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Old 08-05-2012, 01:26 AM   #1
Yar Is Word
Drives: Yaris 5 door liftback
Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: Portland, OR
Posts: 649
Comparison Test: 2012 Toyota Yaris Vs. 2012 Toyota Prius c

Comparison Test: 2012 Toyota Yaris Vs. 2012 Toyota Prius c

Comparing similar, fuel-efficient non-hybrid and hybrid cars

by Steve Temple

Even though gas prices are lower than they were a year ago heading into summer, consumers are clamoring for more economical cars. Indeed, demand for both new and used Prius hybrids has swelled. That's certainly understandable, but a singular pursuit of better gas mileage might involve some tradeoffs.

Back-to-Back Test Drives

To illustrate, we drove two high-mileage champs back-to-back—the new city-version 2012 Toyota Prius c and the redesigned 2012 Toyota Yaris. Both have similar chassis platforms and 1.5-liter gasoline engines. Total power output from the gas-engine Yaris is 106 horsepower. The Prius engine uses the Atkinson cycle to improve efficiency; total system output is 99 hp. The Prius c has the added benefit—and burden—of a Hybrid Synergy Drive, with its load of batteries (2500 vs. 2295 pounds). Granted, that propulsion system makes for record-setting ratings of fuel economy around town (53 mpg), but how do the two compare on the open road? And which makes more sense from a cost/benefit standpoint?

To answer these questions and more, we drove both cars on the same basic route from sea level in the San Francisco area to the Lake Tahoe/Reno at 8,000 feet and back, taking careful note of fuel consumption and driving characteristics.

After all, even though the EPA gives overall rating of 50 mpg for the Prius c and 32 mpg for the Yaris, don't forget that familiar warning: Your actual mileage may vary. That's what we set out to determine in a real-world situation, along with factoring in the human element (that is, how we drove the two cars differently in response to their contrasting dynamics).

Exterior Styling
First, though, a word about styling, both inside and out: The previous Toyota Yaris model had body shape about as edgy as a jelly bean, but the redesigned 2012 Yaris is a big improvement, giving this entry-level car some of that tuner-car attitude. (Though don't expect to see a Yaris, not even the sportier SE version, appearing in The Fast and The Furious 6.)

The similarly sized Toyota Prius c has a much snappier shape than the larger models in the Prius lineup, partly because it's 15 inches shorter and 500 pounds lighter than the Liftback version. So we'd give equal compliments for both the Yaris and Prius c on exterior aesthetics.

Interior Styling
Not so on the interiors though. Here the Yaris has an advantage. Earlier versions of the dash had the center-stack layout with a shroud over the gauges, which the Prius c still uses as well. This setup makes for easier reading even in bright sunlight, but on the Prius c we noticed this cowl would occasionally shake on rough, snowplow-scarred sections of road. We prefer the more conventional position of the gauges in front of the driver, as seen on the latest Yaris. We also found its upholstery and trim materials to be less Spartan as well.

Getting back to the driving experience, we'll confess that the Yaris inspired us to apply a heavier right foot, simply because it's more fun to handle, with a tossable feel. The Prius c has a more sedate, subdued character, as it's lugging all those extra batteries and a 60-hp electric motor. So we'll admit that our fuel consumption readings are not precisely scientific, in line with that proviso, "your actual mileage may vary."

Highway Miles
On level highway driving, the mileage rating of the Prius c actually decreases, because the 1.5-liter engine is providing propulsion instead of the electric motor. Given the extra weight and detuned engine configuration, we privately wondered whether the Hybrid Synergy Drive's 99-hp, 1.5-liter powerplant could clamber above the tree line. It turns out our apprehensions were unfounded, as it gamely grunted up the long grades.

While the throttle response was acceptable, we nonetheless found ourselves taking full advantage of the hills and dales, increasing our speed on the downsides in anticipation of the climbing the next ascent. At some point, however, you inevitably lose that momentum, and a really heavy uphill slog begins. As we headed to the highlands, the digital readout on the Toyota Prius c indicated fuel consumption in the high-40 mpg range.

