As I approached this all new Prius the first thing I notice is the size. Not that it’s “minivan big” or anything like that, but it’s noticeably larger than the compact line up Prius is known for. So right out the gate, I’m labeling this weeks test vehicle somewhat of a grocery getter / growing family vehicle. Which by and large is well situated in today’s economy.
Exterior – As was mentioned at the outset, the new Prius V is big. It looks like more of a crossover vehicle then a compact car. The funny thing is it appears this way to your eyes but when parked side by side with a standard Prius, it’s really not that much larger. I do find that the angles, especially in the front of the car, are much more attractive, considering the overall boxy shape they had to contend with to get the size they were looking for. This is largely due to the updated fascia which is more angular and aggressive then past generations. The inset fog lamps and LED DRLs in the front grill, look rather nice as well. The design department seems to have borrowed a few queues from the Lexus CT. Which I think is a step in the right direction.
Interior – The cabin is obviously very roomy. The seats are plain but comfortable. The console is as well. The entire interior fit and finish has a utilitarian feel to it. The materials are simply hard plastics and so while it doesn’t give that soft comfortable feel, it will provide a space that is easy to keep clean and that can take a little abuse. This is great for a family with young ones or those with pets. The blue collar worker will also find the interior functional with ample room in the hatch, even before utilizing the split fold down seats. As with the previous Prius, I dislike the centered gauges and not just the positioning, which I do hate, but I found the elongated readout to be too cluttered. It’s like this, when you hear a warning ding, you expect to glance downward behind the steering wheel and take note of a red or orange light which would indicate whatever the issue maybe. However in this car, when a warning ding is heard, and you glance over to the right to see the cluster, your eyes are met with a bevy of lights and gauges. And they all seem to compete for your attention. So instead of quickly identify the problem, you find your eyes roving to and fro looking for the warning (a dangerous thing to do while traveling at speed). I suppose one would get use to where everything is over time. Yet I had this car for a little over a week and I never really became comfortable with it.
Rear seat leg room is comfortable and satisfactory for 2 adults and the head room is even more impressive, adding 3” over the standard Prius. But the biggest advantage to the V is cargo space. The storage area behind the rear hatch leaves ample room even before you fold down the seats. With the seats down, there’s little the average impulse shopper could grab that won’t fit back there eg. 4 burner gas Grill, 60” TV, Off-road bike. They’d all fit.
Tech – The Prius v is one of the first Toyotas to offer the Entune™ multimedia system. This innovative new system interacts with your mobile smartphone providing access to navigation, entertainment and information services. It accomplishes this via mobile apps, such as Bing, OpenTable, and movietickets.com, along with accessing useful travel-related services, such as live weather, traffic, fuel information (location and price), stocks, and sports. If you’re a serious about your music, Entune brings over 750 stations along with Pandora’s personalized music service. But all and all I find it to be too much. Navigating through it is fairly simple.
Performance – I sure hope no one is expecting a high revving, corner hugging thrill ride. This new larger Prius is pulled along by a 1.8 liter Aluminum DOHC 16 valve engine with VVTI (variable valve timing) which produces 98 HP. That engine is paired up with an Electric motor, which adds another 80 hp and 153 lb-ft torque. The Prius V offers 4 driving modes to manipulate the engine performance. Standard, Eco, EV and Power. EV mode is battery only and can only be maintained for a short distance. But it’s nice when you’re quietly pulling into your garage or toward an area with lots of people as the car can enter the space emissions free. In Eco mode, you find that the car is mapped for maximum fuel efficiency. All power is dialed back a notch or two from the standard driving mode. This is very noticeable as you accelerate from a red light or stop sign. Even the AC runs more efficiently in this mode. Power mode brings both the Electric and gas motor life. This is obviously the least efficient mode to travel in but very necessary for those times when you’re jumping into an established line of traffic and real acceleration is crucial.
A new feature to the Prius is the Pitch and Bounce Control. This uses the torque of the hybrid motor to enhance ride comfort and control. The system, working with wheel-speed sensors and in tune with the suspension, helps suppress bounce and toss motions to improve comfort for occupants. Because it helps control the balance and posture of the vehicle as a whole, it also functions to improve handling response.
Suspension enhancements to improve ride comfort and control have been given much attention in the Prius V as well. Being a larger, more family oriented vehicle, calls for a suspension equipped to handle heavier loads. Therefore the front coil-over spring and damper capacities have been significantly increased and a new upper support has been designed. The stabilizer bar is also repositioned for more responsive steering feel and enhanced ride comfort.
Summary – Toyota builds the Prius around the idea of simplicity and function over form. This philosophy has worked well for Toyota. The added size and rugged construction makes for a welcome addition to the, on the go and forever growing, Prius crowd. The new technology, both within the suspension and in car technology are nice upgrades to the old line of Prius’. But as I drove the car around and talked with people about it, I began to notice a trend. Younger single woman, moms and older woman alike, all like this car. They appreciate the size, the style and friendly carbon foot print left behind. While the guys feel it’s too bland and too bulky. The guys all see the purpose it serves, but wouldn’t consider buying it for themselves. Now, this will in no way hurt Prius sales. But it goes to show how important that Lexus CT that we reviewed earlier is. They would do well to consider those that want this kind of mileage without sacrificing so much style and power. There is a large pool of automotive enthusiast with active families looking for a vehicle to fill such a niche. Perhaps a Hybrid corolla?