The v stands for versatile with Toyota’s new Prius
Every year, there are new words that make their way into our vocabulary.
One of the latest is hybridization — and it may well have been the Toyota Motor Corp. that coined the word.
Toyota started the hybrid revolution about a decade ago with the introduction of its Prius Liftback, a hybrid gas-electric car that has gone on to sell more than three-million units around the world, including 23,000 in Canada.
No longer just a standalone vehicle, the Prius has been turned into a family of cars with the introduction of the Prius v (pronounced vee for versatility, not five) for 2012, with more models to come.
While some manufacturers look to diesel and others to fully electric, Toyota sees the hybrid as the way of the future and offers more hybrids than any other automaker, with eight in the fleet.
In fact, by the 2020s, Toyota aims to have a hybrid in every segment of the market.
Thus, the hybridization of the brand is continuing full bore as Toyota strives to increase its penetration in the Canadian hybrid market to more than the 60 per cent it holds.
Although the third-generation Prius Liftback will carry on unchanged for the time being, the Prius v is clearly aimed at the family buyer.
Toyota says the Prius v offers 50 per cent more cargo space behind the rear seats than the Liftback and has more cargo space than 80 per cent of the small SUVs in the market.
It is classified as a crossover but one could think of it as a ‘mini’ minivan, as its tall roof and wagon-like hatch allow for lots of cargo and passenger space.
With the rear seat at its rearmost position, there are 971 litres of cargo room.
The 60/40 split rear seats also fold down to produce 1,905 litres and if you need even more room, the front passenger seat folds to handle really long items.
The Prius v has seating for five adults and the rear seats travel fore and aft by 180 millimetres to add to the versatility of the design.
That allows for more rear passenger legroom when needed or more cargo capacity when the rear seats are in the most-forward position.
I’ve been talking a lot here about interior capacity and versatility because that is what sets the Prius v apart from its Liftback sibling.
In a demonstration, Toyota loaded both Prius models with banker’s boxes.
The Prius v held 12 compared to only eight for the Liftback.
Size is not all that sets the Prius V apart from the old Prius.
Interior quality is much improved with soft-touch materials all round and this is a car that starts at $600 less ($27,200) than the original, with $1,100 in additional features.
And, while it is larger, the weight is only 105 kilograms (231 pounds) more than the Prius Liftback as Toyota has made use of lighter but higher-strength steel and aluminum.
The hood is 48 per cent lighter by using aluminum instead of steel and a 36 per cent weight reduction was found by using aluminum instead of steel in front and rear bumper-reinforcement bars.
Part of the luxury package on the Prius v is what Toyota calls the world’s largest wide-resin panoramic roof.
Made of polycarbonate resin, the see-through, glass-like roof is two-and-a-half times the size of the one offered on the Liftback and weighs 40 per cent less, while offering 84 per cent better heat retention.
Otherwise, most of the Prius interior is similar to the current third-generation Liftback.
The instrument panel sits mid-ship in the dash with a 6.1-inch display screen below that is replaced by a seven-inch monitor in the touring and technology edition.
The seats are cloth-covered in the base model, but a new synthetic leather called SoftTex is used in upscale-trim levels.
SoftTex weighs 50 per cent less than traditional leathers and, adding to the green theme, its generation produces 99 per cent fewer volatile organic compounds.
The car itself emits 66 per cent fewer smog-forming emissions than the average new vehicle and it qualifies for a Tier 2 Bin 3 emissions rating.
At the heart of the Prius v is the Hybrid Synergy Drive, built around a 1.8-litre Atkinson Cycle four-cylinder engine combined with a 60-kW high-torque electric motor and a 27-kW battery.
It is all controlled by a sophisticated power-management system that produces 134 total horsepower and results in a best-in-class fuel economy rating of 4.6L/100 km combined.
My driving partner and I managed 5.7 and 5.4L/100 km in our two combined city/highway driving routes in and around Quebec City.
The system uses an electronic CVT (continuously variable transmission) that routes power to the front wheels.
You can choose from four drive mode selections: normal, EV, ECO and power.
Even with power mode, this is a sluggish car that favours fuel economy over performance.
Of course, most customers get into the Prius because of its green technology.
But, be aware that, when you push the v hard, the engine noise is pronounced, in part because of the CVT transmission that causes the engine to rev high.
We found EV (electric only) mode works up to about 40 km/h and then the gasoline engine kicks in.
This produces a nice, quiet ride in slow city driving.
ECO mode adjusts air conditioning settings and throttle for the best fuel economy, but dials down the performance.
In most cases, the normal mode seemed to be the best compromise.
While the hybrid system is similar to the one on the Liftback, there have been some tweaks.
One is a new exhaust heat-recovery system that sends cold coolant after start-up down to the hotter exhaust piping to warm up the coolant faster so the hybrid system can shut off its gas engine more quickly and realize fuel savings.
Another twist is a pitch and bounce control system that helps reduce pitching motion in the cabin on rough roads or because of acceleration or deceleration.
Here, the wheel-speed sensors sense the road input and adjust the electric motor’s torque output to reduce pitching motion.
In all, it is meant to flatten the overall ride and increases handling performance.
I’m not sure I felt the system in use, but I can say the Prius v exhibited a reasonably soft, compliant ride.
The Prius v doesn’t get the short shrift when it comes to safety either.
Standard fare includes a full suite of safety features like stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake-force district and brake assist plus seven airbags.
Competition for the Prius v comes from cars like the Mazda5, Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagon TDI, and crossovers like the Ford Escape and Honda CR-V.
Priced from $27,200 to $36,875, the Prius V is pricier than most competitors, but Toyota should have no trouble selling the 4,000 units it plans to bring into Canada.