Mountain Driving
On the other hand, the lighter Toyota Yaris simply scampered up the foothills of the Sierras into the mountain passes, and we only occasionally slapped the shifter sideways from Eco mode (overdrive) to regular drive. That transmission feature gives the Yaris a sportier feel, and makes the most of the powerband of the four-cylinder engine.

By comparison, the Prius c serves as merely an efficient form of transportation. With the digital gauges and lack of traditional engine readouts, this computerized conveyance feels more like fingering an iPad than driving a car. Although intellectually stimulating, the experience of grabbing the wheel lacks some hairy-knuckled passion.

In addition, its narrow, hard tires (with lower rolling resistance) tend to hunt and wander at times in the shallow tracks left by long-haul truckers. On the other hand, on winding mountain roads, the Prius c's lower center of gravity (due to the placement of the battery pack and other components), is an advantage, so the chassis hugs tight turns with minimal body lean. Ditto for the Yaris.

Switchbacks and Inclines
While the Prius c's handling was better than we expected on twisty switchbacks, the engine complained with a annoying drone as it struggled to make it up to the ski slopes of Mt. Rose, while the Yaris didn't seem to mind as much. No surprise, then, that the average mpg readout on the Prius c plummeted to 22 mpg. On the other hand, when coasting downhill from Donner Pass, we saw as high as 99 mpg on the display. And the batteries recharged in just a few minutes.

After driving from the Bay area to the Reno/Tahoe area and heading back, we had to refill the 9.5-gallon tank in the old mining town of Dutch Flat, CA. Based on the distance covered and fuel consumed (397.4 miles and 9.1 gallons), the plucky Prius c managed 43.6 mpg. Given the steep inclines, some high-speed cruising at 65-plus mph, plus a two-person cargo for most of the trip, that's still an impressive figure.

Mileage Comparisons
The Yaris didn't quite make it as far on this route on a full tank, as it averaged 33 mpg, by our calculations. As noted earlier, we'll admit to driving more aggressively, simply because we enjoyed the feel of the car better, so even better fuel efficiencies are no doubt possible.

So which car would we choose? From purely an economic standpoint, the Prius c clearly has the advantage. Even though you pay $6,445 more for the Hybrid Synergy setup ($16,800 versus $23,245 as tested, that sum could be recouped in several years if you frequently drive around town with gentle pressure on your right foot, and fuel prices continue to escalate.

By our calculations, the Prius c achieved roughly 10-mpg (or more) better fuel consumption than a Yaris on a real-world route. So if you drive 15,000 miles per year, in round numbers you'd burn less than 350 gallons in the Prius c, compared with nearly 455 gallons in the Yaris (assuming you keep your foot in it like we did). So roughly speaking (and literally here as well), if you venture to the high country like we did, you'd save 155 gallons a year, or $620 in annual fuel costs. That means you could recoup the extra cost of the Prius c in about 10 years. Or probably even less, if you keep your foot out of it.

Driving Style
In addition, keep in mind that there are other advantages of a Prius c, such as access to the HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes in congested areas. And maintenance costs should be lower as well, since there's not the usual collection of engine accessories (starter, alternator, power steering pump, accessory belt), and the brake pads shouldn't require replacing due to the regenerative braking system (at least in theory).

Of course, being thrifty isn't everything in life, and consuming fewer hydrocarbons comes at a cost in both comfort and ride quality. After all, you have to live with a car long-term, and you presumably want a happy relationship. So if you often take longer drives on rough-and-tough routes beyond city limits, the 2012 Toyota Yaris delivers a more satisfying experience overall, and is still frugal in fuel efficiency. While not fast and furious, it's certainly fun and friendly.

Pros and Cons
Prius c Pros:

•Perpetual-motion fuel efficiency with a videogame dash display
•Snakes through traffic and parks as easy as a Segway
•Potential cast member for the Big Bang Theory TV show.

Prius c Cons:

•"I think I can" performance on long, steep grades
•Easily intimidated by pickups and SUVs
•Interior as warm and inviting as a Frigidaire.

Yaris Pros:

•Latest model boasts no-embarrassment styling
•Decent handling for the dollar
•Acceptable combination of economy and livability

Yaris Cons:

•Vin Diesel's next vehicular victim
•Flimsy package tray for cargo area
•Still somewhat a girly man's car
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