Prius V Delivers 42-MPG with SUV-like Space

A week-and-a-half ago, we posted some of the web’s first images of the Prius V, Toyota’s new larger version of the quintessential hybrid vehicle. Last week, we spent a few hours behind the wheel and can summarize the experience with two simple words: Mission Accomplished.

The company’s goal in producing a wagon-like version of the Prius—as the second model after the classic liftback, in an expanded Prius line—was to add more passenger and cargo room while still delivering stellar efficiency. Toyota Division Group Vice President and General Manager Bob Carter told HybridCars.com that he expects the V to bring in 15 to 20 percent more Prius buyers—almost a completely different group of new folks who historically reject the Prius liftback “just because of size and capacity.”

On behalf of the many hybrid fans clamoring for a fuel-efficient people mover with three rows of seats, we asked Mr. Carter if the version of the Prius V going on sale in Japan—dubbed the Alpha rather than V—would be coming to America. Sorry, folks. Carter said that model is not suitable to the U.S. market, because the third-row seats would be a very tight squeeze.

The V goes on sale in Fall 2011. The exact date, and exact pricing, has not yet been announced.

Same Hybrid System in a Bigger Body

The Prius V earns its additional room at the expense of 8 mpg. The V is bigger, wider and taller—but delivers an EPA average of 44 mpg in the city and 40 on the highway—instead of the 51/48 of the existing version. We gave the vehicle a hard drive around Half Moon Bay’s hills and coastal road, mostly using standard mode—rather than Power, Eco or EV—and found it almost impossible to bring the average mileage below 40 mpg. Other media teams were gentler and easily beat the 44 mpg estimated average.

Prius V
Prius V

The current Prius liftback is pinched for space, but the Prius V offers more room for people and stuff.

In a series of 30-minute and one-hour drives with ample curves, we found the steering and handling to be well-balanced if not downright elegant. The 1.8-liter V4 engine and hybrid system—the same one found on the liftback—was capable of the job of moving the larger format. Toyota keeps the nickel metal hydride battery technology on this version, but managed to slightly reduce the overall size of the pack.

For the first time, engineers employed the hybrid system to control what they call “pitch and bounce” by applying extra tension to the front wheels under some road conditions. We didn’t exactly feel that on our ride, but this version of the Prius maintained the overall driving profile its predecessor: comfortable, accessible and easy—if not exactly the most exciting ride. That’s okay. It’s not the reason for this vehicle. Its raison d’etre is to provide as much or more cargo space as nearly every small SUV on the road—and to stomp that competition on efficiency by granting 42 mpg when those vehicles commonly eke mileage in the mid-20 mpg range. The Prius V succeeds.

Interior build quality, as expected, ranges from near-luxury for the top-of-the-line trim levels to humble and basic for the cheaper trims. Layout and ergonomics is classic Toyota. It works. The company spent a ton of time at the media event talking up its Entune infotainment system, which when it worked provided some cool features—like on-board Bing searches that offered up maps to the navi or a call via a Bluetooth-linked phone with one push of the touchscreen. However, a number of the vehicles at the event had trouble keeping the data sync via Bluetooth.

The Camrification of Prius

Historically, people either love or hate the Prius’s wedge shape, and the dramatic curve of its liftback. No matter which camp you’re in, the Prius design is undeniable. For the front half of the Prius V, the iconic wedge remains in place—but the rear end breaks the mold. Engineers did a great a job of producing a very competitive .29 coefficient of drag—but this second Prius model starts to look slightly less like a Prius, and more like any other Toyota model.

Prius V
Prius V

It’s not a literal comparison, but going for versatility and appealing to mainstream buyers, could water down (even if just a little) what has made the Prius unique in the marketplace.

Perhaps this is intentional. After all, Toyota has hinted that it expects Prius to outsell its long-time mainstream mass-seller, the Camry, in a matter of years. You could view the shift in body design as a necessary gesture to bring in more buyers—or as diluting the Prius brand’s mojo. Prius has been exciting to the green set because it’s different and it leads in mpg. The Prius V is less unique, and although it still leads in efficiency for the functionality it provides, it’s simply no longer cutting-edge—especially in the era of electric cars and plug-in hybrids that have nominal EPA ratings heading toward triple digits.

