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The 2018 Prius c hybrid shown in Tide Pool Pearl.

The fact you are reading an article about the Toyota Prius us tells something about you: Either you are trying to save money or trying to save the planet — or, possibly both.

Toyota's iconic, gas-electric hybrid, the Prius, proved that drivers of a certain bent were willing to give up a little performance — and perhaps pay a little more — for a car that would return stellar gas mileage in the range of 50 mpg.

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The interior of the 2018 Prius c is simple and functional.

FAST FACTS

* Model: 2018 Prius c Four

* Exterior color: Tide Pool Pearl

* Interior color: Cool Gray

* Engine: Hybrid Synergy Drive, gas-electric

* Horsepower: 99

* Transmission: CVT

* Fuel economy: 48 mpg city, 43 mpg highway

* Local Dealer: North Georgia Toyota, Capital Toyota, Toyota of Cleveland

* Price (as tested): $26,779

Toyota has gotten so good at making the Prius that it now offers a full range of vehicles with the Prius badge. Today, we look at two bookends of the model line: A sub-compact Prius c with a MSRP of $26,779 (think of it as a baby Prius) or the larger and more powerful Prius Four Touring for $33,703, after options. Either Prius will get you from A to B, but the roughly $7,000 premium for the Prius Four Touring buys more space, more power, interior upgrades and better fuel economy.

Since we have already tapped you as a prudent purchaser, maybe what matters more to you is having that extra $7,000 things like groceries at Whole Foods or new camping gear from Rock Creek.

The Prius was last redesigned in 2016 so most technical specs and standard features carry over for the 2018 model year.

Prius models are available locally at Capital Toyota, North Georgia Toyota and Toyota of Cleveland, although none of the stores keeps a deep inventory of the little fuel-sippers. Let gas prices creep back up to around $4 a gallon, though, and the inventory will swell.

DESIGN COMPARISON

While it was in our driveway for a week, our boys dubbed the Prius c the "Jelly Bean." With its fluorescent blue color and cropped nose and tail, the Prius c has a cute factor that is either endearing, or not, depending on your point of view.

Our 16-year-old son, for example, was not a fan of the baby Prius. He drives a towering, voodoo-blue Toyota FJ Cruiser that made the Prius c look like a Hot Wheels car. Our 12-year-old son, on the other hand, thought both Prius models were cool looking, although he favored the larger Prius Four Touring.

I never got into the Prius Four Touring, with it's giant 11.6-inch touchscreen, without thinking that this is the poor person's Tesla Model 3. ("Poor" is relative, I realize, but you know what I mean.) If you want a futuristic, fuel saving vehicle with a potent electric motor, the Prius Four Touring does much of what the Model 3 promises for considerably less money.

Meanwhile, the black and white interior of the Prius Four Touring looks like it was designed by penguins. It's actually a cool combination as long as you don't mind sunlight bouncing off the white dash. Also, I was always afraid the kids would smear a Popsicle on the leatherette seat covers. (Fortunately, they did not.)

My list of "likes" for the Prius Four Touring included: avant-garde exterior styling, an open cockpit, great visibility, terrific armrests, roomy back seat and the aforementioned iPad-sized display screen.

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The futuristic interior of the 2018 Toyota Prius Four Touring features an 11.6-inch display screen.


View other Test Drive stories by Mark Kennedy



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Design positives for the pint-sized Prius C are: compact steering wheel, great build quality and refinement, simple controls, attractive Soflex synthetic seat covers, and nice alloy wheels. (We cherish small tires because they are so much cheaper to replace, and, yes, that means we are getting old.)

PERFORMANCE

Although both Prius models feature an Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine mated to a battery-powered electric motor, the Prius Four Touring boasts the most powerful and, surprisingly, the most-fuel efficient power-plant. The bigger Prius features 121 (combined) horsepower, compared to 99 (combined) horsepower for the smaller Prius c.

The small Prius returns 48 mpg city, 43 mpg city. The bigger model gets 54 mpg city, 50 mpg highway. Both will save you in the neighborhood of $3,000 over five years in fuel costs (when compared to the average vehicle).

In commuter traffic, the Prius c's continuously-variable transmission droned uphill. This trait is problematic if you live at altitude. The Prius c will get you up Signal Mountain, but it will not be happy about it. The Prius Four Touring, by contrast, makes good use its extra 22 horsepower, with comfortable uphill pulling power.

BOTTOM LINE

If a hybrid sedan is in your future, any shopping excursion starts with the Prius, which still defines the segment. Depending on the depth of your pockets, both of the Prius models tested here are fine vehicles.

Grab the Pruis c if you live in the flatlands and rarely need to carry more than a couple of passengers. Go for the Prius Four Touring if you live on a hill and lust for a Tesla, but can't stretch your budget that far.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.

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The 2018 Prius Four Touring is shown in Hypersonic Red.
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