All hail the Prius van. That's what V stands for, right? Actually, Toyota says the V is for versatility. That sounds about right; after all it's pretty much a Prius with a larger cargo area. Here at TRANSLOGIC, we think all cars of the future should get you and your stuff from point A to B in eco-fashion. We couldn't think of anything better than a Prius hybrid to do so, and if it can carry more, all the better. In fact, Toyota claims cargo space is up 50%: 34.3 cubic feet with seats up, 67.3 cubic feet with them down. This is an exciting number for a car that gets 44 combined mpg, down slightly from the normal Prius's 50 mpg.

Entune With Today's Generation

What really got us excited about the Prius V is the new telematics system Toyota developed. You may have heard of Entune – the MyFord Touch competitor from Toyota. Prius V is the first production Toyota to offer the system. Although we only had a short amount of time with the car, we think Toyota is off to a better start than Ford.

The Prius V base model (Prius V two) will include Bluetooth streaming audio, aux-in and USB inputs, and a rear backup camera displayed on a 6.1-inch touchscreen display standard. For the Prius V three and five (the middle and top-end trims), owners will get standard Entune and navigation on the same 6.1-inch screen.

Click the image below to watch a video demo of Toyota's Entune system:

If you opt for Entune, which we think you should, the V gains tech similar to what's found in much higher-priced luxury cars: HD with iTunes tagging, voice recognition, text to voice with custom text responses, and SiriusXM radio. Then there's the apps. Entune, at launch, is only offering five apps: Bing search, iheartradio, MovieTickets.com, Open Table and Pandora. Real-time traffic, weather, fuel prices, sports, stocks, and news are still served up from SiriusXM.

Entune works with Android, iOS, and Blackberry devices over Bluetooth. This is a very big step for car infotainment, something us techies have been waiting a while for. All other systems on the market today require a physical cable connection. Toyota, using Bluetooth's serial connection profile, found a way allow users to keep their phone in their pockets (where they should be) when driving. In addition, the V has Smart Key with push-button start, which can also be left in the pocket.

ENTUNE APPS

A slight perplex we noticed about Entune is that customers are required to register their device with Toyota, a maximum of five devices total. We foresee this making things complicated when trying to connect a friend's smartphone.

After registration and a simple Bluetooth pairing, pressing the Apps button on the touchscreen launches Entune. What's actually launched is the Entune player, which basically renders all the metadata sent from the smartphone on Entune's easy-to-use-and-see interface. We really like it.

The app offering at launch is a bit underwhelming, especially with the ubiquitous selection, but Toyota says that more are coming. For entertainment options you get iheartradio and Pandora. Pandora is the ever-popular artist-based streaming radio app, iheartradio is an app that streams any radio station in the country live. With both apps you are able to find new stations while parked. Open Table is a app that connects to a community of restaurants for finding and creating reservations, hence "Open Table". MovieTickets.com can find nearby movies and theaters and even make a purchase, right from the Entune app. Bing search works pretty well (depending on your smartphone's data connection) and can find you pretty much anything in the area. Bing can recognize voice for searches (a good example in the video), but we were disappointed there was no voice button on the steering wheel.

Prius V apps

All personal accounts from the different apps are merged on Entune's website during the initial setup (MovieTickets, Open Table, Pandora). That way you don't need to enter your credit card when making purchases (we wouldn't recommend that when driving).

The experience with Entune was mostly positive. Entune is very responsive and very usable. Also, it's not like MyFord Touch where users are required to use it. Some customers will never use Entune, so it'll stay hidden in the background.

Entune's features are included with the car for three years. Afterwards, customers will have to pay a "nominal" fee.

Look Mom, no hands!

Like the normal Prius, the V has an automated parking system that can complete both parallel parking and backing into a normal perpendicular parking spot. This is made possible with sensors that act like radar when scanning for open spaces. When it finds one (at speeds up to 20 mph) it will let you know and park for you.

Also available is adaptive cruise control. We found Toyota's version to be one of the better ones. It predicted our movements cutting between lanes and didn't overly use the brakes like other manufacturers. Once you get used to this feature, it's hard to go without.

A neat, or annoying, new feature on the V is the pedestrian safety sound system. This is one of those external speakers we've been hearing will make their way to quiet EVs and hybrids. A synthetic sound is played at speeds up to 30 mph, alerting those friends you tried to sneak up on in the mall parking lot.

Comfort and Cargo

Considering the size, the standard Prius has a surprisingly large amount of interior room. The V is no exception. It's wider and longer and offers greater room all around.

Prius V Rear Seats

The rear seats now slide, flip, fold and recline to offer more versatility. The new setup in the back makes things much more comfortable. We even heard one auto journalist say the back had the best seats in the house.

Standard seat trim is a nice, soft cloth; optional is what Toyota calls SofTex, an almost blend between leather and vinyl. Not bad, but we imagine after a few hours with new jeans, the bright cream colored seat could pickup a bit of blue denim rub-off.

As mentioned before, the cargo room is great. With the seats folded there is enough room to fill a month's supply from your favorite bulk-food store.

V for Victory

The Prius V is a win in our book. The Entune system is not without a few flaws, but nothing critical is missing. And after speaking to an engineer involved with the development, he said they are aware of a few issues and plan to fix them soon--nothing a quick software update won't resolve.

With a name synonymous to hybrid, the Toyota Prius attracted those serious about making a statement: efficiency. Now, the Prius V is a hybrid in another sense: a cross between a minivan and small car -- cargo and fuel economy -- officially, and finally, ending the dichotomy between the two.



Now that you've had a chance to check the tech, head over to Autoblog for complete Prius V driving impressions.

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