In other words, maybe it’s finally time for the Prius to “cross the chasm,” that mythical marketing moat that separates early adopters from mainstream Middle America. The prospect of $5 gas is perhaps exactly the right time to move Prius into the heartland. However, one nagging worry is that in crossing the chasm, the Prius could be jumping the shark. As a derivative of the liftback, it looks fine—but if this was your first exposure to Prius, the sheet metal design looks back heavy. The Prius V’s large rear end is a bit awkward—not as bad as the Pontiac Aztek (widely regarded as one of the ugliest cars of all time), but any conjuring up of images of the Aztek can’t be a good thing. The Prius V stands for Versatility, just as the Aztek used this tagline when it was introduced more than 10 years ago: “Quite possibly the most versatile vehicle on the planet.”

So, let’s hope the Prius V is more of a Camrification of the Prius, rather than an Aztekification. And that those 20 percent of new Prius owners love their hybrids as much as the 1 million American Prius drivers already on the road—not for being ahead of the curve in terms of technology and design, but for being a solid practical choice in an era of high fuel prices.


  • Tom G

    I have an ’09 Honda Fit and an ’08 Prius. The Prius, despite being slightly longer and wider, has less space for stuff because of its slanted back roofline instead of the Fit’s boxed off back, so the design of the Prius V is a definite cargo improvement. If only the mpg dropoff wasn’t so steep and/or they could have crammed the third row of seating for kids on cross-town trips. For now, I’m more intrigued by the electric Fit.

  • FamilyGuy

    Could have, would have and should have with that third row. I’d even take a hit in the MPG bringing it down to the 30′s to get there. Who else has something in the 30′s to sit six? I’m not looking to spend Highlander type money just to get a hybrid that seats six. Bummer!

  • MrEnergyCzar

    I saw this at the car show and it seems very small for the states. Americans are breed to believe they “need” an SUV instead of “want”. Permanent $6-$8 per gallon gas should change this mistaken belief……

    MrEnergyCzar

  • Eric

    Good to hear the combined MPG is 2 points higher than previously reported. This is the ideal car for our small family. We don’t need no stinkin’ 3rd row. :) Can’t wait for the fall!

  • Gary Reysa

    Hi,
    Cargo volumes:
    Prius V 34 cf
    Forester 34 cf
    Honda CRV 35 cf

    Giving up 1 cf for twice the gas mileage seems like it will appeal to a lot of people ?
    The ground clearance and no AWD will be a problem for some SUV types.

    Gary

  • Mr.Bear

    There is a difference between a station wagon and a sport utility vehicle. SUVs are built for off roading. Station wagons are El Caminos built for hauling children.

    Call it a SW if it makes you feel better. But it’s not an SUV.

  • jim1961

    SUV types and Prius buyers are different groups entirely. SUV types typically have no interest in protecting the environment.

  • DownUnder

    It’s a hybrid wagon. Full stop. It has no 4WD ability and offroad clearance.

  • FamilyGuy

    Eric, we’re a family of two adults, two kids (both still in car seats). Every time, Grandma and Grandpa come for a ride, it’s two cars. Go to the park? Two cars. Go out for ice cream? Two cars. Go anywhere, it’s two cars. All of the kids aunts and uncles are from out of town. One of them comes to visit and we need to take a second car (no one is fitting in between two car seats).

    A 3rd row would save an entire car on the road for some situations. Just something small to squeeze a few people for a short ride. I don’t need a full time 3rd row of an SUV or full size mini-van.

    I’d be more then happy to trade a couple of MPG on one car to take a second car off the road completely during some trips.

    Mazda knows this and have a vehicle for it. Ford knows it, too, but their vehicle is coming in the future. But neither have it in a hybrid.

    Also, I agree with Sean T, it’s a wagon.

  • Eric

    FamilyGuy,

    I agree, there are always going to be situations where more space, more seats, etc. would be handy, but those are so few and far between that the 3rd row isn’t important to me. My comment was to the people who keep commenting that it must have 3 rows or it doesn’t make sense. Everyone has different needs, so just because it doesn’t work for you doesn’t mean it’s no good for anyone.

  • Nelson Lu

    It will be interesting to see how the C-Max Hybrid stacks up. Looks like the two vehicles will have very similar fuel efficiency figures and room, with the C-Max being shorter and taller.

  • Shines

    I feel compelled to comment on the styling and the article comparing the Prius to an Aztek (I hope the author was making the comparison tongue in cheek). I could name so many things wrong with the Aztek’s styling. It truely comes close to being the ugliest SUV ever made (I always thought it was a 4 door minivan that made a bad attempt at looking like an SUV). The Prius on the other hand is aerodynamic and beautiful. I think it looks better than the CRV, Rav4, Rogue or any other small SUV or wagon out there. Yes I know it is not an SUV. Most CRVs, Rav4s and other small SUVs are not used for off-roading anyway. As far as that third row goes, I suspect there will be after market “seats” made so that at least one extra person (child only) could sit in the back safely.

