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New Toyota Prius c is smaller with greater fuel economy

February 21, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
If any car has a lock on the hybrid market, it's obviously Toyota's Prius. More than a million have been sold in the U.S. alone, and it's almost a brand of its own. That brand is expanding with the latest Prius, a smaller, less expensive model called Prius c.

"We can address Prius c at a buyer who's maybe a younger buyer. At a starting price under $19,000, we can address that new buyer. Maybe this could be somebody's first car," said Dave Lee, a Toyota spokesman.

It can also just be for someone who wants a smaller car.

"Believe it or not, maybe Prius might be still a bit larger than they need, and they want something that's a bit more easily maneuvered, a bit zippier," said Lee.

The Prius c, for "city," is about the size of Toyota's subcompact Yaris. It's not only smaller than the regular Prius, but it weighs a lot less and has a smaller gas engine. The benefit is even better mileage, an EPA city rating of 53 mpg.

As hybrid cars become more popular, it only makes sense to expand the one that got it all started.

Lyndon Conrad Bell is a Northern California-based automotive journalist. He feels Toyota is on the right track with a junior version.

"The decision to expand it into a larger or broader range of cars is kind of a no-brainer," said Bell.

Priced from $19,000 to $23,000, the Prius c isn't lacking for features. Even base models include automatic climate control and Bluetooth phone connection.

It might be smaller and cheaper, but it's got things most commuters want. The 2012 Prius c costs about the same as the original Prius did 12 years ago, so in the world of hybrid cars, it's a bargain. Of course, there's the great gas mileage. And if you're really a miser, its electronics can help you get the most out of every driving dollar.

A standard LCD screen can not only show you how much fuel you might be saving, but even your monetary savings mile by mile.

As gas prices climb and more people look to trim their fuel budgets, the baby Prius seems to be stepping in at the right time with new highs in fuel efficiency at a relatively low price.