2012 Toyota Prius vToyota's new Prius v hybrid adds space to outstanding fuel economy
Hybrids have become part of the American consciousness. While a few hybrids have had a modicum of success, the main reason gas-electric propulsion has caught on is the efficiency and reputation of the Toyota Prius. Not only has the Prius sold well for a hybrid-accounting for 53 percent of the hybrid market-it has been a perennial top 20 seller. Starting with the 2012 model year, Toyota is taking advantage of that success by making Prius its own sub-brand, eventually expanding to four Prius models. The first of those is the 2012 Toyota Prius v, a bigger, more versatile wagon that still offers outstanding fuel economy.
Like the Prius hatchback, the 2012 Prius v uses Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive system. It consists of a 98-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine aided by two electric motors. Motor Generator 1 (which Toyota calls MG1) puts out 42 kW (56 horsepower) and acts as a generator to charge the battery. MG2 makes 60 kW (80 horsepower) and aids the engine to move the vehicle. The Nickel-Metal-Hydride battery puts out 36 horsepower, and Toyota says total output is 134 horsepower. The transmission is a continuously variable automatic.
While the Prius v is six inches longer and 232 pounds heavier than its hatchback sister, it delivers power much like the hatchback. That's because Toyota has given the v a lower gearing ratio, which aids low-end power. The electric motors also aid low-end torque, making the Prius v feel like a more powerful car from a stop. Power and responsiveness at higher speeds is lacking, though, which explains the leisurely 10.4-second 0-60 mph time and the lack of much passing punch.
Driving Options, Fuel Economy
Toyota provides three buttons on the Prius v that can also change the driving experience. Hit the PWR button and the throttle becomes more willing and responsive. The car isn't any faster 0-60, but response is more immediate so you can get out ahead of traffic. Choose the ECO mode and throttle response is dulled considerably, but it's easier to get good fuel economy. Finally there is the EV mode, which uses electric power alone up to 25 mph for up to one mile. Unfortunately, this mode doesn't improve fuel economy because it drains the battery, requiring the engine to fire to help recharge it. Careful drivers can achieve the same result by going light on the throttle.
Despite the size, fuel economy for the 2012 Toyota Prius v is still exemplary. EPA ratings are 44 mpg city/40 highway (42 combined) compared to 51/48 (50 combined) for the Prius hatchback. While eight mpg is quite significant for less efficient vehicles, the difference is much less up around 50 mpg. For example, a car that gets 20 mpg will require five gallons of gas to go 100 miles while a vehicle that gets 28 mpg will need 3.57 gallons, for a difference of 1.43 gallons. By comparison, over the same distance the Prius will need only two gallons and the Prius v will use 2.4, for a difference of a negligible 0.4 gallons.
Pleasant Road Manners
Though larger, the Toyota Prius v drives very much like the Prius hatchback. This is no sports car. Instead, it's a very comfortable, pleasant wagon. The ride is almost luxury car smooth. Bumps are handled with ease and Toyota has even introduced a new pitch control feature that applies or reduces torque to help smooth out the ride on uneven roads.
Not surprisingly, handling is rather dull. The Prius v leans more in turns than the average family sedan, but it's not excessive. In fact, on some twisty roads in Northern California, the Prius v felt surprisingly controlled. The steering, while slow and with little feel, is predictable. Fortunately, the brakes are linear and progressive, not grabby like in many other hybrids, including some Toyota products.
The main reason to buy the 2012 Toyota Prius v over its hatchback brother is space. Toyota doesn't call it a wagon, but that's what it really is, and the design gives it 58 percent more cargo room than the hatchback. With the second-row sets folded down, there is 67.3 cubic feet of cargo room, which is about as much as a Ford Escape. While the load floor isn't perfectly flat and the rear seats only fold down from the sides, the space is still quite useable. It's even handy with the second-row seats up, with at least 34.3 cubic feet of volume. That's as much as many hatchbacks have in total, and it can be expanded to 40.3 cubic feet by moving the sliding rear seats forward.
Passengers will also be comfortable. Prius v second-row seats recline to aid long-trip comfort and have enough width to fit three passengers. Front seat occupants have good head and legroom. The driving position is fairly upright, which is typical of Toyota, but drivers should find a comfortable position thanks to a standard tilt/telescoping steering wheel.
Though space is quite good, the ambiance is less than luxurious. Hard plastics dominate the dashboard and there are few soft-touch surfaces. The materials are a step or two below the average family sedan or wagon, but returning Prius customers will be used to this level of build quality.
The Next Step in Connectivity
With the Prius v, Toyota is launching Entune, a multimedia system that works through your smart phone to access mobile apps. Initially, Toyota is offering just a few apps, but others will likely come later. With Entune, drivers can stream Pandora and iheartradio, perform Internet searches through Bing, make dining reservations through OpenTable, and make purchases at movietickets.com. Other information often available through satellite radio can also be accessed, including live traffic and weather, sports scores, stock prices and information of fuel prices and gas station locations.
All of the Entune features are accessed through a 6.1-inch or optional 7-inch dashboard touchscreen. We found the features to be easy to find and use, though they are subject to the reception of your wireless network.
Drivers can take in other information, too. The 2012 Toyota Prius v has a Multi-Information Display below the windshield displays the trip odometer, gear selection, battery state of charge, and a graph that shows real-time driving efficiency. The dashboard screen has more hybrid-based features, including an Energy Monitor screen that shows the power flow between the engine, battery and electric motors, and a Trip Information screen that shows the amount of energy regenerated and fuel economy in one-minute increments. Eco-conscious drivers will want to use these features to help them drive more efficiently.
In keeping with the green theme, the Prius v offers optional SofTex upholstery, which looks like leather and is 50 percent lighter than other synthetic leathers and emits up to 99 percent fewer volatile organic compounds when made. Also optional is an eight-speaker JBL GreenEdge audio system, which is also light in weight and consumes less energy than traditional systems.
One of the strengths of the standard Prius hatchback is its flexibility. It has room for five and decent cargo space. The 2012 Toyota Prius v expands on those strengths, offering the carrying capacity of a small SUV or crossover while still delivering thrifty fuel economy. Buyers looking for power, sportiness or a coddling interior environment will be turned off, but green-oriented families will find it to be an even handier hybrid than the already useful Prius hatchback. www.toyota.com