In my generation the term ‘environmental awareness' meant knowing what the air conditioner setting inside your house was. In today's world however, the term ‘environmental awareness' means something completely different.
These days it's all about leaving a small ‘footprint' on the environment, gently nurturing our loving Mother Earth. Now we are supposed to care about our surroundings, treat our planet with kid gloves, recycle everything but the family dog (although I hear a robotic one is more ‘environmentally friendly' than the real thing). To jump on this green movement, just over a decade ago auto makers begin selling cars known as ‘hybrids'. These machines use less gas, spew fewer emissions, and thus leave a smaller footprint on the environment.
Toyota's Pirus line was the one that started this hybrid revolution, a revolution that has had me on the opposing side for over a decade. I could never imagine myself actually driving one. In my mind a ‘hybrid' car is nothing more than a golf cart with a metal body. In fact to me the word ‘hybrid' has always sounded like some sort of science fiction monster that's escaped from the laboratory and is wreaking havoc on the town; ‘Oh my god professor, the hybrid has escaped and is climbing the Empire State Building!'.
Today Prius is the car owned by movie stars, modern hippies and others who belong to the green movement. Toyota recently allowed me the use of a 2013 Prius; a hybrid, a ‘C' model which is supposed to be sportier than the other models. This latest model is in its second year and is supposed to be less expensive than others in the Pirus line. While I was pretty skeptical at first, I had two choices; politely refuse the offer and walk everywhere for a week, or give it a try. I chose the latter, and in many ways I'm glad I did.
The interior reminds me of any other car in its class. There are very few frills beyond seats made with something Toyota calls SofTex which is sort of like leather but isn't although it's supposed to be more ‘eco-sensitive' whatever that means. I guess they could have used eco-friendly leather which came from free range cows that passed away from natural causes or something. But then again they would have to wait until old Bessie decided to kick the bucket on her own and that might have caused all manner of production delays.
The standard model does have ample enough features such as satellite navigation and radio, Bluetooth and a decent sound system. The model I tested had heated seats among other small comfort features. The dash is spread out and while others have criticized it as looking cheap it seems no worse than any other car in the class. All the gauges are electronic and do take some time to figure out, but there is more than enough information including how much battery you have stored up should you decide to turn off the gas engine and go into full golf cart mode.
The ride is like a hippie wearing sandals; you feel almost everything around and under you. The Pirus doesn't give you a smooth ride, and you will become intimately familiar with the road. However it's not distracting, nor dangerous, but it's just not a luxury sedan. The biggest obstacle I had to overcome when first taking to the road was the Electronically controlled Continuously Variable Transmission or ECVT. The transmission doesn't really shift it simply keeps going. For an old gearhead used to feeling the comfortable ‘clunk' as gears engage, it's more than a little disconcerting. Yet once you get used to this there is no real difference than a normal non-hybrid car. You won't set any land speed records, nor burn any rubber. But despite my trepidations, the power is more than adequate for everyday use and I wasn't run over the first time I took to the highway.
Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive system combines a gasoline engine and an electric motor. It can be powered by the engine, the electric motor, or a combination of both, and will automatically choose the most efficient mode for the best mpg. And that mpg is the real story of the Pirus. The things I don't like about the car is overwhelmed by one very important number; 57.8. That was the mpg I got after a 22 mile evening commute along surface streets. That staggering mpg is nothing to ignore. In fact the mpg the Prius can attain while driving around town will override almost anything negative; except perhaps the wheels falling off. After seeing the mpg suddenly the ride doesn't seem so rough, the outside noise is a little quieter and the fact that you are driving something not even thought of 20 years ago escapes you. It's like seeing a girl who isn't all that pretty but who has the physique of a supermodel and can cook like a five star chef.
The Pirus C isn't a machine you drive across the country to visit grandma. In fact when driving long distances on the highway the fuel gauge will seemingly drop like a rock in part due to the 9.5 gallon size. While it will cruise rather comfortably at 80 miles per hour, the fuel mileage seems to almost penalize you. ‘You're being a naughty boy, speeding along Mother Earth like that.'
The truth is you don't have to be an environmentally conscious hippy or movie star to own a Pirus. You may not care at all about saving Mother Earth. Forget all that and focus on how much money you'll save at the pump; that alone is a great motivation. For a daily commute and everyday life, the Pirus C is a perfectly able, agile machine. My week with it changed my mind. I won't be putting on sandals or looking to give Al Gore a hug anytime soon, but if gas prices ever go above $5 I'll be in line to buy one. Excuse me now while I go grill a steak over the open bonfire fueled from the tree I cut down for just that purpose.
Toyota Prius C Specs
MSRP: $ 19,080
Price as tested: $24,5101
MPG Hwy 53/Combined 46/City 50
Average MPG as tested (mixed conditions) 53.2
Engine: 1.5-Liter Aluminum DOHC 16-Valve
HP: EV 12/ECO Modes; 73 hp @ 4800 rpm, 82 lb.-ft. @ 4000 rpm; 99 hybrid system net hp (74 kW)
80 hp Standard
Transmission: Electronically controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (ECVT)
Head room 38.6/37.0 (37.9/36.4)
Overall height/width/length 56.9/66.7/157.3