Toyota rolls out Prius c Hybrid

When Toyota launched the world’s first mass produced hybrid in Japan in 1997, it felt like a bit of a gamble for the huge Japanese auto maker.

How would people react to a new kind of automobile? Would people understand what a hybrid was? Would anyone ever buy the thing?

Three million cars later, Toyota has its answer. The Prius family is, undoubtedly, the most popular hybrid car in the world and Toyota is seen as the leader in hybrid technology.

That success has allowed the auto manufacturer to expand the family, which now includes the standard Prius (known as the Liftback), the Prius v station wagon and the new Prius Plug-In Hybrid.

This past week, Toyota introduced the newest member of the family to American audiences at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

If Toyota was facing a risky proposition upon the release of the original Prius, fifteen years later this new Prius is as close to a slam dunk as anything on the Detroit show floor. America is the largest market for the Prius line and the smaller, gas-sipping, less expensive Prius c is sure to find a welcome reception on these shores.

Toyota doesn’t call the Prius cheap, of course, they prefer to call the c a “gateway product into the Prius family.” But with a starting price starting below $19,000 you could put two Prius models in the garage for the price of many new hybrids hustling for some attention in Detroit.

Aside from the list price, the Prius also offers 53 mpg in the city, and 46 mpg on the highway, for a combined rating of 50 mpg. That’s an impressive number and comes from reductions in both size and weight for the new Toyota.

The new c is 19.1 inches shorter and 542 pounds lighter than the standard Prius.

 Toyota also replaced the standard Prius 1.8 liter, four cylinder gas engine/80 kW electric motor combo with a smaller 1.5 liter,  in-line four banger hitched to a 54 kW electric motor.

The new powerplant generates a total system output of 99 horsepower and 82 lb-ft of torque — not enough to win many drag races, but the point of the Prius c is economy, not performance.

Prius c offers three distinct drive modes: Normal, Eco, and EV mode. Eco mode reduces overall energy consumption by governing climate control and throttle to improve vehicle efficiency. Under certain conditions, the EV mode allows the Prius c to be driven solely by electric power for a short distance (under 1 mile) while remaining below 25 mph.

The Prius rolls on 15-inch tires and features an exterior design that “helps project a fun, youthful attitude.” That means you can choose three new colors that include Habanero, Moonglow, and Summer Rain Metallic.

Inside the new Prius you can select any interior color you’d like, so long as it’s black. The car comes standard with AM/FM CD player, auxiliary audio jack, USB port with iPod connectivity, hands-free phone capability, phone book access and music streaming via Bluetooth. Toyota also includes nine airbags, anti-lock brakes, traction control and a multi-information dashboard display.

* Steve Duda, EarthTechling