2012 Toyota Prius C: Tight Turning Circle, or Maybe Not
May 31, 2013
I've driven a couple of examples of the 2012 Toyota Prius C. The first was a loaded 2012 Prius C Four. I took it out on our One Lap of Orange County suburban fuel economy loop and coaxed 58.2 mpg out of it without much coaxing. It loves city traffic.
For all that, this high-mpg city runabout couldn't flip a U-turn to save its life. It failed miserably in front of my house, and my street isn't all that narrow.
At 37.4 feet its turning circle was simply dismal. By contrast, our long-term 2013 Lexus GS 350 F-sport cleared the curb comfortably.
Today, our 2012 Toyota Prius C Three long-term test car flipped around with even more room to spare than the Lexus. This result makes more sense. A small car optimized for urban environs should run circles around a big Lexus, even if that Lexus has a trick 4-wheel steering system.
What's up with the Prius C Four, then? Why the big difference?
The Three comes with 15-inch wheels and tires and a 31.4-ft turning radius. So does the Prius C Four, when it comes to that, but at that trim level you have access to a $1,150 option that includes 16-inch alloy wheels and tires and a sunroof. Thing is, they throw in the crappy 37.4-ft turning circle — exactly six feet worse — at no extra charge.
This all comes about because the 16-inch tires are also 195 mm wide, some 20 mm wider than the stock rubber. But the wheel offset differs to prevent the extra rubber from sticking out. Instead the extra tread shifts inward toward the inner fender liners.
This is no problem in a straight line, but in parking lots at full lock that extra 20 mm is significant. The engineers were forced to mechanically restrict the ultimate steering angle to prevent rubbing. This, of course, Bogarts the turning radius.
The tale of the tape tells the story. The asphalt part of my street is 31 feet 8 inches wide, with two additional feet of gutter to the curb. That's 33 feet 8 inches total from my starting point at the starting seam to the base of the opposite curb.
When all is said and done the closest protuberance of our 2012 Prius C Three's front bodywork clears the curb by 2 feet 8 inches, which means it spins around in exactly 31 feet, a wee bit under Toyota's number.
If I attempted this with a Prius C Four equipped with alloys and a sunroof I would have ended up on my neighbor's lawn, possibly the sidewalk.
Moral of the story: If you go for the top-level Prius C Four, think long and hard about the 16-inch alloy wheel and sunroof option. Save your money if you live on a narrow street, regularly park in tight quarters or have a general aversion to 3-point turns. Six feet is a lot to give up in a city car.
Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @15,888 miles