Last Updated Jun 16, 2011 12:44 PM EDT
Auto writers got a chance to drive the Prius v for the first time this week at an event in New York's Westchester County. Toyota executives say the v stands for versatility -- though they don't have much of an explanation for the lower-case designation that makes me go "Huh?" ( So I am going to use an upper-case "V" henceforth.)
Although it has the same gas-electric power plant as the traditional hatchback Prius, the bigger V has as much cargo space as some small SUVs. "Many customers have told us that while they love everything about their Prius, the need a vehicle with more space," said Rick LoFaso, Toyota's corporate marketing manager for cars and vans. He projected that perhaps 15-20% of future Prius sales might go to the family-size V.
Here's a quick rundown on the new Prius:
- It's (almost) all about the gas mileage. Following in the mileage-champ tire tracks of the traditional Prius (rated at 51 mpg in the city, 48 highway), the heavier Prius V is rated at 44 mpg city, 40 highway. If mileage plus cargo capacity is your pleasure, this unusually styled crossover will be the runaway mpg winner over crossover SUVs with similar cargo space.
- It's also about being green. From the first, the Prius has appealed to people who wanted to be environmentally responsible and to make sure their neighbors knew it. The V retains the signature aerodynamic shape. In addition to emitting fewer greenhouse gas emissions (which happens by definition when you burn less gas), the company wants you to know that the V has 66% lower emissions of smog-forming chemicals than the average new car.
- You can haul stuff. From several large suitcases to multiple Costco-size packages of paper goods, it all fits in the V, which has 58% more cargo space than the standard Prius. (That's 34.3 cubic feet, with the rear seats up.) Fold those seats down and that jumps to 67 cubic feet -- slightly more than the 66.4 cubic feet in a Ford Escape, which is the one hybrid in the small-SUV category.
- It will cost more. Toyota has not yet announced pricing for the V, which goes on sale this fall. But it said the V will be a few thousand dollars more than the original Prius at each style and price level. For instance, the well-equipped "Three" level of the current Prius has a list price of $24,520. If the V came in $3,000 above that, it would cost around $27,500. That still would be a sizable price advantage over the Escape hybrid, at $32,585, and a bit less than the Ford Fusion hybrid, a sedan with less carrying capacity that lists for $28,600.
Power: As with the regular Prius, that high gas mileage in the V comes with a tradeoff of sluggish acceleration (0 to 60 mph in 10.4 seconds). But Toyota has given you some discretion in the matter. You have buttons to set the system for Power, Eco (maximum mileage) and EV (battery power only up to 25 miles per hour in city driving). Pushing the power button gives a notable boost over the standard setting or Eco. And you will need the power setting to ease uphill climbs, even small ones like those in Westchester. Still: Although moving reasonably well, the gas engine when being pushed hard is annoyingly noisy.
Handling: As a bigger, heavier vehicle (3,274 pounds), the V suffers more body roll in curves. Apart from that, though, a stiffened chassis helps it navigate winding roads reasonably well. The steering, though not particularly quick, is reasonably responsive.
Ride and Comfort: The comfortable, well-bolstered seats seem easy to settle into for a long trip. And the longer vehicle means additional legroom for back-seat passengers.
Navigation and Entertainment: The V will be one of the first vehicles to feature Toyota's new Entune system for finding local services or playing music. Entune works through your smartphone after a download of the app. The Bing search will find nearby stores; entering "coffee" turned up two Starbucks locations within a short drive even in this bucolic, exurban neighborhood. When it comes to entertainment, you can click on Pandora Internet radio. (See The Best Apps for Your Car.) To avoid distraction, you can select pre-existing Pandora stations while the car is moving but you cannot set up new ones, use Bing search or perform any other complicated maneuver. Entune still doesn't have voice commands for all functions, like the Ford SYNC system; only Hyundai and Kia technology have replicated that. But it is intuitive and easy to use, even on the road.
From the start, the Prius styling has been a love-it-or-hate-it proposition for most shoppers. I suspect the audience for the Prius V will be, as Toyota executives suggest, families who love their Prius but need more space. At first look, the V seems up to that job.
Photos courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.
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