First Drive: 2012 Toyota Prius v Two (prototype) Review by Henny Hemmes +VIDEO
By Henny Hemmes
Senior European Editor
The Auto Channel
• SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyers Guide
REDONDO BEACH, CA - December 6, 2011: When unveiling the FT-CH Concept in Detroit in 2010, Toyota announced their plan to use the Prius name for a line of new hybrid models, not hybrid variants of existing ones. Therefore, the FT-CH Concept is considered as the predecessor of a small Prius model that is due to arrive in the near future and is meant for younger customers.
In the U.S., the Prius was 2009’s best selling hybrid with more than half of all sales of hybrid models. It also was the third best selling Toyota, behind Camry and the Corolla. Since the Prius was introduced in 1997 more than 2 million units have been sold worldwide.
However since the competition increased – Honda came up with the cheaper Insight and Ford took the 2010 American Car of the Year with the new Fusion Hybrid - Toyota was forced to quickly develop its hybrid model line. The Japanese manufacturer announced that they were bringing a plug-in variant of the Prius on the market this year. The impact of the tsunami disaster that stuck Japan in the spring may have caused a set back for the arrival of the plug-in hybrid, which is expected to have a fuel economy of some 115 mpg!
In the meantime, the Prius v debuted earlier this year at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit and will be the first new Prius to join the liftback model. It became available a few weeks ago at the end of November.
From the B-pillar backwards, the 'v' is the six inches longer version (181.6 in) and brings more Versatility (hence the ‘v’) than the original Prius. By the way, in Europe the new model will be called Prius +.
With the length and the higher back hatch, the v offers more cargo space than its iconic brother, as well as more leg and headroom for passengers in the back. Persons up to 5.9 ft will not feel their heads brushing the ceiling. Rear seats can slide forward and back, and recline for more headroom. Cargo space doubled to some 34 cu.ft with the seatbacks up and with the 60/40 split seatbacks both down there is 67.3 cu.ft.
The front end of the Prius v is the same as the third generation Prius, providing good aerodynamics (Cd 0.29), which is of course essential for fuel saving.
The mileage does not seem to be much affected by the 232 pounds of extra weight: the 'v' puts 3,275 lbs on the scale. The EPA estimates 42 mpg and my first test drive in the greater LA area averaged 39.73 mpg. Please bear in mind that I am driving as I normally do: not slow, but pushing the throttle from time to time. In European terms it means that the Prius v used 25.6 liters of gas to cover a distance of 432 km, an average of 16.9 km per liter, or 5,9 l/100 km. Not bad at all!
Just like the liftback, the Prius v will be available in three trims, the Two, Three and Five. I drove a basic Prius v Two prototype, sitting on P205/60R16 tires (standard on the v Two and Three). It lacked the flash based navigation system, which will be available for the Three, but allowed Bluetooth hands free phone calls with controls on the steering wheel, where the audio and climate can be controlled. The 6-inch screen in the prototype also had the standard back up camera display with trajectory lines. The top of the line Five will get advanced technologies, such as a hard-drive based navigation system with a 7-inch LCD screen. Toyota also introduces its Entune system that will be rolled out in other models too. It enables hands free phone calls, iTunes tagging, music streaming via Bluetooth, access to Pandora Internet radio and text-to-voice to read cell phone texts messages.
The Prius v is equipped with the same Hybrid Synergy Drive system that we know from the current Prius. It combines the 1.8-liter engine with en electric motor and NMH batteries, good for 135 hp and can be driven - just like the lift back - in gas, electric or combined mode. No different feeling from the well-known Prius, as the co-operation between the engine and electric motor goes practically unnoticed. Toyota says that the system is tuned for more torque than the hatchback’s 104 lb-ft, now 105 lb-ft.
When driving on the highway, the gasoline engine performs at a satisfying level, but when you get into the mountains it feels a bit underpowered.
Watch TACH's exclusive Prius v promo video
In the Prius v you can select by means of buttons in the center console between Eco for fuel economy, EV for electric mode alone (which does not take you further than one mile) and Power for increased throttle response. When you do nothing, the car automatically defaults to a “normal” set up.
I kept the Prius in Normal for most of the time, trying to operate it like a determined hybrid driver would do. Also because in Eco mode the car feels underpowered, while in Power mode, there is the negative influence on fuel efficiency. I used Power a couple of times and the car feels more responsive, but overall Normal was satisfying indeed. Information on efficiency and energy use can be displayed on the screen, but there is also a little graphic display in the instrument panel that shows you if the battery sucks up energy, or if you are sipping gas.
The v provides a somewhat more comfortable feel than the hatchback and my friend travelling on the passenger seat in the back did not complain at all. Bumps in the road are evened out pretty good. The handling is nimble, but steering feel can be somewhat better. Honestly, I hope this will be improved in the production version.
So far, I believe Toyota has successfully made the next step with the Prius v. This model meets demands of drivers who need more space and offers a proven drivetrain. Do not expect a high quality interior, but more main stream (we see a hard plastic dash). But details are nice and technology is up-to-date. And last but not least, the price is pretty good, too. MSRP for the Two is $ 26,400, the Three $ 27,165 and the more luxury Five $ 29,990.