  • walter lee

    What is the 2012 Prius V curb weight and maximum payload?
    Did they change any of the driver’s display or controls?
    What kind of tires are they using?
    Does it have a full spare or a temporary tire or nothing ( the Chevy Volt doesnt have a spare tire)?

    The Prius V ground clearance is too low so its not likely to
    be considered an SUV.

  • Gary Reysa

    Jim,
    Not true that Prius buyers are a different crowd that SUVers.

    We have one of each, and I’d bet that this not at all uncommon.

    The Pirus is our 2nd one after wearing out the first one. We drive it whenever possible to save money and carbon, but there are times around here when an SUV is pretty much a must.

    I do agree for sure that most people who have SUVs have no need for their extra capabilities.

    Gary

  • Tiffany

    i like the web!it’s a fashionable band! thank you for sharing!

  • George H

    Hybrids generally are more expensive than the same car in the regular gas model. Another issue is servicability. Some shops are even afraid to change the oil on a hybrid, and honestly some shops shouldn’t. While the gasoline engine part of a hybrid is the same as always, the electrical is completely different, with some areas containing voltages in the range of as much as 500 volts! Interestingly, the transmission is also part of the hybrid system, and contains high voltage. These high voltages are also a concern of rescue workers in the event of an accident. They are concerned about cutting open a vehicle to save someone, if there is a danger that the rescuer may be electricuted. Another factor to consider is that once a hybrid is out of warranty, what will it cost to repair it? The high voltage battery, located in the rear, on a hybrid can cost over $1000.00, and requires a fork lift to remove and install. So I guess the four main areas of concern surrounding a hybrid is the initial cost, servicability, and safety in the event of an accident, and cost of repair.

  • pat

    Hi George,
    1. Hybrid means extra motor, should you pay extra for the extra power and more efficient machine?
    2. Nowaday cars (Hybrid and Non-hybrid) are build with many high tech (electronic) systems, in most cases you need to service your car at the dealer anyway!
    3. Prius (Hybrid Car) has been on the public road over ten years, have you heard of any case people got electricuted yet?

    Have you driven a hybrid lately? The best car you ever own.

  • Charles

    It is funny that the reason the V exists is for the extra cargo area, but I cannot find the dimensions of the cargo area. Volume yes, but the actual dimensions have eluded me. If anybody has found them, please point me in the right direction.

    Thanks,
    Charles

  • Anonymous

    @George H.,
    - [s]ome shops are even afraid to change the oil on a hybrid
    Really? Are you serious? Oh, do you know oil change is dangerous, too? Do you know used oil is considered carcinogenic?
    What age do you come from? Jurassic period?

    - the transmission [...] contains high voltage
    Really? Perhaps you are not talking about Prius.

    - [t]he high voltage battery, [...] requires a fork lift to remove and install.
    Again, you are not talking about Prius, you’re talking about Volt?!

  • Anonymous

    Is Nissan Leaf ‘greener’ than 2010 Toyota Prius?

    “if your main concern is the climate impact of your driving habits, how does the Leaf fare? The EPA label says that the car gets the energy equivalent of 99 miles per gallon — 106 mpg in the city, 92 mpg on the highway. Pretty good, in other words!

    But the EPA also says that the car emits “0″ pounds of climate-warming emissions each year. And while this is technically true, it’s also misleading. No, the Leaf doesn’t have a tailpipe spewing carbon-laden exhaust. But the electricity the car runs on doesn’t magically appear out of nowhere. And even in the Northwest, blessed as we are with lots of hydropower, some of the electricity that comes out of our sockets started out as coal or natural gas. So despite what the EPA label suggests, the Leaf does have some climate impact.

    How much? Let’s run some numbers to see…”

    See: Turning Over the New`Leaf, by Clark Williams-Derry, Sightline Daily

  • Bob Montalbano

    Have the front seats in the Prius V been improved? The previous models have the most uncomfortably seats I have ever sat in.

  • Hybrid neophyte

    I’ve only owned US cars. I need a new car, want a hybrid with lots of cargo space, and would really really like a US (or at least US-built) car. I understand that Prius is made in the US–anybody know if Prius V is?

  • Anonymous

    I think, currently, Prius is built in Japan only.

  • Elliot

    It kills me that people come on here and post about how hybrids aren’t so great bc they are hard to repair or the batteries cost a lot of money.

