City-ready Toyota Prius c to arrive in March 2012; 53 mpg

Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

The pocket-sized Prius has finally arrived.

Japanese automaker Toyota on Tuesday introduced the 2012 Toyota Prius c, a more compact version of its popular hybrid car that primarily targets urban drivers. It made the announcement at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

The five-door hatchback, which will arrive in the U.S. in March, was hinted at for quite some time in the company's literature. It fills out the growing Prius family, which includes the original, roomy version and a newer, larger model ("v") designed with suburban families in mind. (A plug-in electric version is also in the works.)

The Prius c remains the most compelling flavor of the car, if only because it stays true to the original's mission: a small, fuel-efficient vehicle. The Prius c is rated at 46 miles per gallon on the highway and 53 mpg in the city, "the highest city mpg rating of any vehicle without a plug," Toyota says.

If you've driven a Prius, you know that the original liftback version has, along with its popularity, grown in size slightly over the years. The Prius c gets back to the basics -- its wheelbase in 19.1 inches shorter than the liftback and it weighs 542 lbs. less -- with a retail price that starts below $19,000.

In a tough economy, that's a good price point to have. Toyota hopes the Prius c will attract younger consumers who would normally be in the market for a subcompact car but are willing to plunk down a bit more coin for a fuel-sipping model, not to mention one with pioneering drivetrain technology.

As befits a car with this reputation, Toyota makes sure not to do away with the standard interior features that make the car seem advanced, and inside you'll find automatic climate control, tilt-telescopic steering wheel with audio, climate, a digital information display with Bluetooth hands-free controls, and remote keyless entry with illuminated entry. Toyota's telematics platform, Entune, rounds out the offerings.

Under the hood is a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine rated at 73 horsepower and 82 lb.-ft of torque. (Combined with its Atkinson cycle, Toyota says the final output is more like 99 horsepower.) That compares to the Prius liftback's 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 98 horsepower (or 134 hp, system total) and 105 lb.-ft of torque.

Beneath the vehicle, under the rear passenger seat, is a 144-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack. Toyota didn't say what the range would be using battery alone, but that's not the primary use case, and it's likely to be quite short.

An inexpensive Prius is a welcome addition to the road. Will it take off?

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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