Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Review: 2012 Toyota Prius v: Bigger. Efficiency.

2012 Toyota Prius v - Subcompact Culture

The Toyota Prius gasoline-electric hybrid has become a household name, and it seems nearly everyone has an opinion about them. Some instantly like the car because of its high fuel economy, practicality, and because it is an eco-chic vehicle that says, “I’m saving the environment.” Others will hate it because of its reputation for being a tree-hugger mobile, its artificial driving dynamics, and its eco-chic personality that says, “I’m saving the environment.”

Whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, here in the Pacific Northwest, we’re swarming with ‘em. There are at least a half-dozen Prius models in our immediate four-block neighborhood. Even overall, the Prius sells pretty well, and has certainly become the poster child for hybrid vehicles in the U.S. Hoping to capitalize on the Prius’ popularity, Toyota has decided to offer a couple other Prius body styles. The compact Prius c, and the larger Prius v, as seen here. The v is for versatility, by the way. Although larger, the Prius v still gets pretty darn good fuel economy. It uses the company’s high-tech Hybrid Synergy Drive technology that is constantly switching between gas, electric assist, and full electric mode. From a tech standpoint, it’s pretty impressive. However, the overall driving experience of the Prius v isn’t exactly exhilarating. It’s the automotive equivalent of driving my Toshiba laptop. But buyers looking at the Prius v aren’t looking for sports cars—they’re looking for fuel economy, practicality, and dare I say even some “eco chic”?

The “v” isn’t just a Prius with a wagon back end slapped on, it’s legitimately larger in nearly every aspect including height, length, width, and weight. It’s shape, although unmistakably Prius, is unique, although, that doesn’t make it sexy. But a lot of Portlanders were ogling my big Prius during my week with the vehicle. I definitely got a lot of questions about it from both the general public and friends. I’ve already seen a lot of them here.

2012 Toyota Prius v cargo area - Subcompact Culture

A wagon is inherently practical in terms of space, and the Prius v certainly slots into that classification. There is plenty of room for both people and cargo. Open the rear hatch, and storage space is generous. Fold the rear seats down and storage space becomes cavernous.

2012 Toyota Prius v back seat - Subcompact Culture
We put four adults and a car seat in the Prius v, as friends of ours (who have a toddler) are considering purchasing a Prius v. They said the back seat, even when fully occupied, was still manageable, and there’d be plenty of room for a stroller in the cargo area. Up front, there’s also plenty-o-space. The front bucket seats are very comfy, but don’t offer much bolstering. Being as comfortable as it is, I could see the Prius v being great for longer road trips. There are cup holders aplenty, lots of storage space, and a very good stereo. In addition, our tester had Toyota’s Entune infotainment system that, along with navigation and a back-up camera, also has the ability to use Pandora, Bing, and a host of other apps.

2012 Toyota Prius v dashboard - Subcompact Culture

Remember, the Prius is all about tech. Push the “on” button, and the center dashboard lights up like a Christmas tree with heaps of digital information. There’s a readout for fuel economy, speed, charging, power, and more. Add to it the touch-screen infotainment display that can also show how the power is being dished out (e.g. all gas, hybrid, EV, or a combination), and there’s a lot to visually take in. Thankfully, drivers can customize the dash to their liking for a simplified layout. Next, move the tiny stub of a drive selector into the preferred position, and off you go. There is also a “B” mode which uses the regenerative brakes to charge up the battery.

2012 Toyota Prius v climate control - Subcompact Culture
Another interesting bit is the climate control, which uses a couple of dash-mounted buttons in conjunction with a directional dial. Although it’s not the super-simple three-dial control, it works well once you figure it out. You can also adjust the temperature using controls on the steering wheel, which is a thoughtful touch. There are also wheel-mounted controls for cruise and stereo.

The v’s driving dynamics are not going to peak driving enthusiasts’ interests. It isn’t entertaining to pilot. It doesn’t corner sharply and isn’t fast. The steering is numb and the brakes lack feel. Rather, the v will get you around efficiently, securely, and comfortably. We found the ride to be plush, but lacking a connection with the road. It floats on the highway and absorbs bumps with grace, there just isn’t much engagement. FYI, the v rides on 205/60/16 tires, in case you were wondering.

Acceleration depends on which mode you select, although none of them are going to win you many races (unless it’s a hypermiling competition). There’s the standard driving mode, an eco mode, and a power mode, plus a full EV mode at slow speeds for up to a mile. The car’s 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and two electric motors produce a combined total of 134 horsepower and 105 ft./lbs. of torque, and it’s run through a CVT. In the normal mode, acceleration is adequate; it’s not too pokey, but requires a heavy foot. In eco mode, you really have to keep your foot into it to get up to speed with traffic. The power mode is better, but of course, saps more energy. EV mode is great for navigating around downtown or the neighborhood quietly on just battery power. When the Prius v goes from its EV mode to gas mode, you do feel the engine start up and kick in. It’s mostly unobtrusive, and will likely go unnoticed after the first few starts and stops. And while not engaging, it is easy to drive, has good outward visibility, and feels solid.

The bottom line is this: It’s hard to complain about averaging 40 MPG in a wagon this size, which is what we got with our week in the Prius v. EPA rated 44 city and 40 highway, I’d say that’s pretty darn good for a car that’s 181.7” long and weighs 3,274 lbs. So, although not exciting, it’s very efficient.

2012 Toyota Prius v back end - Subcompact Culture

All this technology and fuel efficiency will set you back a minimum of $26,400. Our tester, a mid-level Prius v Three Model stickered at $28,287, which isn’t bad considering the size and amount of equipment on the car. The Prius v isn’t the car for you if you’re looking to embrace a vehicle’s sporty, Nürburgring -tested driving dynamics. If that’s you, Volkswagen’s Jetta SportWagen TDI or Audi’s A3 TDI might be more of your thing, but you won’t get the fuel economy of the Prius. What the v does offer is plenty of comfort, efficiency, and space. And if that’s the kind of car you’re looking for, the Prius v is worth a look—eco chic or not.


rubicon4wheeler said...

I appreciate the Prius line for what it is: a transportation appliance. It does the job for which it was intended quite well. Like an Apple product, you're paying a lot for the "image," for better or for worse.

Personally, I am a fan of hybrids because everyone who drives one is saving fuel - which means more fuel for my muscle cars and 4x4s!

D2M said...

If I had children and was in the market for a vehicle, I'd probably take a serious look at the Prius v. I like station wagons and I like hybrids, so this would be a nice match-up.