2012 Toyota Prius vPosted on July 22nd, 2011
Versatile hybrid wagon seats five passengers
By Nina Russin“A happy family is but an earlier heaven,” said the Irish playwright and critic, George Bernard Shaw. What is true for people also applies to cars. Families of vehicles offer buyers what stand-alone models cannot. Toyota’s expanded Prius lineup will eventually include three new models, giving fans of the current lift-back options which accommodate their changing lifestyles.
The 2012 Prius v arrives in dealerships this fall: eleven years after the first model debuted in the United States. The “v” stands for “versatility.” The first member of the extended Prius family is a five-passenger car with a larger cargo area to meet the needs of active families.
While Prius v fuel economy is slightly lower than for the lift-back, EPA estimated 42 miles-per-gallon should appeal to buyers wanting minimize their carbon footprint.The Prius v comes in three grades: Two, Three and Five. Toyota has yet to announce pricing, but says that MSRPs will start between $25,000 and $30,000.
The powertrain is essentially the same as for the lift-back: a 98 horsepower four-cylinder engine which works in concert with two electric motors to develop 134 net horsepower. Dimensionally, the Prius v is six inches longer, three inches taller and an inch wider than the lift-back, translating to better headroom for both rows of passengers and a 34.3 cubic foot cargo bay with the rear seats in place.
The coefficient of drag is slightly poorer than the smaller car: .29 as opposed to .25. That and some additional weight account for the decrease in fuel economy.
Test drive in Boulder, ColoradoThe mile-high town of Boulder, Colorado was host to a media event for the new Prius wagon. Product planners wisely showcased the new car at altitude, since hybrids exhibit less parasitic power loss than cars with traditional gasoline engines. They also accelerate harder on steep grades, since the electric motors develop peak torque at very low speeds.
The test car was the Prius v Two: the least expensive of three available grades. All models come with keyless entry and push button start, automatic climate control with pollen filtration, rearview backup camera, and a MP3 compatible audio system with a USB port and satellite radio.
Our 65-mile drive route took us northwest out of Boulder through the mountains towards Estes Park before returning to town by a similar route. It included approximately 2500 feet of elevation gain on winding mountain roads with some extremely steep grades. Despite driving rather aggressively, average fuel economy was 46 miles-per-gallon: four miles-per-gallon better than the EPA estimate.
A mouse-type device on the center console interfaces with the continuously variable transmission. The driver can choose between a basic drive mode, more fuel efficient “eco” mode, or an electric motor only motor mode which functions at low speeds. A “B” mode functions similarly to low gears on a traditional transmission, using the brakes to slow the car down on steep grades. As with the original Prius, regenerative braking on the Prius v helps to recharge the vehicle’s nickel-metal hydride battery pack.
Although a 134 horsepower powerplant seems small for a midsized car, acceleration is robust, thanks to the electric motors. Zero-to-sixty acceleration is 10.4 seconds. The Prius v was able to keep up with or pass other cars on steep sections of the mountain roads during the test drive.
Steering feedback from the electric power steering is quite good, with similar on-center response to a traditional hydraulic system. The car’s 16-inch wheels are on the small side for aggressive performance. Buyers who want a larger footprint can upgrade to 17-inch rims on the upscale Prius v Five.
The suspension system consists of an independent MacPherson setup in front and a compact torsion beam system in back. It is compliant without feeling overly soft. The torsion beam’s compact design is ideal for a vehicle intended to maximize cargo space.
Four-wheel disc brakes stop the Prius v in a firm, linear fashion.
Visibility around the perimeter is good, with the exception of the back corners. The severe rake of the rear window makes it harder to see out of than a traditional back glass: hence the standard rear backup camera.
Containing vehicle weight in the interest of fuel economy meant a compromise on sound insulation. The Prius v isn’t noisy, but as with the Prius lift-back, road noise at higher speeds is apparent. Passengers in both rows of seats shouldn’t have problems conversing or enjoying the car’s sound system.
Competent around-town performance
Although the Prius v is larger than the lift-back, its dimensions are compact enough for crowded urban areas. A 36-foot turning radius makes it easy to park on the street or perform the occasional U-turn. A new parking guidance system which comes with the available technology option package coaches the driver through parallel parking maneuvers.
Overall vehicle height is well within limits for urban garages and the track is narrow enough to fit in the average vertical parking slot.
New Entune system features downloadable appsBoth the Three and Five grades come equipped with display navigation and Entune: a new connectivity feature which allows owners to download popular apps including Pandora, Open Table, Bing, IHeart Radio and Movie tickets. The system is compatible with iPhones, Androids and most Blackberry smart phones.
The apps become available for download early in 2012. The system also includes real-time news, weather, stocks, sports and traffic information via XM satellite radio. Vehicles equipped with Entune come with three years of complimentary service.
Spacious interiorBuyers familiar with the Prius lift-back will be impressed with the additional interior space which the Prius v offers. The passenger compartment can accommodate five adult passengers. The car’s lack of a floor tunnel gives the middle passenger a reasonable amount of legroom.
Designers did an excellent job of equipping the interior with plenty of large bottle and cupholders. A twelve-volt power point at the base of the center stack recharges portable electronic devices, while two bins hold smart phones and small packs respectively. A dual glove box provides concealed storage space for front row passengers, as does a spacious center console bin.
I found both the gauge cluster and center stack screen easy to read in a variety of lighting conditions. Designers revised the standard energy monitor display to make it more obvious that the ignition is on. There is also a standard audible alert for pedestrians to prevent accidents in crowded parking lots when the car is in EV mode.
Buyers who purchase the upscale Five grade can add an option technology package which includes a JBL audio system, dynamic cruise control, safety connect telematics and a panoramic view moonroof with power sunshades.
With the rear seats in place, there is ample cargo space for a weekend’s worth of luggage, coolers, some small camping equipment and groceries. The second-row seats fold flat in a 60/40 pattern, enabling the Prius v to easily meet our bicycle-friendly standards.
The Prius v comes with Toyota’s star safety system which integrates antilock braking, traction and stability control in a manner which is invisible to the driver. Other standard safety features include seven passenger airbags, active front head restraints, hill start assist and a tire pressure monitoring system.
The factory warranty term includes three years or 36,000 miles of comprehensive coverage. Hybrid components are covered for eight years or 100,000 miles.
Likes: A versatile, bicycle-friendly hybrid wagon with exceptional fuel economy and seating for up to five adults.
Model: Prius v
Base price: Under $30,000
As tested: N/A
Horsepower: 134 net from gasoline engine and electric motors
Torque: 105 lbs.-ft. @ 4000 rpm (engine); 153 lbs.-ft. (electric motor two)
Zero-to-sixty: 10.4 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 44/40 mpg city/highway
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