Q-Tip. Jell-O. Windex. Marketers would sell their souls to achieve the name brand recognition these products have attained. Never mind you’ve just wiped your kids nose with a Scott tissue, it’s always called a Kleenex. And when it comes to hybrids, well, you know exactly where I’m going.
Never mind that Honda has been making hybrids as long as Toyota, the Prius name is the gold standard. The car has become a halo for Toyota and they believe Prius will ultimately become their most popular model, outselling even Corolla and Camry. A pretty tall order considering their popularity.
Toyota being among the most savvy marketers in the biz (or any biz for that matter) has decided to leverage the Prius name and create a whole family of Prii. So in addition to Prius classic (a Coke anyone?), Toyota is rolling out the Prius V. Simply put, it’s a bigger station wagon edition of everyone’s favorite planet saver. V stands for versatile.
Available in the fall of 2011, Toyota only hints that V will be priced “accordingly higher” than Prius liftback.
How Much Larger?
V is about six inches longer, an inch wider, and three inches taller than it’s older sister. Interior volume is similar to a RAV4. Elbow room is nice and fine but Prius is all about fuel economy so let’s cut to the chase. At an EPA rated 44 city, 40 highway V’s fuel economy isn’t as high as the original (51/48) but for a larger vehicle it’s quite good.
There’s a bit of grumbling in the automotive scene about what the US doesn’t get with the V- a third row of seating available in Europe and Japan. Ed LaRoque, National Marketing Manager for Toyota Advanced Technology Vehicles explains it this way- “To put the third row seat in the V we need to use a smaller more expensive lithium-ion battery. The combination of the two expenses plus the small size of the seat makes it less attractive for the American market. The take rate for the third row on the similar sized RAV4 is only five percent.”
A Strong Family Resemblance
Like a Double Stuff is clearly like the original Oreo, V is very much seen as a Prius. During its photo shoot, many walk by oblivious to the station wagon silhouette. Others do curious double takes. Part of that strong family resemblance comes from the very aerodynamic shape with a Cd of .29. The two use the same chassis (the Vs is stretched a bit) but share no body panels. Even headlamps are different with V gaining a transparent wind-calming fin that directs airflow away from the side mirrors, keeping the cabin quieter at highway speeds.
Prius Vs powertrain remains essentially the same, a 1.8-liter Atkinson cycle 4-cylinder gas engine and two electric motors for a combined 134 horsepower. Torque from the primary electric drive motor (Motor Generator Two) is rated at 153 lb-ft. The battery found in the rear is Nickel-Metal Hydride and the transmission is a continuously variable unit.
Despite its added dimensions, weight gain has been kept to 230 pounds. High performance has never been the Prius mission, V does 0-60 runs in 10.4 seconds which is a bit slower than its sister, generally clocked at 9.5. In case Al Gore III is reading, top speed is 103 miles an hour.
When cruising, the V is on the quiet side of average so road trips will be pleasant. Pushed hard in the city or on hills, the gas engine is clearly heard working away. Ride quality also remains much the same despite some tweaking of big brother’s suspension.
There’s very little road feel from the steering wheel but the body doesn’t roll excessively in harder cornering. Stay in the Costco parking lot and off of the autocross course and the target audience will be happy.
A new feature called Pitch and Bounce Control uses wheel-speed sensors and the torque of the electric motor to keep Prius V from porpoising and bucking on those undulating sections of freeway. It’s also used to improve handling. Seems to work, hard to know since it’s pretty seamless and I’m driving unfamiliar roads near Monterey, CA.
In cast you’re unfamiliar with Toyota’s Synergy Drive, it pulls away on electric power and the gas engine smoothly kicks on as speed rises or more oomph is needed. The battery gets charged when coasting or braking, this is not a plug-in hybrid. The engine shuts down at stoplights.
Déjà Vu All Over Again
Prius Maximus operates just like the standard model. The familiar joystick operation for drive and reverse remain, so do the four drive modes of normal, power, eco and EV that allows short low-speed runs on electricity alone.
Like the exterior, the cabin is different from the liftback Prius. The center-mounted electronic instrumentation is more readable but those who prefer real gauges mounted directly in front of them will want to look elsewhere. The classic and mesmerizing energy flow chart is on a standard LCD display in the center stack. V gets more storage down the middle including a gianourmous center console and a stealth cupholder that pulls out into the large open storage area where the 12v power port and USB jack are located.
At the press event we are driving pre-production vehicles so it’s not fair judging material quality. That said, it doesn’t appear there will be a lot of pizzazz, a direction Toyota seems to be heading lately. The charcoal hued interior of my tester uses a unique padded and brushed vinyl surface in front of the driver, much of the rest of the cabin is constructed of hard plastic. Two gloveboxes, are the automotive equivalent of a walk-in closet.
Important to maintaining high fuel economy is lowering the car’s weight. Toyota uses some neat tricks, the optional panoramic roof is made of resin that’s 40 percent lighter than glass and a better insulator on hot days so the climate control doesn’t work as hard. Also lightning the load is synthetic leather called SofTex (no it’s not Naugahyde). At half the weight it doesn’t create emissions the way leather manufacturing does. The more efficient JBL sound system has also been to Jenny Craig.
Standard USB port and Bluetooth handles iPods and phones. Like them, Prius now has apps. The new Toyota Entune service can run Bing search and Pandora streaming music. Other apps include Open Table or MovieTickets.com. Just hook your Android or iPhone into the system, Entune uses the smartphone’s data plan and does not requite a separate tethering plan. Make sure you have a large enough data plan if streaming Pandora on a long road trip. Makes me wonder what this will do to XM/Sirius.
The back doors on the Prius V are definitely wider than the standard model, making it easier to get squirmy kids and the gear they require in and out easier. V stand for versatility and that promise is kept in back. Three average adults will be comfortable here with plenty of headroom. The seats do just about everything possible to expand the cargo space- slide fore and aft, recline, and split 60/40. Map pockets on both seatbacks, bottle holders in the door storage, and a folding arm rest are all here. Wish there was a convenient power port for charging electronics, it’s back in the cargo area.
Toyota says Vs wagon-like cargo space is nearly 58 percent larger that the hatchback Prius and bigger than the back of Equinox, Element, Escape, and Rogue. Remove the headrest and the front passenger seat lies flat so V can swallow long things like surfboards and ladders. A storage slot under the load floor keep the security shade in the car, not the garage. Nice touch.
The “Jeep” of the Hybrid World?
Toyota is clearly putting their faith in the Prius name. Other planned family members include the Prius Plug-In, a version of the classic hatchback that can travel purely on electric power for up to 13 miles on a charge, and a new smaller model called the Prius C scheduled for sometime in 2012. Not exactly a Lexus or Scion brand, the strategy is similar to the 70s and 80s Corolla which came in a number of different body styles and sport variants.
Prius owners are rabidly loyal and an awful lot of them come to check it out the V whenever it’s parked. All are impressed with the extra space and additional visibility, some disappointed it does keep the lofty mpg numbers. Dog Chow toting pet owners were especially keen on it.
There’s been over 1,000,000 Prii sold in the US and moving just a fraction of those loyal owners to the V makes it stand for victory as well as versatile. Families who like the eco statement Prius makes will be living larger with the V.
NOTE: In the streaming video, I talk about Toyota’s spec sheet specifying premium fuel is recommended. Speaking with Toyota engineers afterward, they have found that spec sheet had a typo. Prius v will use standard grade fuel.