First Drive: 2012 Toyota Prius v

By Charles Krome

Toyota hosted a media launch event for the Prius v this week, and yours truly was on hand to get up close and personal with what will be a key part of the automaker’s lineup when it goes on sale this fall. The vehicle represents Toyota’s effort to expand sales of its hybrid offerings by offering an expanded hybrid, in this case one that delivers 50 percent more cargo room than the Prius proper. Naturally, that requires increased dimensions all around, so the Prius v sits on a wheelbase that is 3 inches longer, while also being 3.3 inches wider, 6 inches longer, 1 inch taller and 232 lbs. heavier.

Perhaps more importantly, the bigger vehicle isn’t quite so slippery as the standard Prius, which sports a coefficient of drag of just .25. The Prius v is still able to achieve a Cd of .29—an impressive accomplishment in its own right—but the resulting fuel efficiency of 44 mpg city/40 mpg highway/42 mpg combined did cause some discussion at the event of whether Toyota could have done better. The “regular” Prius, as a reminder, posts an EPA line of 51/48/50, with the combined rating being 16 percent better than that of the Prius v. But the Toyota execs on hand didn’t seem worried, and after driving the vehicle, I’m in full agreement with them.

My driving partner and I covered a 38-mile loop through beautiful Ypsilanti, Mich., and we turned up a very strong mark of 43.8 mpg. And that’s even though the car was a pre-production model that we weren’t exactly hyper-miling. It’s not that the Prius v is any kind of high performer, though.

The powertrain is the same as that used in the Prius, with a 1.8-liter I4 that makes 98 hp/105 lb.-ft. of torque and electric assistance worth 36 hp/153 lb.-ft. of torque. But that doesn’t go too far pulling around 3,274 lbs. The Prius v gets off the line in acceptable fashion, but it seemed to run out of steam almost immediately. Accelerating from 25 mph to 40 mph was off-puttingly slow, and that was with just me and one other passenger. With a family of four inside and its capacious rear cargo area filled up, the Prius v is likely to feel too underpowered for some drivers.

The actual ride and handling were disappointing as well, although a combination of my high expectations and the fact that this wasn’t a production-ready vehicle may have contributed to my opinion. The Prius v was surprisingly stable and well-planted, even in sharp turns, but it was also noisy and overly stiff, and this is where my expectations came into play.

During a presentation before we were able to drive the vehicles, a lot was made about the Prius v’s extensive NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) countermeasures and Pitch & Bounce Control system. The latter can adjust the torque coming from the Prius v’s electric motor to mitigate the effect of rough road surfaces, of which we covered plenty. But as I said, in the real world, the vehicle’s ride was sports-car firm and delivered a much rougher ride than I was expecting.

I also had some issues with ergonomics. As in the Prius, all gauges and readouts are in a center-mounted binnacle, but while the binnacle’s hood sort of gradually slopes down toward the driver’s side of the dashboard in the original, and is slightly closer to the driver than the passenger, its positioning and design have become less driver-friendly in the Prius v. Here, the console is truly centered, which means the information is that much further away from the driver, and the console no longer flows into the rest of the dashboard, which ends up emphasizing the long stretch of empty dash in front of the driver. And with a windshield that’s been sharply raked for aerodynamics, there’s a lot of empty dash to look at before you see the road. Gathering some of the most important driver controls together in their own strip of accenting is a cool touch, however, and in terms of both esthetics and ease of use.

The overall quality of the interior was quite good, with soft materials on the dash showing sophisticated patterns and designs, above-average seat comfort, a large two-compartment glovebox, and relatively large window openings that brought in plenty of light. The steering wheel is worth calling out, as the bottom half is flattened somewhat, and while we’re not talking about a a full-on racing wheel here, the difference is noticeable.

They’ll be some new technologies on display in the cabin as well, with available goodies like Toyota’s new Entune infotainment system, a one-dial climate control system, lightweight and power-saving GreenEdge JBL audio components, a resin (not glass) panoramic sunroof, and a more environmentally friendly premium interior fabric.

Of course, the big difference-maker with the Prius v is its flexible second-row seating and commodious cargo space. The car offers 34.3 cubic feet of space even with the back seats up, 40.2 cubic feet with the back seats pulled forward all the way and 67.3 cubic feet with the seats folded flat. To put this into context, the Chevrolet Equinox provides 31.4 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 63.7 with those seats down. And note that the Prius v, at 181.7 inches long, is six inches shorter than the Chevy.

Yet despite Toyota’s focus on positioning the Prius v as a vehicle with plenty of storage and cargo space, there are notable nits to pick: The vehicle doesn’t have an interior hatch release, for example, and the lift gate is a fair bit narrower than the cargo hold, which could make it difficult to take full advantage of all that room. Also, getting back to the cabin area, there is only one center cupholder up front; there’s another that pops out of the dash on the passenger side—which is asking for trouble—but U.S. customers’ preference for multiple beverage holders is well known, and I am shocked that the Prius v has so few.

And I would have preferred to see a better middle seat in the back row. I asked about this, and reading between the lines on the answer I got, it’s obvious the Prius v should be thought of primarily as a four-passenger vehicle with the ability to go three across in the rear if you have to wedge in a trio of kids. There’s nothing wrong with that approach per se, but for a vehicle aimed at families, the ability to sit three people in comfort in the back seats would have been a nice bonus.

Finally, let’s take a look at the exterior of the Prius v. If you see it on its own, the Prius family resemblance is unavoidable; put it next to the Prius, and the differences are marked. The front of the Prius v in particular is more sleek and aggressive, thanks in large part to the extra aerodynamic work, and the sheet metal nicely disguises the vehicle’s large rear end, from most angles anyway. There are also some standout details, again due to the automaker’s focus on aerodynamics, including a unique rear roof-mounted spoiler and subtle “ridges” on the lenses of its headlights. I wouldn’t say the exterior design of the Prius v is cohesive, but it’s certainly not a bad-looking car.

The 2012 Toyota Prius v is slated to go on sale this fall with an MSRP that will be—per Ed Larocque, national marketing manager for alternative technology vehicles for Toyota U.S.A.—a little higher than the average transaction price of the Prius. Based on that kind of vague statement, my guess is that it will sticker somewhere around $25,000.

It all adds up to a very compelling package for the Prius fan who needs more space than the standard Prius can offer. The problem is, that’s not whom Toyota is targeting. According to Larocque, the automaker doesn’t expect the Prius v to do much competing for customers against the Prius proper. Instead, he seems to think the new vehicle will be able to stand on its own as a fuel-efficient alternative to small crossovers, SUVs and station wagons. But as tough as it was for Toyota to develop a hybrid that gets 42 mpg combined and still has more cargo room than 80 percent of the small SUVs on the road today, getting SUV and crossover shoppers to even look at a vehicle as un-trucky as the Prius v may be harder.

Author: Charles Krome

Charles Krome is a long-time automotive journalist who spent more than 10 years on the inside at General Motors and Ford, and also has corporate communications experience with Audi, Porsche and BASF Automotive Refinish. As a big motorsports fan growing up in the Detroit area, Krome was lucky enough to be able to attend numerous NASCAR, Indy car, F1 and SCCA events while still in his formative years. This, combined with a childhood that included significant (passenger) seat time in cars from Lotus and Jensen Healey, made him a car guy at an earlier age. Today, he lives in metro Detroit with his car wife, raising car kids.

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1 Comment

  1. It’s about the same size and the Venza. I wonder why Toyota hasn’t created a hybrid versions of Venza?

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