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2012 Toyota Prius v Three Ride and Review By Carey Russ +VIDEO

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2012 Toyota Prius v Five

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2012 Toyota Prius v Three

Prius is no longer one Toyota model. It's rapidly becoming a complete lineup. The familiar sedan, which has practically defined the gasoline-electric hybrid genre, has been renamed Prius Liftback for clarification and joined by a plug-in hybrid version and the Prius v, a slightly larger car that neatly fills the gap between the Liftback and now much larger Highlander Hybrid crossover. And there are more variations coming, starting with a smaller Prius c slated for debut later this year.

That lower-case "v" is for "versatility". With a six-inch greater length on a three-inch longer wheelbase, a 3.3-inch growth in height, and width increased by just over an inch, the Prius v is just enough larger than the Liftback for significantly improved interior space, especially in the rear seat and cargo area, without the bulkiness of many current mid-size crossovers. The Liftback is a paragon of space efficiency, and that carries over to its newer and larger sibling.

The shape is familiar, enough so that a casual glance may not tell the difference, but the v does have a higher rear roofline as well as its modestly larger dimensions. Underneath, it's not merely the "Prius stretch limo". It's a new design that builds on the Liftback in concept and shape but in a larger 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.

Power is familiar, the Hybrid Synergy Drive drivetrain 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. A reduction in final drive ratio compensates for a 230-pound weight increase. There are four different drive modes, default, Power for hills and passing, Eco for further improvements in economy, and EV for battery power alone for short distances at low speeds.

Three grades (Toyota-speak for trim levels) are 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.

My first experience with the Prius v was at the regional press introduction in Monterey, CA last Fall. I had plenty of seat time, on roads ranging from major highways to marginally-paved country lanes, and got a good feel for the car's road manners. Which are remarkably good, as Toyota has made major revisions to the suspension tunings of many of its cars for 2012. With only part of a day in the car, and little spare time, I had only a cursory introduction to the interior. This was remedied with a Prius v Three being my test car for the past week. It's just as space-efficient as the Liftback, with more space inside and a wonderful rear seat. Exterior dimensions are still small enough for easy parking and navigation of congested roadways. With a couple hundred pounds more weight, yes fuel economy and performance don't quiet measure up to the Liftback's, but the 42.5 mpg average I got for the week is still better than any similarly-sized crossover will get. Bottom line? A bigger Prius is a bigger Prius, and the increase in space more than compensates for the slight decrease in economy.

Watch TACH's exclusive Toyota Prius v promo video

APPEARANCE: Without seeing the two side-by-side, it can be difficult to tell a Prius v from a Liftback. The extra size is not readily noticeable. The shape is familiar, but not quite the same -- the v has a higher tail, with less of a slope to the rear roof line, and there is more sculpting of the wheel arches and lower sides. It doesn't look like a crossover, it looks like a Prius.

COMFORT: Inside as well, the v is a Prius -- and a noticeably roomier Prius for rear passengers or cargo. At level Three, it's functional, not fancy, and no living things gave anything for its construction, at least since before they were the the raw materials from with the textured plastic instrument panel and synthetic fabric upholstery were made -- and that was a while ago. From the driver's seat, controls are familiar, if not identical. Instruments are in the center, and feature a digital speedometer readout and displays for power mode, fuel, charge, and systems information. The steering wheel may have a textured plastic rim, but there are controls for climate, audio, phone, and information systems and tilt and telescope adjustability. Cruise control is on a stalk. Dual gloveboxes in front of the passenger are only the most apparent storage -- there is more in the center console and doors. No complaints about front seat comfort or room, and none for the rear, either. That's where the "v" is. It's split 60/40, with each side independently adjustable fore-and-aft and for recline -- up to 45 degrees -- and foldable. Behind that is 58 percent more cargo space than in a Liftback, which has never been accused of lacking luggage capacity. Level Three has a navigation and the Entune infotainment multimedia systems as standard equipment, and AM, FM, and XM radio, CD, and auxiliary jack and USB/iPod playback as well.

SAFETY: The 2012 Prius v has 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.

RIDE AND HANDLING: It's no sports car, but the Prius v does give a much improved driving experience than any previous Toyota hybrid. Credit careful attention to tuning the suspension, which although of the same MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear design as in the Liftback has been modified for the v's greater size and weight. Further improvement comes from "Pitch and Bounce Control", a semi-active system that reduces body motion for a smoother ride and better handling. The Prius v corners well, within the limits of its tires, which are designed and built for fuel economy, not maximum grip, and is enjoyable to drive, as opposed to merely operate. The electrically-assisted rack and pinion steering does feel more like a video game control than steering in a car, but I can make that criticism of just about all electrically-assisted steering.

PERFORMANCE: No surprises under the hood, and none needed. The v's Hybrid Synergy Drive is shared with the Liftback, and so is a full-hybrid system capable of operating under gasoline or electric power or any degree of combination as determined by the control computer. Refinement increases with every new implementation, and it can be very hard to tell when power-mode transitions take place. Which is the point - it doesn't matter. The 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine produces maximum 98 horsepower (at 5200 rpm), with 105 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm. The permanent-magnet AC synchronous traction motor makes 80 hp and 153 lb-ft, rpm not given but electric motors make maximum torque as soon as they turn -- for very good low-speed acceleration. System maximum horsepower is 134. With a couple hundred more pounds of weight, the larger v is a bit slower in acceleration than the Liftback (0-60 in 10.4 seconds) and uses a bit more fuel, with EPA estimates 44 city, 40 highway, and 42 overall. I got 42.5 overall, using Power mode on hills and for passing and Eco mode most of the rest of the time. As with other hybrids, regenerative braking is a Good Thing, helping to slow the car at all times and especially on long descents.

CONCLUSIONS: Like the idea of a Toyota Prius but need more interior room? Your answer is here in the form of the 2012 Toyota Prius v.

2012 Toyota Prius v Three

Base Price			$ 27,165
Price As Tested			$ 28,287
Engine Type			DOHC aluminum alloy 16-valve inline
				 4-cylinder Atkinson cycle with
				 variable cam phasing
Engine Size			1.8 liters / 110 cu. in.
Horsepower			98 @ 5200 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			105 @ 4000 rpm
Traction Motor-Generator	Permanent Magnet AC Synchronous, 650V
Horsepower			80 @ n/a rpm
Torque				153 lb-ft @ n/a rpm
Battery pack			201.6 VDC6.5 amp-hour NiMh
Maximum system horsepower	134
System voltage			650V maximum
Transmission			CVT
Wheelbase / Length		109.4 in. / 181.7 in.
Curb Weight			3274 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		24.4
Fuel Capacity			11.9 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P205/60R16 91V Yokohama Blue Earth S34
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc
				 plus electromagnetic regenerative
				 braking. ABS, EBD, BA, VSC standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  semi-independent torsion beam axle
Drivetrain			transverse front engine and traction
				 motor, front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		44 / 40 / 42.5
0 to 60 mph				10.4  sec

Wheel locks						$  67
Emergency assistance kit				$  70
Carpeted floor mats					$ 225
Destination charge					$ 760