The Prius family is about to grow once again with the March 2012 release of the new Toyota Prius c, a compact Prius designed with the city in mind. Although the new Prius c (the c stands for city) won’t be available until next month, I had the opportunity to take it for a spin in San Diego last week.


Once again, I had my trusted Toyota test drive partner, Osha Gray Davidson, at my side. Osha and I had the opportunity to test drive the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid in Los Angeles in August 2011 and so it was great to team up with him again and compare notes, this time on Toyota’s newest hybrid, the Prius c.


Before I share my first drive impressions let me tell you a little more about the technical specifications of Toyota’s newest hybrid. The Toyota Prius c is equipped with a 1.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine with a 99 net horsepower hybrid system. Estimated EPA fuel efficiency for the Prius c is 53 mpg in the city and 46 mpg on the highway for a combined fuel efficiency of 50 mpg.


The first leg of our multi-stop tour involved a trip down Intersate-5 to Suzie’s Farm, an organic urban farm in San Diego. Osha took the helm for this part and I was able to stretch out and relax. Yes, stretch out . I’m 5’7” and although the Prius c is similar in size to a Toyota Yaris, the front seat was surprisingly roomy.


I was also surprised by the relatively small amount of road noise and vibration in the vehicle. My typical experience with small cars is there is quite a bit of road noise but the noise was noticeably reduced in the Prius c. The same goes for the vibration, I didn’t feel as though I was sitting on a vibrating massage chair as we traveled around the city.


After our tour of Suzie’s Farm it was my turn to take the wheel. On the drive up to a local eatery that just so happens to source its produce from Suzie’s Farm, The Linkery, I decided to forego the fuel efficient method of driving and put the vehicle’s 99 horsepower engine to the test.


Again, I was surprised by the vehicle’s performance – in this case it smoothly accelerated up to the posted 65 mph speed limit. I also took the opportunity to make a few quick turns to gauge the vehicle’s handling and again the Prius c performed well. There was minimal body roll and it cornered with ease and I’m speaking from the perspective of a one-time owner of a vehicle with extensive suspension modifications.


While the Prius c performed well from a handling perspective, the main draw for many consumers will be the vehicle’s superior fuel efficiency. Achieving optimal fuel efficiency is made easier by the 3.5” color TFT Multi-Information Display embedded in the dashboard.


Every time you accelerate, cruise or stop the vehicle you receive a one to five bar rating. At several points during the day Osha and I were so focused on achieving a five bar rating that we missed a turn. No problem, the Prius c is designed for the urban environment and we were able to quickly get back on track with a U-turn or by traversing San Diego’s smaller side streets. Even though I only had a day in the car I can see that the gamification of the car’s instant feedback system will be a long-term draw for Prius c owners.


As you can probably tell from my review, I had a fun day both driving and riding in the Toyota Prius c. As a mom of two kids that carts gear to and from various extra-curricular activities, the car is too small for me. However, I’m not the target audience for the Prius c. If I were a 20-something without a family and on the hunt for a highly fuel-efficient vehicle that was also fun to drive then the Toyota Prius c would definitely be on my short list.


To view more photos of the Prius c in action in San Diego, visit my Toyota Prius c Flickr set.

Driving the 2012 Toyota Prius c
A Toyota Prius designed for the young urban driver will be available in March 2012.