses up at 50mpg combined. In the bigger picture Toyota wants the Prius to be its best-selling nameplate by 2020. 

Besides offering a subcompact variant of the Prius the C marks another significant step forward in reaching this goal by helping to close the gap between dedicated “Prius People” and consumers who are interested in great fuel economy but might still be skeptical of hybrids in general. 

Weighing in at less than a Mini Cooper the C’s smaller stature allows it a more agile feel than can usually be expected from a hybrid and should be expected from any other subcompact. In other words, it’s harder to notice you’re driving a hybrid. 

Compared to the standard Prius and many other hybrids on the market C feels nimble and responsive; two words that don’t normally appear in the same sentence with Prius or any hybrid for that matter. 

I dare say, in the world of hybrids, the Prius C is… Sporty! 

Still, for all the improvement in driving experience it certainly won’t knock your socks off in the way of acceleration or throttle response. In fact it might put them back on for you. 

Make no mistake: Every Prius regardless of size is designed to eek as many miles out of a gallon of gasoline as humanly possible. Fifty miles per-gallon combined still comes with a price you don’t pay for at the pump. 

Attempting to accelerate in the C clearly illustrates the grittiest portions of the hybrid stigma. The car REALLY doesn’t want to let you use more fuel than is absolutely necessary. At times it feels as though the gas pedal is actually arguing with your right foot that you just don’t need to get moving as quickly as you’d like, as if it wants you to glance over at your eco score dropping on the heads up display, gasp, and let off the gas. 

But once again, anyone who gets too frustrated by the neo-conservatist throttle is missing the point. A person who buys a Prius for its fun factor has most likely been dangerously swindled by a car salesman wearing a “Save Kony” t-shirt under his suit. 

The Prius C, like every Prius, is all about fuel economy. Having set the bar in that category the C is an early example of Toyota’s first steps towards refining and diversifying the Prius nameplate towards being the car most synonymous with the brand, both in the way of sales and in public perception. 

Improving drive quality is one of the first hurdles in the road and the C definitely appears to be moving in the right direction. 

If 50mpg at $18,950 is the starting point for this mission we should all be excited.

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