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2012 Prius v (nee Toyota Prius) First Drive

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Toyota Reveals Prius Family of Vehicles at the 2011 Detroit Auto Show (NAIAS) - COMPLETE VIDEO

Not a Toyota Prius Anymore, Just a Prius v
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

The smart folks at Toyota have decided that they will make a separate breed of the popular Prius hybrid and add a family of other hybrid vehicles to that stable. Much like Lexus luxury division and Scion youth division the new Prius division will make its own way in the world – sort of. Toyota, of course, remains the parent company.

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This new Prius v (‘v’ is specifically lower case and stands for versatility) is the second vehicle for this family. Next will be a smaller Prius “C” in early 2012 and then a plug-in version later. In this case they’ve taken the existing Prius, which has more than 50% of the hybrid market here in the U. S., and added 6 inches in length, 3 inches in width, one inch in height and 3 inches in wheelbase, increasing by more than half-again the cargo space (with rear seat folded), while adding substantial passenger space making it essentially a station wagon.

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The shape and appearance is so close to the recognizable shape of the existing Prius we would have trouble distinguishing them one from another without seeing them side-by-side. Look closely and you can see that they’ve raised the rear roofline and spent a great deal of effort on aerodynamics. In fact, this one has an exceptional coefficient of drag of just .29, with, among other details, little ridges on top of the headlight housings to split the air just enough to mitigate the effect of the outside mirrors.

Power comes from Toyota’s tried-and-true hybrid Synergy drive, the third generation of the gasoline/electric hybrid system that has powered the Prius since its birth. A nickel-metal hydride battery pack supplements the small gasoline engine to make around 134 horsepower in total - 98 horsepower comes from the 1.8-liter gasoline engine, the rest from the electric motor. That may sound like an unusually small number for a midsize car and it is, but it really doesn’t feel as tepid as you may think.

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Four driving modes are driver selectable – EV, Eco, Power and Standard. With the EV mode you can go about a mile on electric only but regenerating that battery power will take longer than would be practical to use it for stop-and-go urban traffic. These modes allow customization of the power delivery to maximize efficiency based on the driving environment.

Toyota does not like to fit the Prius v into a category, like station wagon, crossover, 5-door hatchback, so I guess I can call it whatever seems most appropriate to me, and I say it feels like a station wagon. They just refer to it as a midsize, family-friendly vehicle.

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The 60/40 split rear seat reclines 45-degrees, slides and folds flat. Behind that second seat we have a substantial 34.3 cubic feet of space to store our stuff, more than most small crossovers and SUVs and more than any hybrid. More storage is under the rear floor. And, if we slide the rear seat to its most forward position with seat backs up we have 40.2 cubic-feet of space. Fold the rear seatbacks down and we get 67.3 cubic-feet. Total passenger volume is an impressive 97.2 cubic-feet.

Available on the Prius v is a premium “environmentally optimized” audio system by JBL called Green Edge ™. Lower weight of the system components and lower power consumption, they expect, will impress the early adopters and environmentally conscious customers who will consider this car. Also new inside is an innovative new heat, AC, ventilation control knob that twists and rocks. I like that piece a lot.

The European and Japanese markets will get a three-row seat version of the Prius v, but here in the US we only get the 5-passenger, two-row seat version. Across the big ponds they’ll also get a new lithium-ion battery pack, perhaps portending li-on availability here someday.

The Prius v will be at dealers sometime this fall, though our Toyota folks won’t specify a particular month or date. The introduction was initially delayed because of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated northern Japan but we’re assured that all the Japanese Toyota production plants are back to 90% capacity, so they expect no further delays. We’ll see.

Prices for the Prius v have not been announced but we expect the premium over the regular Prius price will be a couple thousand dollars, making its base price range from about 26 to 31 grand depending on the trim level you choose. Three trim levels are planned for the v to begin with. The basic car is quite well equipped and with the higher levels come larger wheels, more sophisticated audio, fancier lighting, more luxurious seating and trim.

The typical Toyota warranty applies with three years or 36,000 mile coverage on the whole car, five years or 60,000 miles on the powertrain and five years with unlimited mileage on corrosion perforation. Additionally, the hybrid-related components are covered for eight years or 100,000 miles.

We’ve always worried about the cost of replacing a battery pack if it wears out or goes bad. Originally the pack cost was around $5,000. Now it is less than half that. Don’t look for a lithium ion pack here soon even though its smaller and lighter with greater power density. The cost is still too much higher.

We had the opportunity to spend an hour in the Prius v driving around rural Ann Arbor, Michigan last week to get a feel for it. Like previous models this Prius is a pleasure to drive. It’s not fast or flashy and it doesn’t draw admiring looks but it is entirely pleasant to drive and for those in the know it makes a statement on your personal commitment to environmental awareness.

We’ll have a more thorough review and road test of the Prius v when it becomes available in the fall. So watch this space.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved