Toyota Prius c – Your first hybrid

POSTED BY admin ON 04 January 2012

What is it?

A compact, entry level addition to the Prius hybrid model family. Toyota describes the car as a compact, affordable hybrid designed  to appeal to younger buyers. It will sit below its bigger Prius brother.

The Prius c uses the same 1.5-liter 1NZ-FXE Atkinson cycle petrol engine from the previous generation Prius. Power output however have been reduced, as the large powerful electric motors from the previous generation Prius are too big and heavy for the smaller Prius c. Lighter, more compact but also less powerful motors are adopted for Prius c instead.

Cut through the PR fluff, we think it is much easier to explain the Prius c as Toyota’s interpretation of a Ford Fiesta hatch with a hybrid powertrain. Comparison with a Honda Insight is moot as the Insight is a significantly larger car. At 3995 mm long, the Prius c is just  45 mm longer than the Fiesta. Height and width numbers are similar, in fact, both cars trace almost the same silhouette. However, where the Prius c trumps over other hatchbacks is in interior space. While the Prius c is similar in size as the Fiesta, a more efficient interior packaging liberates a whooping 2550 mm for the wheelbase (Fiesta wheelbase : 2489 mm). This translates to legroom space that is more akin to a much larger C-segment car. The Prius c’s wheelbase is just 50mm shorter than the higher bodysize category European / Japanese market Toyota Auris hatchback.

In Japan, where the car is sold as the Prius Aqua, the car is available in 10 different colours, at least 3 of them is unlikely to be approved by mothers, which is exactly what tickles the young. In comparison, its more conservative Prius elder brother comes in 8 different predictable colour options.

Toyota says the Prius Aqua’s compact dimensions and low center of gravity will deliver nippy handling that would appeal to younger buyers. On paper, the claims are  believeable. In the Prius c, heavy hybrid components are placed below the rear seats and nearer to the center of the car, as oppossed to the Prius and Insight whose heavy traction battery (‘hybrid battery’) are mounted just below the boot, further away from the vehicle’s center of gravity. Turning circle is a small 4.8m.

Will it be available in Malaysia?

The Honda Insight has proven that there is sizeable demand for a circa RM100k hybrid, so making a business case for the Prius  c in Malaysia is not difficult. Unofficial sources indicated that the Prius c is expected to be launched sometime around middle of  this year.

How much will it cost?

In Japan, the Prius Aqua starts at 1.69 million Yen, making it one of the cheapest hybrid on sale in Japan (Honda Fit Hybrid is still the cheapest),  but don’t get too excited yet. Most automotive sites focused on the low starting price but missed out the fact that for this price, you only get 2 audio speakers, manual winding windows (when was the last time you used those?), no assist grip handles, no boot area lamp, no front fog  lamps, and no rear wipers.

Manual winding windows for the base model Aqua in Japan

Start ticking the options list and the prices will quickly edge significantly closer to the larger Honda  Insight, which starts at 1.93 million Yen.

In Malaysia, the Insight 1.3 IMA starts at RM 99,800. By applying the same quantum in price gap between the base model Aqua L and Insight 1.3G in Japan, we estimate that the lowest possible price for the Prius c in Malaysia is RM 87,000 plus, manual winding windows included. Don’t bother trying to do a direct currency conversion, that is not the right way to do it. Surely this basic trim (called L grade in Japan) will not be sold outside Japan, so expect prices to be significantly higher when the Prius c makes its way here. In summary, we are not holding our breath for the Prius c to be a cheap alternative to the Honda Insight, despite its smaller size. What more when one considers how badly is the strong Yen eating into overseas sales profits of Japanese companies, Toyota included.

What about fuel economy?

Toyota claims a fuel economy of 35.4 km/liter under the latest JC08 test cycle (maximum speed 80 km/h) mandated by the Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT). Tests under the older 10-15 test cycle (maximum speed  70 km/h) yielded 40.0 km/liter. Of course, you are not likely to get those figures in the real world. The US EPA test cycle (maximum 128  km/h) estimated figure of 50 mpg (approximately 21 km/liter) is more realistic. The US EPA figures are estimated because the Prius c will only be launched in US later this month at the North American International Auto Show

For comparison, the elder 1.8-liter Prius does 32.6 km/liter under JC08 test cycle, 38.0 km/l under 10-15 test cycle and a US EPA Combined (city + highway) rating of 50 mpg (about 21 km/liter)

If numbers are not your thing, you just need to know that the Prius c is more fuel efficient than its bigger brother Prius in urban conditions. In highway conditions, it is similar to that of the elder Prius.

The current Honda Insight 1.3 IMA does 26 km/liter (JC08 test cycle) and 30 km/liter (10-15 test cycle). The new facelifted model (launched in Japan in Nov-2011) however is slightly more efficient at 27.2 km/liter (JC08 test cycle) and 31.0 km/liter (10-15 test cycle).

Should I wait for it? 

If you are not in a hurry for a new car, why not?

The Prius c maybe smaller, and possibly more expensive than the Honda Insight, but it is also far more fuel efficient and initial Japanese media review suggests that ride and handling is also more ‘fun’ and engaging than the Honda. Another plus point is that UMW Toyota offers a more convenient after-sales service, with a longer 10,000 km service interval (lower maintenance cost and shorter vehicle ‘down time’), overnight vehicle drop-off at service center and for an additional RM50 there is even a two-way pick-up and delivery service. Honda Malaysia still insists on a 5,000 km service interval at a time when even Perodua has already adopted 10,000 km service intervals.

However, the Insight fights back by being a more complete car for the family, by virtue of its bigger size, competitive pricing and high equipment levels that matches many more expensive Japanese C-segment category cars.

Go here for more updates on the Prius c.