Test Drive: 2012 Toyota Prius C

A surprisingly enjoyable hybrid.

I have never been much of a fan of the Prius.

Don?t get me wrong; the Prius is an ingenious vehicle. Combining the best parts of gas and electric powertrains into one is brilliant?at least on paper. It is less brilliant, however, as an actual drivable vehicle.

The Prius is heavy and it doesn?t handle very well. It?s also quite hard to see out of. And although it is fuel-efficient, it doesn?t get quite live up to the fuel economy numbers that Toyota once claimed. Not only that, it would seem nearly everyone who bought a Prius was a knob, which further tarnished the Hybrid nameplate.

Given its track record, I was less than jazzed when Toyota announced it was expanding the Prius line?called the Prii. The first Prii (official pluralization of Prius) to roll off the line was the PriusV, which was a bigger, wagonier Prius. To my surprise, it was delightfully roomy and the added wagon space and proportions improved the visual appearance hugely.

The next of the Prii to be unveiled was the PriusC, which I had the pleasure (not ironically) of driving this week.Prius Engine

The PriusC is the smallest of the Prii and is based upon the Toyota Yaris. It?s powered by a 1.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine producing a pavement tearing 73 horsepower and 82 pound-feet of torque paired with an Electronically Controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (ECVT), which have been mated to an electric motor generator, which produces 60 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque. All said and done the PriusC is rated at 99 horsepower. It will make a 0-60 jog in 11.5 seconds and onto a top speed of 105 MPH.

Prius InteriorAlthough the Prius C?s power numbers are pretty pedestrian, the fuel economy numbers are not. The EPA estimates the PriusC at 50 MPG in the city and 46 MPG on the highway with a combined score of 50 MPG.

Now here?s where it gets interesting. With most vehicles, I am typically somewhere 2-10 MPG shy of the EPA fuel economy estimates. In the PriusC, however, I was getting 77 MPH. Mind you, this was when I was driving with a feather foot, paying special attention to acceleration and braking. When driving as I normally do in my Range Rover, I achieved around 38 MPG. But more often than not?according to the PriusC?s onboard computer?I was consistently breaking 60 MPG.

On any given day, I don?t give two shakes about fuel economy in my truck or in a press car. Behind the wheel of the PriusC I found myself flirting with hyper-miling.

Toyota Prius on the road At only 2,800 pounds, the PriusC is only 200 pounds lighter than the standard Prius but it feels much more stable and in control of its mass. Just like its cousin the Yaris, the PriusC is small but roomy inside with 87.4 cubic feet of passenger volume.

Apparently I am not the only one who?s enamored with the PriusC. Toyota sold 1,201 PruisCs within the first three days, making it one of the fastest-selling Toyotas of all-time. To-date, Toyota has sold every single PriusC that it has built.

Starting at just under $19,000, the PriusC is fairly inexpensive considering its capability in both interior space and fuel efficiency. The PriusC I tested was the PriusC ?Three,? which added color matched door handles and a power moonroof and carried a sticker price of $23,245. It had all the tech features (save a backup camera) that most modern buyer could want, including a 6.1-inch touch screen, satnav, Bluetooth, HD radio, and push-button ignition.

While I am still not a fan of the Prius (old habits die hard), I am rather smitten with the PriusC. It hurts me a bit to admit it but I really do like it and think it has a lot going for it.Toyota from behind

So the 2012 PriusC receives my stamp of approval along with its big brother the PriusV. I am also quite pleased to see Americans adopting a smaller, more fuel-efficient driving mentality, especially if it means fewer trips to the pump because my Range Rover needs all the fuel that my neighborhood station can dispens

More from Our Auto Expert