So all of a sudden, gas is cheap. Only $1.14 a litre. Naturally, it’s the perfect time to see how many kilometres I can squeeze out of that litre. And what’s more perfect than a 2014 Toyota Prius C? Not only is it the littlest hybrid around, it’s downright adorable. Decked out in eye-popping yellow and roosting on its 16 inch alloy wheels, it was an electricity-eating Pikachu of a car.
But this wasn’t my first time with a Prius. We go all the way back to 2000, when the original Prius arrived in Canada. Since Toyota was most protective of its prodigy, the only way I could get behind the wheel was in the company of Toyota’s head of PR, F. David Stone. Now, you know when there’s a standalone consonant in front of a man’s name, he’s a man to be reckoned with. And so it was with Stone.
He pulled up on an ashen, overcast autumn afternoon in an innocuous beige Toyota Corolla. On the back of the car, there was a tiny square grey badge that simply read “Prius.” You’d never know this banal beige shell was powered by industry-shaking technology.
Stone himself was an understated, middle-aged man, with steel-rimmed glasses, salt and pepper hair, and a calm manner. He graciously opened the driver’s door for me, and as soon as he sat down in the passenger side, I turned the key and – nothing happened. I quickly glanced over at him, and Stone was smiling. “It’s on,” he said. “The engine doesn’t make a sound.”
Well, I felt like quite the duncehead! He reassured me that everyone’s first experience with a hybrid was similar to mine, and although he could have made fun of me, he didn’t. We had a lovely afternoon, talking about hybrids and history. It turned out Stone was quite the militaria buff, with an extensive knowledge of World War II. As the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, I’m a little obsessed with everything from Nuremberg to Yalta and in between. So we nattered away about the infamous house painter, his Third Reich, the Axis and the Allies, and so on.
I’m not sure what happened to F. David Stone, but I do know that the Prius grew up to become the best-selling hybrid in the world today. And when you have a best-seller, you make variants. So now, the enviro-crowd can choose from a Prius, a Prius V (for gear-hauling families) and Prius C (for downtown singletons). In fact, when I first saw the Prius C two years ago, I figured it for a game-changer. With its small size and modest price tag, it made hybrid technology accessible to eco-minded drivers everywhere.
A pint-size replica of its bigger siblings, the Prius C’s engine and motors was just as restrained as the first Prius I drove – even though it was a kaleidoscope of lights and colour, inside and out. Surprisingly, this Prius did not overwhelm with technology. The steering wheel was spare, with only the usual cruise, audio and a set of driving mode buttons. If you wanted to see the real action, you had to look over to the centre of the dashboard – which took a few minutes of getting used to.
Here, in addition to the speedometer, a 3.5 inch screen displayed a plethora of information. You could click between eight different functions to see stats on everything from what the car was doing in terms of current flow from battery to brake to generator, how far you’ve travelled, to how you’re doing with fuel savings. I could have spent all day just analyzing what I was doing, how the car was responding, to really whip those kilometres down to size.
As it was, I chose to cruise around town, skirting the bulldozers, dump trucks and excavators that have turned Toronto the good into Toronto the congested. Armed with 99 hp, the Prius C got me on the highway without embarrassment, but that’s not the point of this car. In fact, I was astonished by how much room there was inside its diminutive body – plenty of space to stretch out and shlep my enormous purse, a week’s worth of groceries and cat litter. Toyota does ergonomics like no one else, and although there weren’t as many seat adjustments as the Lexus CT200H, there were enough to feel comfortably accommodated.
And the good folks at Toyota had seen fit to equip the Prius C with satellite radio, so I could listen to the Broadway station. As I listened to peppy gems like Pippin, I could practically feel electrical current humming through the cables. Every time I touched the brakes, power shot back to the motor and kept the gas tank muzzled. Even a trip to the north of the city in the cold November rain, barely budged the fuel gauge. In all honesty, I thought it might be broken!
According to the readout, I averaged 5.3 L/100 k (44 mpg), which is quite extraordinary. When I returned the Prius a week later, I filled the tank – for a measly $9.23. I usually have to cough up $30.00 for a week’s driving.
According to Toyota Canada, this year, the Prius C represented 40 percent of Prius family sales, up 14 percent from 2012. So for some, the “C” might stand for “city” and to others, it might stand for “cute.”
You could also say it stands for “cost-conscious.” And, obviously – “champ.”