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by Jez Spinks

The Toyota Prius C has been launched in Australia, with a $23,990 starting price making it the most affordable hybrid car on sale in the country.

The city-sized Prius C, which at 3995mm long is about the size of Toyota’s own Yaris on which it is based, significantly undercuts the previous cheapest petrol-electric model, the $29,990 Honda Insight.

Toyota’s smallest hybrid is also notably cheaper than its more famous namesake, the regular Prius that costs from $33,990. As reported by CarAdvice earlier this year, however, the Prius C isn’t any more fuel efficient than its bigger and heavier sibling.

The Prius C has an identical official fuel consumption figure of 3.9 litres per 100km – and CO2 emissions of 90g/km – though importantly the smaller Prius uses less petrol in urban areas (3.7L/100km v 3.9) according to the government test cycle.

The apparent anomaly is a result of the Prius C’s smaller engine having to do more work at the higher speeds demanded of the test’s Extra Urban cycle.

Toyota says the Prius C produces a combined power output of 74kW from its 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and electric motor, compared with the 100kW delivered by the regular Prius’s 1.8-litre engine and electric assistance.

As with the Prius, the Prius C sends its power to the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission.

The suspension comprises struts at the front and a torsion beam rear end.

At 3995mm long, the Prius C is 110mm longer than a Yaris, but it’s the same width (1695mm) and a bit shorter (1455 v 1510mm). The hybrid city car’s wheelbase is 40mm longer at 2550mm.

The base model Prius C weighs 1120kg, making it 85kg heavier than a Yaris five-door auto but 245kg lighter than the Prius.

Toyota says the Prius C offers more interior space for both front and rear occupants than the Yaris.

The Toyota Prius C is offered in two trim levels, both of which are equipped quite generously.

The entry-level, $23,990 Prius C (second image from top) comes with keyless entry and engine start, a 6.1-inch touchscreen audio display, Bluetooth/USB/iPod connectivity, CD player, reversing camera, 3.5-inch information display, cruise control, foglights and 15-inch wheels (with a full-size spare).

The Prius C i-Tech (third picture down), which costs $26,990 before on-road charges are added, introduces further features that include satellite navigation, LED headlights, electrically retractable side mirrors, rear spoiler, higher-grade trim and upholstery, and 15-inch alloy wheels.

The cheaper Prius model will be an important part of Toyota’s ambition to sell more than a million hybrids annually.

“Prius C is further evidence of Toyota’s commitment to achieving greater market penetration for hybrids by making this core technology more attainable for a wider audience,” said Matthew Callachor, Toyota Australia’s executive director sales and marketing.

Toyota, though, says supply restriction will limit local sales of the Prius C to about 1000 for 2012. The company says it has received more than 120,000 orders for the model in Japan, where it’s known as the Aqua.

The Toyota Prius family will expand further in 2012 in Australia, with the arrival later this year of a hybrid model at the other end of the spectrum – the bigger Prius V that brings seven seats and more boot space.

CarAdvice is at the local launch of the Toyota Prius C and will post a full first-drive review later today.

Click to read CarAdvice’s review of the Toyota Prius V.