First Drive

First Drive: 2012 Toyota Prius V

2012 Toyota Prius V
2012 Toyota Prius V
View 20 Photos
  • Engine
    1.8L 4-Cylinder Hybrid
  • Power
    134 HP / 105 + 153 lb-ft
  • Transmission
  • 0-60 Time
    10.4 sec
  • Top Speed
    103 mph
  • Drivetrain
    Front-Wheel Drive
  • Curb Weight
    3,274 lbs.
  • Seating
  • Cargo
    67.3 cu-ft max
  • MPG
    44 City / 40 Hwy
Toyota Masters The Art Of The Conjunctive

2012 Toyota Prius V - Click above for high-res image gallery

The hybrid lexicon is a language built on a foundation of disjunction. Buyers may have phenomenal fuel economy or space for kids and cargo. You can embarrass your neighbors at the fuel pump or have a satisfying driving experience. In fact, opting for a battery pack is so fraught with compromise that it's almost as if hybrid manufacturers have completely deleted the conjunctive 'and' from their diction. Even so, that fact hasn't stopped buyers from flocking to electrified vehicles in droves.

Toyota alone has sold over one million Prius models in the United States since the vehicle first debuted 10 years ago. That number blossoms to two million once global sales are accounted for, and the model's popularity has helped usher in a bloom of hybrid products from over 16 manufacturers. The technology may not be the perfect solution to our fuel economy concerns, but it has successfully taken off in ways that would have been difficult to imagine when the first gangly Toyota hybrid whirred off the line.

Now Toyota is set to grow its Prius lineup with three new models. In fact, Bob Carter, Toyota division group vice president and general manager, says that the Japanese automaker fully expects the Prius family to become its best-selling product line in the near future – beating out internal combustion titans like the Camry and Corolla in the process. As a result, the company is planning to unleash of a barrage of products that include a model based on the Prius C Concept, a plug-in version of the hybrid and the taller, boxier Prius V. The thought is that a few simple variations on the company's successful battery-powered recipe will offer buyers solutions that the conventional Prius simply couldn't match. The only question is whether or not the will respond to what is effectively a few clever re-body jobs. If the Prius V is any indication, the answer is a resounding yes. Continue reading...

2012 Toyota Prius V
2012 Toyota Prius V
View 20 Photos

Photos copyright 2011 Zach Bowman / AOL

Thanks to years of steady sales, legions of faithful buyers and an overwhelming popularity with the celebrity set, the Prius has established itself as an icon of automotive design. Toyota says that the Prius name has the highest brand awareness of any other hybrid on the road right now, and when it came time to design the Prius V, the company's artists wanted to ensure that the newcomer was instantly recognizable as a member of the Prius dynasty. For aerodynamic reasons, that meant maintaining the wedge-like shape of the lift back, though with a slightly taller roof for greater functionality.

Up front, the vehicle wears both stylized head lamps and a rounded front fascia that's remarkably similar to the 2011 Prius, though it's worth noting that the front fenders and hood are completely new sheet metal. In fact, the headlight housings themselves have been slightly altered to incorporate a new ridge that reduces wind turbulence around the side view mirrors. Toyota says that the small change has a huge impact on interior noise.

2012 Toyota Prius V side view2012 Toyota Prius V front view2012 Toyota Prius V rear view

From the side, it's nearly impossible to escape the wagon-like presence of the Prius V. With its long roof, similarly lengthy rear doors and an extended cargo area, the vehicle ditches the awkward hatchback aesthetics of current generation Prius for a twang of normalcy. We couldn't help but grow a little fond of the vehicle's shape after a day behind the wheel. It's almost as if Toyota has flanked us by using our love for wagons to lure us into the hybrid craze.

We spent time in the top-o-the-line Prius V Five trim level, complete with larger 17-inch wheels. The multi-spoke rollers aren't the most stylish stock on the planet, but they're far better than the chunky designs of the Honda Insight and Civic hybrids.