    Seriously? This site is all about hybrids and people who frequently visit the site are pretty familiar with all aspects of ownership. But no….you are going to come on here and show us the truth and the light by pointing out that batteries are expensive to replace. Ahhhh yes. Thanks. I never thought of those issues during my last 3 years of hybrid ownership or the 100′s of time I have visited this site.

    Awesome.

  • Robin White

    As the owner of a real 7-passenger station wagon as well as a 2002 Prius, I have been waiting, waiting, waiting for Toyota (or somebody) to offer the cargo/seating flexibility of a wagon, with the fuel economy of a hybrid. The Prius V (or whatever they’re going to call it) comes close, sort of, but misses the mark. No 3rd-row passenger seating, no plug-in charging for enhanced EV operation, and the same low air dam in front that loves to catch curbs and crack. Look aound at newer Priuses and you’ll see what I mean. At least the rear visibility should be better. I have never considered buying a new-generation Prius sedan because to me, a car that requires a backup camera is an inherently flawed design.
    Lithium ion batteries, plug-in chargeable, comfortable seating for (at least) five and more in a pinch with foldout jumpseats, and I’ll buy. But not until.

  • MDN

    Are there any info about the Toyota’s new hybrid?
    In the ad (Time magazine; May 30), Toyota says “11 new models in two years.”
    TIA.

  • Dennis Wingfield

    I believe the Prius V has an I-4 engine, not a “V4″ as stated.

  • woolco

    With so many automakers like Hyundai bragging about 40+ MPG figures on TV, without making it clear that it’s 40 HIGHWAY,but more like 34 COMBINED, when Toyota lists 50 MPG figs for Prius or 42 MPG for Prius V, it doesn’t look that impressive. They need to say “50 MPG City/Highway COMBINED” and the 16 MPG difference will stand out–an SUV’s worth of gas-guzzling.

  • Anonymous

    “Cargo volumes:
    Prius V 34 cf
    Forester 34 cf
    Honda CRV 35 cf”

    With rear seats folded:
    Prius 67 cu. ft.
    Honda CR-V 73 cu.ft.

  • JasminePreit

    A perfect car for the long drive with family along with all the accessories.
    http://www.motorexpress.net

  • jerry

    My sister has a 2011 Prius (clearly not SUV version). I don’t like the interior design between passenger and driver — awkward and ugly. I do like rhe economics of it though. Stellar!! I would definitely check out this new model. As far as three row seating. We own an Enclave… the 3rd row isn’t worth the crappy fuel mileage. Also own a Corolla. Great little car… really liking Toyota. Will be looking forward to test driving the new Prius.

  • Karrie

    I was so wishing for a REAL suv! With the low clearance and no 4 wheel drive I guess it’s not yet. Still waiting and hoping?

  • Christhoper

    my wife currently has a Jeep Cherokee and we’re looking to trade it in for a prius. Our jeep doesn’t have 3rd row but it is AWD. We live on a farm. The main reason we want to trade up is to save gas. i love the idea of an SUV type prius but i agree with some other posters, how can they call it an suv type when it has such a low clearance?

  • stephen trottier

    Have a look at the Prius + that the UK is getting. Lithium batteries under the centre console which leaves room for…. A 3rd row seat. Again we in north america get the shaft!!!!

    http://www.toyota.co.uk/cgi-bin/toyota/bv/frame_start.jsp?id=CC2-Prius-plus-lite

  • tapra1

    , because the third-row seats would be a very tight squeeze. Engg Blog

  • Jackie

    Wagons are definitely becoming more popular in the U.S and it’s great to see Prius build a car that is bigger and can accommodate more passengers and cargo. http://www.enterprisecarsales.com

  • Carfun

    I drive one daily and get about 42mpg. The way he described how the EV mode functions is really confusing. Bottom line is that as long as you keep power at or below the halfway mark, the car will try to be in EV mode as much as possible. When the EV button is depressed, the computer will try to force the car to stay in EV mode up to 25MPH. If power exceeds the halfway hash, the computer then decides to either kick start the engine or stay in EV. As long as you have the EV button depressed, under 25mph AND power under the halfway hash, you will stay in EV mode.

    The interior is definitely boring, the instrument panel design hurts my eyes, but the car works great as a family hauler. I like the grabby brakes, it imbues a sense of urgency to the otherwise lackadaisical nature of the car. It’s slow to accelerate, but at least it tries to stop quickly. The suspension is much better controlled than the first and second gen Prii, but the steering is devoid of any feel.

    2 biggest gripes about the car: 1. Huge turning radius. 2. Rear hatch is difficult to close. And forget about trying to get the red color you see in the picture here. The chance of you seeing red is something like 4 in 100. http://freecarads.com

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