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Prius v - Versatility is Key

Toyota Ups the Ante for Hybrids with the Prius v

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2012 Toyota Prius v

Toyota's 2012 Prius v offers the familiar triangular shape and attention to aerodynamics.

Toyota Motor Corporation

With the 2012 Prius v, the ‘V’ may stand for versatility, but it’s clear that Toyota is aiming for victory with this latest addition to the growing Prius lineup which it is positioning to dominate the 2012 hybrid offering.

I had the opportunity to drive the Prius v recently, and was able to compare models with each of the three equipment levels offered as well as the available advanced technology package, which is optional on the Prius v Five.

Roomier Cargo Area

That ‘V is for versatility’ factor is evident in comparing the 2012 prototypes to 2011 Prius models, even at first glance. The Prius v sports a roomier cargo area, boasting more cargo space than 80 percent of all small-sized SUVs, according to Toyota. At the same time, Prius v stays true to its reason for existing, with an estimated EPA fuel economy rating of 44 mpg city, 40 mpg highway and 42 mpg combined.

Prius was never meant to be a showy roadster nor sleek racer, but by the same token, I was pleasantly surprised to find this car exhibited a bit of sportiness in detail, and to my eye, the attention to aerodynamics gives it a surprisingly acceptable silhouette. I spent the better part of a day in Half Moon Bay, Calif., putting this car through the paces, from winding mountain roads to highways to city streets. The ease of maneuverability was no great surprise, but the Prius v also held its own on the freeway with acceptable acceleration on the entry ramp and solid stance even when passed by much heavier vehicles.

But before we get too far down the road, let’s talk about the most noticeable difference between the Prius v and its older siblings—that very roomy cargo area. A low, wide-opening rear hatch reveals 34.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, not only surpassing past models, but making the Prius v the most spacious dedicated hybrid vehicle on the market. A lift of the hatchback reveals plenty of room for everything from weekend gear to the family groceries, with room to spare. There are also hidden compartments for smaller items such as road hazard equipment or first-aid kit. Dig deeper and you’ll find the spare tire, easily accessible. A cargo shade can be pulled across the entire cargo area to provide security and privacy.

A high seating position means the Prius v can claim some very comfortable interior space while allowing for excellent visibility. My driving partner was 6 ft. 2 in. and still found more than enough leg and head room, whether he sat in the front or rear seats.

Seating for Five

Toyota engineers had young families in mind when they designed the Prius v to comfortably seat five, though the roominess comes in handy for many of the rest of us as well. Sliding second row seats allow for easier access and rear-storage flexibility, with a 45-degree recline for greater comfort. The 60/40 split, folding rear seats allow for four different seat arrangements to accommodate passengers and cargo, while a fold-flat front passenger seat comes in handy for transporting extremely long items, in case there is a pole vaulter in your family.

With five cup holders of varying sizes and a couple of bottle holders built into the front and rear pockets, the Prius v won’t leave you thirsty. But what really impressed me were the sizable dual glove boxes, adding to the cabin storage already available through the center console utility tray, and a number of other spaces and compartments throughout the cabin area.

Prius v has a center-mounted instrument panel which I found easy to monitor, yet not distracting. Like other Prius models, the Prius v utilizes a push button start. A drive-by-wire shift toggle is easy to reach and use, though takes some getting familiar with if it’s your first experience with it.

Another seemingly small feature that I appreciated about the Prius v was its single-dial automatic climate control, which could be easily manipulated in place of the usual multiple switches, knobs and buttons. The climate control knob, along with other instrument panel controls, also adds to the Prius v’s user-friendly, updated look.

Greening the Interior

Prius v begins to show its green side with an available seat material called SofTex. Designed for easy cleaning and stain resistance, I found SofTex to be softer to the touch compared to other real and imitation leather materials and Toyota says the materials use approximately 99 percent fewer volatile organic compounds than conventional synthetic leather during manufacture, which made me happy.

The Hybrid Synergy Drive system in the Prius v is essentially the same as the current third-generation Prius. The system uses two high-output motors, one 60kw (80 hp) unit that mainly works to power the compact, lightweight transaxle and another smaller motor that primarily works as the electric power source. Maximum motor drive voltage is 650 volts DC. The nickel-metal hydride battery pack is the same as on the third-generation Prius liftback, but with a cooling duct located under the rear seat.

Prius v Hybrid Synergy Drive

The Hybrid Synergy Drive is a series-parallel hybrid system that can provide power either from the engine alone, or the motor alone, or any mix of both. A hybrid control computer manages the system so that optimum power is delivered according to driver demand. It uses a start/stop system and regenerative braking to conserve fuel and recharge the battery at deceleration. Hybrid Synergy Drive is built around a specially adapted, efficient 98-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that runs on the Atkinson cycle and contributes to a total system horsepower of 134.

Key components include an electric water pump that requires no belts, and an exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) system that helps warm the engine quickly, reducing fuel consumption when the engine is cold. Compact and light weight, the engine produces minimal noise and vibration. Toyota says sophisticated valve control, injector design, and other technologies reduce emissions to allow the Prius v to qualify for SULEV and Tier2 Bin3 emissions standards.

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