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2012 Toyota Prius v 'Preview' Review - VIDEO ENHANCED

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2012 Toyota Prius v


To say that the Toyota Prius has been successful is massive understatement. Where I live, it sometimes seems like every other car is a Prius. Prius owns the hybrid market, with over half the hybrids sold in this country and over a million sold here since its debut in 2000. And, according to Toyota, 97% of those are still in operation.

But Toyota is not a company to leave things alone. The Prius family is growing. This Fall, the familiar sedan will be joined by a larger derivative, the Prius v.

That's "v" as in the letter, not the Roman numeral for five. That's "v" for "versatility". As the Matrix is the the Corolla, so the v will be to the regular Prius sedan, now know as the Liftback. It's larger, especially inside, than the Liftback, but smaller and more efficient than the Highlander Hybrid, and so plugs a hole in the Toyota lineup. And there's more where it came from, as during its recent press introduction Toyota announced that new hybrid models will be arriving in the next 20 months -- including more additions to the Prius line in the form of the plug-in model of the Liftback and a smaller model, called the Prius c.

   • SEE ALSO: Complete Toyota Buyers Guide

At a quick glance, the v looks little different from the current Liftback. Place the two side-by-side, and there are indeed differences. The v is six inches longer on a three-inch stretch in wheelbase, 3.3 inches higher, and just over an inch wider. The shape, while similar, is subtly different, with a higher rear section for even more cargo capacity. It's stylistically related to the Liftback, for good reason: aerodynamics, for both fuel efficiency and interior quiet. Details are important, and the tiny fins molded into the headlamp covers are not merely for style, they are for air management - to keep turbulence, and so noise, away from the outside mirrors. A smooth underbody further decreases drag.

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2012 Toyota Prius v

The Prius v is not merely a stretch job, it was designed from inception for its larger interior size and cargo capacity. Greater use of lightweight high-tensile steel in the unibody structure and aluminum body panels keeps weight down, improving efficiency and performance. The optional dual-pane moonroof is not heavy glass, but lightweight polycarbonate. It reduces weight by 40 percent compared to glass, and offers good insulation from heat or cold.

Watch TACH's exclusive Prius v promo video

Underneath, the Hybrid Synergy Drive drivetrain is familiar from the sedan, combining a 98-horsepower 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine with a 80-hp traction motor, motor-generator, and NiMH battery pack for a total system horsepower rating of 134. The final drive ratio has been reduced from 3.2:1 to 3.7:1 to compensate for the v's 230-lb greater weight, allowing quicker acceleration than otherwise. Fuel economy is expected to be 44 mpg city, 40 highway, and 42 overall.

There are four driving modes. In addition to the default standard mode, Power mode increases midrange response to better cope with hills and passing. EV mode allows the Prius v to run on battery power alone for short distances, about a mile, and at low speeds. (Want more of that at higher speeds? Get on the list for the plug-in model) Eco mode changes drivetrain management to give priority to fuel economy by changing throttle response and limiting power consumption by the climate control system among other actions.

Although the v's suspension is of the same MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear design as the Liftback's, it's revised in tuning and geometry for the larger, heavier vehicle. Pitch and Bounce Control, an active damping management system, decreases body motion from roll and pitch to improve both comfort and handling ability.

Inside, there's more passenger space and 58 percent more cargo space than in the regular Prius, which is already a paragon of space efficiency. Three grades will be offered: the Prius v Two is the base level, although with standard full-gadget audio, integrated backup camera, alloy wheels, and a 60/40 split rear seat that reclines up to 45 degrees, with each part individually adjustable fore and aft it's hardly "base". The Three adds navigation and the Microsoft-developed Entune™ multimedia system that can use smartphone applications including Bing, Open Table, heartradio, and Pandora. The Five adds synthetic SofTex upholstery trim, which looks and feels more like leather than most synthetics and is lighter and more environmentally-friendly as production is cleaner than typical materials. The Five also gets LED headlights, for lower energy use, and other interior upgrades.

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2012 Toyota Prius v dashboard

In all, the instrument panel has been revised for easier reading of instrumentation and use of accessories.

The 2012 Prius v will have the full suite of Toyota safety features. The unibody structure is designed and built to absorb crash forces and protect occupants. As in all Toyotas, the Star Safety System™, consisting of Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), traction control, antilock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), and Brake Assist is standard. So is the Smart Stop Technolgy brake override system. There is a full complement of airbags, and the Vehicle Proximity Notification System helps to alert pedestrians and cyclists of an oncoming electric-mode Prius by issuing a warning sound.

The press introduction was held in Monterey, California, about one hundred miles south of San Francisco. After a short briefing on the Prius v's features and capabilities, it was time to drive. The Monterey area is good for that, with a wide variety of highways and little-used back roads. The drive route encompassed everything from smooth highway pavement to narrow country roads that just may have been laid out by following goat paths and were paved accordingly. All examples for the drive were pre-production Fives.

With the same power as the Prius Liftback and a couple of hundred pounds more weight, the v is, unsurprisingly, no fuel dragster. Toyota literature lists the 0-60 time as 10.4 seconds, which is on a par with most small cars and crossovers and adequate for highway merging. Noise levels are remarkably low thanks to aerodynamic management and lightweight but effective soundproofing.

Unexpectedly, the Prius v is actually fun to drive on the fun roads. It's no sports car, but the Pitch and Bounce Control system does keep it, and passengers, composed even when pavement maintenance hasn't been done in far too many years.

There was no time to do a thorough investigation of the interior features, so that will have to wait until I get one for a week, after it goes on sale. Although it doesn't look much larger than the Liftback from outside, and doesn't feel any larger on the road, the Prius v does have a remarkable amount of well-utilized space inside. If you want a hybrid with interior space and are left cold by the current crop of hybrid crossovers, the upcoming 2012 Toyota Prius v is definitely worth a look.


2012 Toyota Prius v

Base Price $ n/a, expected to be slightly more than the Liftback

Engine Type aluminum alloy 16-valve DOHC inline 4-cylinder Atkinson cycle with VVT-i variable valve lift and cam phasing

Engine Size 1.8 liters / 110 cu. in.

Horsepower 98 @ 5200 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 105 @ 4000 rpm

Transmission electronically-controlled CVT

Traction motor-generator permanent magnet AC synchronous, 650V

Horsepower 80

Torque 153 lb-ft

Battery pack 6.5 AH 201VDC NiMH

Maximum system horsepower 134

Wheelbase / Length 109.4 in. / 181.7 in.

Curb Weight 3274 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 24.4

Fuel Capacity 11.9 gal.

Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium recommended

Tires P205/60R16

Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, plus regenerative braking. ABS, EBD, BA standard

Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / torsion beam axle

Drivetrain transverse front engine and motor-generator, front-wheel drive


EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon

city / highway / observed 44 / 40 / n/a

0 to 60 mph 10.4 sec