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Toyota Prius c – Compact, Clean, Clever, City

POSTED BY admin ON 21 February 2012

Left to Right : Ismet Suki, President of UMW Toyota, Takashi Hibi, Deputy Chairman of UMW Toyota, Asmat Kamaludin, Chairman of UMW Toyota, Hiroshi Hatada, Deputy Chief Engineer, Toyota Motor Corp., Datuk Syed Hisham Syed Wazir, President and Group CEO of UMW Holdings

Recap – UMW Toyota today held a twin launch for its updated Prius and the all new Prius c. Details on the updated Prius can be found here. With an on the road price with insurance at RM 97,000, the Prius c is the cheapest hybrid on sale in Malaysia, at least until the Honda Jazz Hybrid is launched next month. The Prius c undercuts the Honda Insight by nearly RM 3,000.

UMW Toyota targets to sell 2,500 units of the Prius c this year, a very conservative figure in our opinion. The Prius alone sold over 2,700 units last year while Honda shifted 4,566 units of the sub-RM100k Insight over the same period.

The Prius c is made at Toyota’s Kanto Auto Works’ plant in Iwate Prefecture. In Japan, the Aqua, as the Prius c is known there, has been over-booked by 10 times with waiting period now stretching to 6 months. However, UMW Toyota’s President En. Ismet Suki assured Malaysian buyers that they can expect a waiting period of between two to three months.

The Prius c project is headed by chief engineer Satoshi Ogiso, the only member in the Prius development team who has been involved in the Prius project since the first generation model (codenamed project “G21”). At 32 years old, Ogiso-san was the youngest member of the G21 project back in 1993.

In 2007, Ogiso-san, now chief engineer of Prius, Prius c, Prius v, Prius PHEV and all things electric and fuel-cell in Toyota, was tasked with the massive project of democratizing ownership of hybrid Toyota models. This meant creating a more affordable, less polarizing hybrid model.

The Prius c was developed under the concept “Next Decade Compact Hybrid,” with a design theme guided by the key words “Eco-fun.” The letter ‘c’ in the Prius c’s nameplate refers to Compact, Clean, Clever and City – four attributes that sums up the virtues of the Prius c.


Exterior
Compared to the larger Prius, the Prius c is 485 mm shorter (3,995 mm long), 25 mm narrower (1,695 mm) and 35 mm lower (1,455 mm). For the benefit of readers who have yet to see the actual car (available in showrooms starting from 24-Feb for Peninsular Malaysia, 2-March for East Malaysia), the Prius c is best imagined to be similar in size to a Ford Fiesta hatchback. The Prius c is 45 mm longer than the Fiesta. Height and width figures are similar to the Fiesta. But despite the diminutive exterior dimension, the Prius c feels surprisingly spacious inside. Wheelbase is 2,550 mm and boot capacity is 260-litre (measured under VDA methodology).

Keep in mind that this is a hybrid vehicle, so there are additional powertrain components like the traction battery (battery that provides driving power), inverter and motor generators. Somehow Ogiso’s team found better ways to optimize space utilization where other auto makers couldn’t. We’ve sat in conventional hatchbacks that feels more cramped than the Prius c. However the Honda Jazz still leads in interior space efficiency, so it will be interesting to see how the Jazz Hybrid fares when it goes on sale here next month.

Aerodynamic drag co-efficient is a low 0.28, 0.03 poorer than the more expensive Prius. A ‘pagoda’ roof, lower ride height, triangular silhoutte, rear spoiler, flush underbody with air spats together contribute to the Prius c’s wind cheating capabilities. There are even tiny ‘aero-stabilizing fins’ at the tail lamp, wing mirror and under body covers to optimize air flow.

Like the Prius, the Prius c has odd looking sharply angled bumpers. Again, this is a case of function over form. Toyota calls it ‘aerocorners.’

Interior
Interior is big contrast over its rivals, although not necessarily in a positive way. There were mixed reactions to the interior design, with some commenting that it looks too basic and feels like a lower grade car. But this is a subjective design matter. Personally, I find it acceptable as I am not fan of the Honda Insight or Jazz’s Airbus A380 cockpit inspired instrument panel, and certainly not a fan of any two-tiered display that in my opinion complicates things unnecessarily. But like I said, it’s a subjective thing.

Interior plastics and switch gear have a general feeling of cheapness, feeling a grade lower than those found in an equivalent Honda Insight.

Part of the appeal of driving a hybrid is playing the game of betting your fuel economy ‘high score’, and to do that you need a reasonably sized colour screen to display real time vehicle status information. The Prius c makes do with a smaller 3.5-inch colour TFT Eco Drive monitor multi-information display, as opposed to the larger 5-inch unit found in the higher end Prius.

Personally, I found the animation and screen transitions on the Eco Drive monitor to be a bit too cartoon-ish. Maybe the designers looked too far down the age line in following the ‘fun’ theme. But again, this is a subjective thing.

Steering wheel is the same as the Prius, meaning the Touch Tracer ‘touch sensitive’ steering wheel control buttons for audio, climate and trip computer functions is also adopted. When the driver touches the Touch Tracer button, a duplicate image appears at the instrument panel, closer to the driver’s eye’s line of sight, making it easier for the driver to select the required function.

The trump card for Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive is an electrically driven air-conditioning unit, a crucial feature in our climate. Conventional hybrid’s air-conditioning will run at reduced capacity or reverting to blower mode only when the engine is shutdown during idling. Of course, there are ways to go about this, i.e. by shifting to neutral or disengaging ‘Eco’ mode to prevent the engine from shutting down, but this defeats the purpose of having a hybrid in the first place. In the Prius c, its air-conditioning is independent of the engine’s power and will continue to operate in all driving conditions.

Standard audio is a 2-DIN unit with USB and iPod compatible AUX input with 6 speakers. But for an extra RM 2,990, there is an optional Panasonic DVD-AVN unit with a 6.1 inch colour touch screen with reverse camera and GPS Navigation (MalSing map) function.

Like the Prius, the Prius c features keyless Smart Entry and Start System.

Powertrain

The Prius shares the same Atkinson cycle 1.5-litre 1NZ-FXE engine from the previous generation Prius (RON 95 petrol compatible), with a 13.4:1 compression ratio. Compared to the second generation Prius, the Prius c has a 6 percent better thermal efficiency.

Combined with its 144 Volt NiMH battery and other power control electronics, the Prius c’s hybrid powertrain is 42 kg lighther than the Prius, thanks a more compact engine, transaxle and battery. Much of the powertrain’s mass is located near the vehicle’s center of gravity, thus giving it a more stable handling and better weight distribution. Even the regular 12V battery is located under the rear seats. The 12V battery can be easily removed by unclipping a panel under the rear right seat.

36-litre fuel tank, 12V battery and traction battery, each encased in a protective steel case under the rear seats.

Combined output from both the petrol engine and electric motors is 74 kW. With only 1,120 kg to move around, 0-100 km/h acceleration is an adequate 10.7 seconds, better than its closest competitor (isn’t hard to guess which model it is).

Three drive modes are available – Eco, Normal and EV. Speeds of up to 45 km/h is possible on EV mode, but range is usually less around 2km or less. Note that using EV mode does not necessarily improve fuel consumption. From our experience with CBT’s long term Prius (sixth month update to be out soon), it is best to let the computer sort out the petrol-electric power split.

Fuel consumption is a best in class 25.6 km/litre (combined highway and urban) when tested under the New European Driving Cycle, equal that of the more expensive Prius. NEDC test methodology has a maximum speed of 120 km/h.

Safety
The Prius boasts of segment leading safety features, including 7-airbags, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution (EBD) and brake assist (BA), traction control (TRC) and vehicle stability control (VSC) and active headrest (WIL). There are also ISOFIX anchor points for compatible child seats.

When the Prius facelift was launched in Japan, there was a price increase of about 6 percent. According to a report by Asahi Shimbun, rising raw material cost was the main reason for the increase in price, and that production costs per unit have risen by tens of thousands of yen.

When the Honda Insight facelift was launched in Japan, there was a similar increase in price.

Against this backdrop, we were actually quite surprised to find out that not only has the price for Prius facelift remained the same at RM 139,990, but the final price for the Prius c has actually been reduced by almost RM 3,000.

When asked about the impact of rising cost of raw materials, specifically rare earth metals for batteries and motors, Takashi Hibi, Deputy Chairman of UMW Toyota Motor acknowledged there is an on-going concern, but it is a problem with no easy solution and affects not only Toyota, but also the whole of Japan in general. He further added that for the Prius facelift and Prius c, UMW Toyota has absorbed the increase in cost to maintain its competitive pricing and to support the Malaysian government’s tax incentive for hybrid vehicles.

The ball is now at Honda Malaysia’s court, as we eagerly await for the Jazz Hybrid’s local launch. The Jazz Hybrid is currently the cheapest hybrid on sale in Japan.

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