From the rear, the Prius V offers up a fairly sizeable hatch garnered with a unique rear spoiler. As you might have guessed, the piece actually serves to benefit the Prius V aerodynamically. Speaking of slipping through the air, Toyota's designers and engineers worked to decrease the vehicle's coefficient of drag as much as possible to increase fuel efficiency. As such, touches like protrusions from the front and rear bumper, specially-designed side skirts and extensive under-body cladding help the Prius V return its .29 coefficient of drag.

2012 Toyota Prius V headlight2012 Toyota Prius V wheel2012 Toyota Prius V roof spoiler2012 Toyota Prius V taillight

Toyota also worked to keep weight as slim as possible on the Prius V, and those efforts translated into unique material selections indoors. The Prius V will be available in three trims labeled Two, Three and Five, with the top two tiers treated to a new substitute leather surface that's lighter than real cow hide. In addition, a dual-pane resin panoramic roof is available on Five trimmed models. The material is 40 percent lighter than standard laminated glass and also helps reduce solar gain to keep the interior cool during the summer months. Finally, Toyota partnered with JBL to create a sound system that not only weighs 37 percent less than the old gear, but also sucks down 80 percent less power, too.

Even so, the Prius V weighs in at 232 pounds more than its standard sibling, though the penalty is well worth it when it comes to usable interior room. Toyota built the hybrid wagon with a set of manually-controlled multi-function back seats that can slide fore and aft, recline and fold semi-flat for a heap of versatility. As a result, there's up to 35.9 inches of leg room out back, which is 1.4 inches more than the Honda CR-V can offer. With the thrones up, there's a full 34.3 cubic-feet of cargo room, and that number swells to 67.3 cubes with the back seats folded. As Toyota points out, that's more room than crossovers like the Chevrolet Equinox, Honda Element, Ford Escape or the Nissan Rogue can offer.

2012 Toyota Prius V interior2012 Toyota Prius V start button2012 Toyota Prius V rear seats2012 Toyota Prius V rear cargo area

With large rear doors and a high hip point, back passengers are treated to a vehicle that's a cinch to slip into. We were perfectly content to spend a little time being chauffeured around the greater San Francisco area in the hybrid. But while the back seats are the big news for the Prius V, the front buckets offer a few surprises as well. The designers at Toyota implemented concave door panels to provide more knee room and to help suggest a more open, airy cabin, and the Prius V wears upper dash panels that are so soft they're very nearly plush. The same material is found at elbow level on the front door panels as well. While there's plenty of easily scratched, easily sullied hard plastic around, the Prius V delivers an interior that's suitably attractive and comfortable given the segment.

The Prius V also bows with Entune – a new smartphone-based application system. Check out the Short Cut below to see what it's all about.

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Unfortunately, the driver is met with a version of the same confounding center-up gauge cluster found in the base Prius. We have a general aversion to center-mounted gauges for a variety of reasons, the most pressing of which is that they require the driver to look down and away from the road. Passengers don't need to know how fast the vehicle is travelling; the driver does.

The engineers behind the Prius V essentially stretched Prius floor pan to give the new model an extra 3 inches of wheelbase and 6 inches of overall length. Combined with its taller roof, additional glass and large rear hatch, the newcomer weighs in at 3,274 pounds. Toyota opted to skip throwing extra horsepower at all that heft. Instead, the company's engineers simply changed the vehicle's axle ratio from 3.268:1 to 3.704:1. As a result, the Prius V feels just as adequate on the road as the third-generation Prius.

2012 Toyota Prius V gauge cluster

Under the hood, the same 2ZR-FXE 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine found in the base Prius supplies power in conjunction with a pair of liquid-cooled motor generators. Engineers designed the transaxle case in the Prius V with integrated water jackets for the first time to keep the motors at a steady temperature, thereby increasing longevity and performance at the same time. Combined output sits at 134 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 105 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm. Toyota also redesigned the vehicle's exhaust heat recirculation system to decrease the drivetrain's warm-up period, and as a result, the Prius V can reach optimum operating temperature up to 1 minute sooner than vehicles equipped with the old system.

