Toyota Will Introduce a Larger Minivan-Like Prius

After years of rumors about a family of Prius vehicles, Toyota announced it will unveil the Prius MPV at the 2011 Detroit Auto Show in January. Of all the directions that Toyota could have taken for its next Prius model, the company opted for more overall space, a higher roof, and a broader rear end with upright window—opening the possibility for third-row seats. Toyota described it in a Twitter feed as “more comfort, style and versatility.”

In other words, the second member of the Prius family will be a hybrid people-mover with dimensions similar to the Mazda5. There are very few vehicles somewhere in between a wagon, crossover and minivan—although you see quite a few of those vehicles in Europe and Asia. The Mazda5 appeals to urban dwellers that need the load space and families who want something smaller than the two-ton-plus behemoths offered by minivans. Choosing this format means the upsized Prius could help establish a segment reflecting the shift towards small innovative packaging with efficient alternative drivetrains. (The Prius MPV Hybrid could double the city mpg of the Mazda 5, rated at 22 miles to the gallon.)

Toyota has released few details, but the rumor mill has a 2.5-liter engine powering the Prius MPV—a bump up from 1.8 liters in the current Prius—to provide sufficient oomph for the larger size. In any respect, we wouldn’t expect the larger Prius to reach a combined mileage of 50 mpg—but if it hits the mid-40s in a platform that answers the same needs as a minivan, then it would truly be unique in the marketplace. Cost for the new model, which could go on sale as early as next year, remains to be seen.

Good Platform for Alternatives

The Prius MPV would not be the first time a wagon-like small-minivan format was used for an alternative energy vehicle. In fact, the Mazda5 was the platform for a plug-in hydrogen hybrid concept displayed last year. The Mazda Premacy combined a hydrogen rotary engine—not a fuel cell—to power an electric motor for 125 miles of range. The Premacy concept promised 0 – 60 performance in about 10 seconds, and a top speed of 100 mph. A small lithium-ion battery pack—with plug-in capability—is provided for a few miles of backup service. General Motors also used a similar size for the Chevy Volt MPV, a crossover version of the plug-in hybrid displayed earlier this year in Beijing.

Mazda Premacy Hydrogen Hybrid
Chevy MPV5 concept

Top: Mazda Premacy Hydrogen Hybrid concept
Bottom: Chevy MPV5 concept

Don’t expect anything nearly as futuristic with the Toyota Prius MPV, which will utilize Toyota’s classic powersplit gas-electric hybrid system. The point is not to attract the early-adopter crowd—but for Toyota is to push its hybrid technology further into the mainstream.

The Prius is no longer considered cutting edge. Instead, it’s a commonplace model that uses proven technology to achieve the highest level of fuel economy for a gas-powered vehicle. The Prius MPV will be Toyota’s first real test to see if car buyers will embrace the Prius badge on something other than a mid-size five-passenger hatchback.

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  • Prius Fan

    It will arrive too late for me. I love my 2007 Prius, but the wife needed a new vehicle. Traded the ’99 Toyota Sienna for a ’11 VW Jetta TDI Sportwagon. We just couldn’t wait any longer for Toyota to finally bring this MPV to market.

  • FamilyGuy

    Woo! A Mazda5 sized hybrid? Awesome! The option of seating six or seating four with room in the back.

    I don’t care that it says Prius or not. I do like that the fact that will be built upon a proven technology. I would consider any quality car maker that comes out with this type of vehicle.

    I want the car slightly bigger then the wagon to seat six but nothing that will seat eight like the “two-ton-plus behemoths offered by minivans” (well said!).

    This is something to look forward to next year.

  • Charles

    I hope this kicks Ford’s butt into gear to get the Grand C-Max Hybrid to the USA Market. Ford has announced the vehicle will be built in Spain for the European market. I really would like competition in a vehicle segment that I think is about to take off in the USA. Ford, please bring us both the HEV and PHEV versions.

    PS, Proof read the first sentence, “will” is missing.

  • Yegor

    Super! Bring it ASAP!

  • Emmett Blake

    I have been waiting on this for years.
    To fit the family in a vehicle I gave up my Prius version 1 for a Dodge Grand Caravan. I look forward to giving up the Gas Guzzeler!

  • JamesDavis

    I would like to read an article that states the real reason the big three American auto makers are dragging their heels on these electric and hydrogen vehicles that other countries seem to have had now for decades. Do the big three ever listen to their American consumers — the people who put butter on their bread?

  • simon@syd

    Not sure about the marketing aspect – I thought the word ‘prius’ meant their (nerd/envir) hero car.

  • Shines

    James Davis, what electric and hydrogen vehicles are you referring to that other counties seem to have had now for decades?
    Or are you just trying to goad the rest of us into pointing out that American car companies are not behind in competing for like vehicles?

  • Max Reid

    So all Prius vehicles will be only Hybrid or Plugin or Electric. Thats wonderful.

    We have to see how many Prius are sold in Japan this month, since the incentive program has ended. Unless they reduce this price, they cannot reach mass sales.

    How will this compare with Hybrid Highlander.

    But then why do they have Scion.

  • BCC

    Like the first poster, I was planning to replace my old Subaru wagon, when it died, with a Jetta wagon TDI.

    Fortunately for me, it hasn’t died quite yet, so I may be able to hold out for the big Prius.

    I’d love to see a full-size hybrid minivan, but I’ve largely given up hope for that.

  • Margaret R.

    I love my 2010 Prius II. I will be very interested in the new van version when it appears.


    That is what I’m waiting for a mini van or close to it.

  • mahonj

    I Hope it seats 6 or 7, however, it looks like a 5 seater.
    6+ would be great for me.
    Currently you can only get diesel minivans (+petrol of course) in Europe.

  • Grampa in flyover

    This Prius people mover looks like it should be a good seller in America, I’m hoping for a small-ish hybrid pickup truck in the near future. Something the size of the first Toyota pickups to come to American shores in the sixties. Give me the best mileage you can, with the capability of weekend camping trips with lots of gear and toy room. I don’t need a lot of power, and I don’t need 4WD, but I do want reliability and Toyota quality would be nice. I’d like to take more than I can cram into my 2007 Prius – but that’s well designed to carry a lot of stuff… thank you!

  • Brent

    Anybody know if this will end up with sliding side doors?…My wife wants a hybrid/smaller van in 3 years…but no sliding doors would be a show stopper.

  • azt12

    I wish the Prius MVP would come as a Plug-in, or better yet, serial hybrid. Perfect next to a Nissan LEAF in my dream garage. The article mentioned that minivans and minicars are the only segments without a hybrid, you could also add class b rv and convertibles to the list. Also the pickup truck segment is lacking. Who knows how long it’ll be before these things actually hit the streets?