Toyota’s Prius v is the wagon in the four-model Prius line-up, and returns unchanged for 2014 along with its outstanding spaciousness-to-mpg ratio.
Called the “v” for versatility, the mid-sized car borrows its powertrain and styling cues from the world’s best-selling hybrid, the Prius Liftback, and ranks in the U.S.’ top-five.
Now a couple years into its product life cycle since launching in fall 2011 as a 2012 model, Toyota says the v will get a mid-cycle refresh at some point, “a freshening is in the works,” but timing is un-stated.
Overall, while not a born athlete, the front-wheel-drive family hauler is average or better in all important points of comparison and its efficiency and utility make it worth a closer look.
They Call It a ‘v’
Toyota’s pithy “v” moniker could just as well stand for Very good fuel economy and emissions. As the EPA chart below indicates, for its 97-cubic feet passenger volume, its 42 mpg is respectable.
This it delivers by nearly replicating what’s under the hood of the 50-mpg, 250-pound-lighter and smaller Prius Liftback.
The electric motor that lets it run electrically part time is used at opportune intervals at various road speeds by the cleverly programmed hybrid control computer which balances fuel economy and acceleration.
Paired to the electric motive source is a 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle, four-cylinder gasoline engine that delivers 98 horsepower at 5,200 rpm. Together with the motor, the hybrid system generates a combined 134 net horsepower.
The v uses a customary continuously variable transmission (CVT), which acts like an automatic transmission but employs infinite ratios rather than preset gearing. These ratios are a little easier than when equipped in the regular Prius to compensate for the Prius v’s extra weight.
Electrical energy is stored in a nickel-metal hydride battery pack and regenerative braking recharges it along with the motor/generator. Stop/start technology also saves fuel by automatically shutting off the engine when the car comes to a stop and restarting it when the brake pedal is released.
The system carries over four driving modes – Normal, Power, Eco and EV.
Power mode maximizes throttle input at the expense of fuel economy; ECO has less brisk acceleration but provides the best mileage; and EV mode allows driving at low speeds for about a mile on electric power only. The normal mode, which is the default when the car is started, is somewhere between ECO and Power when it comes to fuel mileage and acceleration performance.
The Prius v was rated as a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety but subsequently the IIHS noted less stellar results from its new small-overlap crash test involving a head-on collision into half of the car’s front on the driver’s side.
This is a tough test, the Prius v remains solid and packed with safety tech throughout, and other cars have fared moderately in the test as well. To improve small overlap results, Toyota says it’s looking at a range of measures across its product lineup, but offered no comment on the Prius v at this time.
Certainly the car being heavier and larger has inherent safety compared to some subcompacts with less bulk surrounding the occupants.
Toyota designed it from the ground up to be larger in all dimensions over the Prius Liftback.
Wheelbase is 109.4-inches compared to 106.3 for the Liftback. Length is 181.7 inches for the v next to the Liftback’s 175.6 inches. Width is 1.2 inches more, and height is a not-insubstantial extra 3.3 inches yielding more cargo space and passenger room.
Space behind the rear seat is 34.3 cubic feet and this increases to 40.2 cubic feet when the back seats are moved forward.
Folding the 60/40 split rear seats flat yields 67.3 cubic feet.
As a car approaching a minivan’s utility, with seats folded flat, we were just barely able to squeeze an 18-inch framed mountain bike in the upright position afer removing the bike’s seat and seatpost and front wheel and locking the front fork into a quick-release holder bolted to a board.
In the rear cargo space also is a sub floor concealing the battery, and two removable Styrofoam utility trays about 8-inches deep or so.
In a pinch, while maybe not recommended, the rear sub-floor and trays could be removed, and a tad more height and volume could be had for over-stuffing.
The décor inside and surrounding the techno-look central info displays and controls is relatively plain, but filled with cubbies, a dual glove-box, overall roomy front and back, and space utilization is satisfying.
Toyota makes the v in three different trim levels
The base Two, starting at $26,750 plus destination fee, gets 16-inch alloy wheels, includes heated mirrors, keyless ignition/entry, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, automatic climate control, cruise control, a height-adjustable driver seat, a fold-flat front passenger seat, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat that slides and reclines, and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, iPod/USB audio interface, and Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity.
The Three, starting at $27,515 plus destination, is upgraded with navigation system controlled by voice or buttons, rearview camera, satellite radio and HD radio, and a panoramic sunroof is optionally available.
Toyota’s Entune infotainment system is also include with the Three version. This works by connecting your smart phone via Bluetooth or a USB cable allows Entune’s features to be operated using the vehicle’s controls or, for some services, by voice recognition. Mobile apps for Entune include Bing, iHeartRadio, MovieTickets.com, OpenTable, and Pandora. Entune data services include a fuel price guide, sports scores, stocks, traffic and weather.
The car we drove was the Five. starting at $30,395. With the $343 Preferred Accessory Package (mats, rear bumper appliqué, cargo net) plus same-for-all versions $810 destination fee, it stickered at $31,548.
Standard equipment included 17-inch alloy wheels with 215/50 low rolling resistance tires, foglights, automatic LED headlights, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and easily cleaned SofTex upholstery with heated front seats.
The Drive Experience
Anyone familiar with a regular Prius would feel right at home with the push-button start up, shift by small blue wand, and acceleration feel is similar.
Actually, it’s around half a second slower to 60 mph, achieving this in the low-mid 10-second range. If you mash on the accelerator, all available gas and electric power does a decent job of giddying up and going, but it’s not a world-class sprinter – slower than a Volkwagen Sportwagen and Ford C-Max, for example.
The engine note also increases to fairly urgent-sounding as the same powertrain as in the Liftback works hard to comply. Under ordinary driving however, it’s a pleasant enough experience, and usually pretty quiet.
As for handling, if you want a sporty drive, you’ll need to look elsewhere – or modify it; swaybars, dampers, braces, and other components are available via the aftermarket. However, the Prius v as delivered does what it was engineered to do with acceptable control.
Ride quality is smooth, bump attenuation is alright – though we did get a rude jolt once or twice descending into a couple potholes we failed to swerve and miss.
Speaking of swerving, at highway speeds, transitioning quickly from side to side reveals an ever-so-subtle sway like feeling. The higher center of gravity, weight, and suspension rates, unsurprisingly, do not make this vehicle feel ready to hastily whip sideways as some other more adroit competitive cars.
Strong side winds can also be disconcerting, and another reason for the most demanding buyers who want a sharper, more steady car, to investigate suspension mods, and one aftermarket hybrid tuning specialist told us these won’t violate the warranty.
This is not to say the v feels nervous or unsafe, and must be fixed. Indeed, it would make a great road trip car with all the room and economy. It tracks predictably without a fuss, but road-holding capability is not as sharp as, say, a VW Sportwagen.
For most people shopping this segment it will be fine, and the fuel economy makes it a strong proposition.
We had no problem meeting the EPA’s combined 42 mpg estimate, averaging in the lower 40s in mixed driving.
Kind Of Unique
There are other economical wagons or near wagons, but the Prius v is close to being in a class of one. The nearest competitor is the slightly smaller, quicker, more nicely appointed C-Max.
Toyota offers its reputation for quality and it meets its EPA numbers which – unlike the Ford, optimistically and inaccurately rated initially at 47 mpg city/highway/and combined – have not needed to be revised downward twice, and as the chart shows, by quite a bit.
In sum, the Prius v has delivered – and continues to deliver – what it is positioned to be.
It’s an effective balance of attributes, building on the heritage of the Prius, and worthy of the family name.