2012 Toyota Prius V Review
By Kirk Bell of MSN Autos
No car has caught on with earth-loving Americans like the Toyota Prius. Far and away the best-selling hybrid, the Prius is in fact one of the better-selling cars on the market. For 2012, Toyota is taking advantage of that fact by turning the Prius lineup into its own green-oriented subbrand.
The first vehicle in the new range is the Prius V, a bigger vehicle with a wagon body style. With the room of a small SUV and uncompromised fuel efficiency, the Prius V is actually a better choice for families than its hatchback sibling.
The Prius V Three adds a navigation system, XM satellite radio, HD radio with iTunes tagging, and Toyota's new Entune entertainment system. The Prius V Five comes with SofTex faux-leather upholstery, heated front seats, automatic LED headlights with auto-leveling, fog lamps, auto-dimming rearview mirror, universal garage door opener and P225/55R17 tires on alloy wheels.
An available technology package includes a 7-inch touch screen with a hard-drive navigation system, eight JBL GreenEdge speakers, a text-to-voice feature with customizable text responses, and SiriusXM Data with traffic, weather, fuel pricing, sports and stock information. Other options include a Panoramic View sunroof, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Pre-Collision System, and Advanced Parking Guidance System.
Under the Hood
While the drive system is the same, the gearing isn't. The Prius V has a lower gearing ratio that helps provide more low-end punch to offset its extra weight.
Environmental Protection Agency fuel-economy ratings are impressive. The 2012 Toyota Prius V is EPA-rated at 44 mpg city/40 mpg highway. Those ratings are second only to the standard Prius' 51/48 mpg among current hybrids.
The second-row seat has plenty of room for three passengers, with the added bonus that it reclines for improved long-trip comfort. Room up front is quite good, and a standard tilt/telescoping steering wheel helps drivers find a comfortable, though somewhat upright seating position.
Up front, the materials are uninspired. The dash is largely plastic, and the few soft-touch surfaces are cloth instead of a richer, padded vinyl-like material.
Drivers can take in plenty of information. A multi-information display below the windshield shows the trip odometer, gear selection, battery charge, and a graph of real-time driving efficiency. On the center screen, drivers can view an energy-monitor screen that shows the power flow between the engine, battery and electric motors, and a trip-information screen that shows fuel economy in one-minute increments, as well as the amount of energy regenerated.
The Prius V also marks the debut of Toyota's Entune, a multimedia system that pairs with your smartphone to provide access to mobile apps. Available apps consist of music streaming through Pandora and iheartradio, Bing search with navigation, OpenTable dining reservations, movietickets.com, and information that previously had been offered by satellite services, including information on stocks, sports scores, fuel pricing and locations, and live weather and traffic. All of these features are presented on the dashboard screen, and are easy to find and use, provided you have the right phone.
On the Road
More important than the road manners, though, is the Prius V's fuel economy. Though longer and heavier than the standard Prius, the V is almost as efficient. With a combined EPA rating of 42 mpg, the V requires just 0.4 more gallons of gas than the Prius hatchback to travel 100 miles.
Power is also acceptable. Thanks to the lower gearing ratio, the Prius V feels just as strong, if not stronger, from a stop than its little brother. The electric motors help immediate torque from a stoplight, but power at higher speeds is lacking, leading to the leisurely 10.4-second zero-to-60 mph time. Passing is a chore, but it can be done with enough room. The throttle becomes more responsive when drivers choose the PWR mode, but it's very dull in ECO mode. There is also an EV mode that uses electric power alone, up to 25 mph and one mile. The EV mode is just a gimmick. It just drains the battery without improving fuel economy. Careful drivers can also get the Prius V to drive on electricity alone up to 25 or 30 mph by going light on the throttle.
Right for You?
Toyota isn't calling the Prius V a station wagon, but that's what it really is. Americans have shied away from wagons for decades now, which could mean that the Prius V will attract only limited sales. However, it doesn't look like a traditional wagon, and the unique Prius character might garner sales just like the hatchback.
(As part of an automaker-sponsored press event, Toyota provided MSN with travel and accommodationsto facilitate this report.)
Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, andcurrently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.