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2015 Toyota Prius C
The 2015 Toyota Prius C is sleek, roomy and affordable.

Prices: $19,540-$24,475

The Toyota Prius has been among the top-selling cars in California. There are various Prius models, but the entry level Prius C (for "City") shines especially during city driving--and also does well on highways

A good 2015 Prius C model is the $24,475 Prius C "Four," which is the top-line version. There also are the  Prius C One, Two and Three trim levels, with list prices ranging from $19,540 to $21,765. All are four-door hatchbacks with front-wheel drive.

Power comes  from a 1.5-liter 99-horsepower gas engine and battery pack put below the rear seat so it doesn't take up space and contributes to the highly aerodynamic car's low center of gravity.

Acceleration is lively in town and good on freeways/highways, where the 65-75 m.p.h. passing time was faster than I expected. The Prius C generates 99 horsepower but that's enough because this car isn't overly heavy at approximately 2,500 pounds. However, while the interior is quiet, the drivetrain is rather noisy during hard acceleration.

All Prius C models use a responsive, smooth CVT automatic transmission.

The ride is fairly  supple, but some may feel it's too firm on bumpy roads. My test car was generally fun to drive, although the quick steering felt dead, proving little road feel.

Handling of my test Prius C was good, with virtually no body lean when sweeping through fast curves. Helping here  were the car's optional 50-series (versus standard 65-series) tires on 16-inch (versus 15-inch) wheels. The wider the tire, the better the grip.

The brakes on earlier gas/electric cars felt odd, but they feel normal on the Prius C.

Estimated fuel economy is  an impressive 53 miles per gallon in the city and 46 on highways. There's decent room for four tall occupants, or for five in a pinch. Wheelbase is 100.4 inches, with wheels pulled to the far corners of the car for more interior room and better stability.

Gauges are easy to read, but using the dashboard screen takes some practice. I would have preferred some simple dashboard knobs to, say, control the sound system. Front cupholders are set too low under the dashboard.

The Prius C Four, which I tested, is the best-equipped. Standard features include a power slide/tilt sunroof, integrated backup camera and heated front seats, which provide unusually good support.

Not that the other Prius C models aren't decently equipped.

Even the Prius C One  has power mirrors with turn signal indicators, 6.1-inch touch-screen display, AM/FM/CD player, MP3/WMA playback capability,  4 speakers, auxiliary audio jack, USB 2.0 port with iPod connectivity and control, voice recognition, hands-free phone capability, 3.5-inch TFT multi-information display with fuel economy and cruising range information and music streaming via Bluetooth wireless technology. There's also 4-way adjustable front seats, tilt/telescopic wheel with steering wheel controls and remote keyless entry.

The fancier C Two adds a piano black front grille, soft-touch interior accents, 6 speakers, fabric-trimmed two-tone seats, auxiliary audio jack, 6-way adjustable driver's seat and--importantly--60/40 split fold-down rear seatbacks.

The cargo area under the padded hatch, which has a low, wide opening, is only moderately large. But the split rear seatbacks sit flat when shoved forward and greatly increase the cargo area.

The C Three adds a push-button start and even more electronic gadgets, including a 6.1-inch high resolution touch-screen with split screen display. Options include a tilt/slide sunroof with a sliding sunshade.

Safety features on all models include air bags and easily buckled safety belts. 

My test car had very bright orange paint and was adorned here and there with insignias saying it was a hybrid.

The Prius C shows that Toyota is an old hand when it comes to well-designed gas/electric cars.