Automakers are flocking to lithium-ion batteries in increasing numbers at the moment, but Toyota says that it saw no need to pursue the added cost of the technology for the Prius V. Instead, the hybrid wagon uses a modified version of the same nickel-metal hydride battery pack found in the third-gen Prius. Total output has been boosted slightly to 650 volts, and the more compact battery configuration keeps from impeding interior room. Additionally, the battery pack's cooling duct now draws ambient air from under the second-row seats from a hidden location.

All told, the tech is good for an Environmental Protection Agency-rated 44 mpg city and 40 mpg highway. That works out to around 42 mpg combined, though we saw 38.6 mpg in aggressive mixed driving. Given that the average fuel economy was ticking up even as we whirred into the parking lot, we wouldn't be surprised to see the vehicle hit or exceed its EPA figures.

2012 Toyota Prius V engine

We fully expected to be met with a more lethargic, turgid version of the Prius when it came time to take the wheel. After all, shoving a taller roof line and over 200 pounds into the Japanese hybrid was bound to have ill effects, but that simply wasn't the case. The new gear ratio means that acceleration is perfectly acceptable for matching wits with traffic either in town or on the highway with 0-60 mph sprints taking an estimated 10.4 seconds. A total of four drive modes are accessible via buttons mounted on the center console, including EV, Eco, Power and Normal models. We found no lack of power in Normal configuration, even when it came to tackling the formidable hills near Half Moon Bay.

Fat-finger the Eco mode and you're rewarded with an exponentially more infuriating driving experience. The ECU hacks away at power like Indiana Jones with a well-oiled machete. Ironically, if you have a penchant for keeping up with the vehicles around you, you'll need to bury the accelerator, thereby actuating Power mode and defeating the purpose of limping along in Eco to begin with. Do yourself a favor and leave the vehicle in Normal mode.

2012 Toyota Prius V gear selector2012 Toyota Prius V drive mode

As with the rest of the Prius clan, the electronic power steering is lighter and less communicative than we'd like and the vehicle's regenerative brakes make for grabby stops. Still, the average Prius V buyer could probably care less about turn-in feel. Even so, with a MacPherson strut design up front and a torsion-beam rear, the tall wagon isn't a disappointing drive. In fact, we could entirely see ourselves living with the vehicle on a daily basis, especially if we had a brood to lug around at the same time. Despite its curb weight and low power figures, the Prius V feels fairly light on its feet. Body roll is apparent but unobtrusive, and brake dive is kept in check as well.

Hybrids aren't typically happiest on the highway, but Toyota has made steps to ensure that the Prius V is more livable over long distances. The new model is the first to incorporate Pitch and Bounce Control, which can sense the oscillating frequency of road surfaces and minutely induce and withdraw torque from the electric motor to counteract the vehicle's wave-like motion. The result is a very stable-feeling drive, especially over aged sections of concrete interstate and expansion joints.

2012 Toyota Prius V rear 3/4 view

Toyota won't release final pricing information on the Prius V until closer to the model's fall launch date. As a result, it's difficult to give the vehicle a confident endorsement. The company says that its newest hybrid is positioned to draw buyers who are currently looking toward small SUVs, crossovers and wagons, and they're dead right. The Prius V has all of the functionality of those vehicles with the fuel economy and panache that only the Prius name can offer.

If we were going to lay down a yet-to-be-determined chunk of change for a Prius, the V would certainly be the model to take home. Its small fuel economy sacrifices are more than made up for by increased versatility and back-seat comfort. We even think the taller roof line makes the model more becoming. For the first time, the Prius name stands for fuel economy and functionality.

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