THINK of a car with an electric-petrol motor and it's hardly surprising if the Prius comes to mind.
It has, after all, been around for more than 15 years, has demonstrated excellent hybrid technology and been a favourite of celebrities who want to increase their green cred.
You would think then that Toyota would be hard pressed to keep up with demand but that does not seem to be the case, certainly not in Australia at least where we haven't warmed to a car that may be a friend of the environment but not a true exhibit of an exciting drive.
Enter the Prius C, the next step in Toyota's drive to sew up the hybrid market - it's leaner, cheaper and has a touch more panache.
The Prius C is a small car with city driving at its heart so don't expect oodles of space.
There is certainly enough to fit four adults comfortably but limited legroom calls for shorter journeys being the norm.
Seats, both in the front and back, are plush and covered in good quality fabrics with a modern two-tone design.
The dash - despite hard plastics - is interesting and almost space-age.
The energy monitor, like that in the Prius, keeps the driver in the loop by showing the power flow between the engine, electric motor and battery while the multi-information trip computer can display anything from the percentage of electric driving achieved on the journey to the driver's eco score based on the efficiency of the previous 100 trips.
There are a few hidey holes including a shelf above the glove box and a smaller one between the steering and dash for your mobile phone.
The boot is sizeable, more so because the electric batteries are now housed beneath the back seat, but still surprisingly so considering the full-sized spare tyre.
On the road
The Prius C uses its 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine combined with electric motor and nickel-metal-hydride battery to good effect.
It responds well from standstill and manages to find something extra on highway runs despite the interruption from the loud, continuously variable transmission.
There is a tad more feeling through the steering than is the case from its big brother, making for a more enjoyable ride.
Hills are challenging, so too are irregularities in the road surface and driving dynamics are far from exciting.
But to be fair the Prius C is a hatch not a hot hatch and its appeal lies more in the sum of its parts.
What do you get?
The Prius C may be the cheapest hybrid car on the market but it is still pricey compared to other city drivers.
Toyota has compensated by extending the inclusions list to boast keyless entry, reverse camera, touch-screen audio system, climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, USB input and cruise control.
For $3000 more you can have the hi-tech with sat-nav, LED headlights, self-folding mirrors and a bigger rear wing.
Of course the only other electric powered car around is the Honda Insight VTi-L ($29,990) but if you're talking city hatches then you also have to account for the Toyota Yaris (from $18,990), Mazda 2 Genki (from $20,740), Kia Rio GDI (from $21,990), VW Polo 77TSI (from $21,490) and Ford Fiesta (from $18,990) to name but a handful.
The Prius C gives those environmental-loving drivers who have wanted a "green" car but haven't been able to afford the hefty price tag a chance to appease their conscience.
The Eco and EV buttons could be better placed and the speedometer can be a bit obscured by the steering but all in all it's a credible package.
Toyota claims 3.9 litres/100km - the same as the Prius - but we found our usage closer to five.
It's hard not to see increased figures if you tend to do longer trips because the electric motor is superseded at speed. Toyota's Service Advantage allows for a capped price $130 service in the first three years or 60,000km.
There was nothing funky about the Prius except its green credentials, but the Prius C looks a little less gawky with its city-hatch proportions.
The manufacturers are also targeting savvy Y-Generation buyers with new-fashion colours and technologically smart inclusions.
Toyota has done well to come up with a green machine with a much broader appeal than the Prius.
It is a better drive, much cheaper, is good around the city and gentle on the conscience.
The Prius C is a great hit in Japan and it is likely to make inroads here.
Model: Toyota Prius C.
Details: Five-door front wheel drive light hatch (hybrid).
Transmission: Four-speed automatic.
Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder Atkinson cycle DOHC petrol generating maximum power of 54kW (petrol) and 45kW (electric) and peak torque of 111Nm (petrol) and 169Nm (electric).
Consumption: 3.9 litres/100km (combined average).
Bottom line: From $23,990.
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