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FIRST THOUGHTS: Toyota is plugging away – no pun intended – with the petrol/electric technology it first released to market some 15 years ago. This time around, the company has set some pretty lofty sales targets too. Much like the theory set forward by Mini, Toyota is now offering a Prius to suit all tastes. We're not sure about the styling of this new V model, but the theory seems to be sound.
It's like a Prius. The end...
That would be a short first drive report wouldn't it? And one that doesn't do the Prius V the justice it deserves. The Prius V is, in fact, like a Prius in some ways. It isn't however, anything like the Prius you are already familiar with. Bringing the range to three, this new Prius V is aimed squarely at a different sector of the market. Prius a little too big for your inner city lifestyle? Then perhaps the Prius C is what you need. Prius a little small for your sub-urban lifestyle and growing family? Then this Prius V is quite possibly what you need. That's Toyota's thinking anyway, and like I say, the theory may work well.
The subject of just which vehicles the Prius V will be going head to head with in the Aussie market is an interesting one. According to Toyota themselves, this ‘wagon/people mover/hatchback of sorts' will be taking the fight right up to an interesting array of different cars. Nissan's Dualis+2 was mentioned as a competitor at launch, as were the Skoda Yeti and Peugeot 508 Touring. Possibly more obvious competition comes in the form of Honda's Odyssey and Mazda6 Wagon.
The exterior styling is the first aspect that grabs you as you approach the new Prius V and it's fair to say that the styling might polarise opinion. We reckon you can afford to overlook the styling though, given the flexibility of the new body style, higher roofline and thus increased interior space. That increased interior space allows for seating for up to seven people.
So, outside, the Prius V is somewhat different to what you might expect. It's 135mm longer than the Prius we know and of that 135mm, no less than 80mm is swallowed up by the extended wheelbase. In theory, that longer wheelbase should deliver a slightly more composed ride on the open road too. Prius V is also higher than the normal Prius with an extra 110mm delivering the aforementioned head room gain. There's 25mm more headroom up front, stretching to 45mm more in the second row. The third row is still a little cramped, but it's not designed for adults really. As you'd expect, with the third row in position, the boot space is somewhat limited. Fold those third row seats flat though and you have room for five adults in comfort and a veritable mountain of gear behind them.
Toyota tells us there are more than 60 seating configurations on offer, and we certainly didn't have time to test all of them.
The second row – we think importantly – slides forward and back to adjust legroom for both the second row and thus affect legroom in the third row too. The three individual bucket design seats in the second row are comfortable even for six footers.
Comfort, visibility and command of the major controls is all at the better end of the scale from the driver's pew. The third row certainly looks a lot further away than it is from the front seat and a commanding seating position with plenty of adjustment means driving is never taxing. There's that typical solid, hard wearing feel to everything as you expect and we reckon Prius V has rowdy family weekends away written all over it.
Mechanically, the Prius V is a Prius as we know it. The addition of the third row meant that the battery had to be redesigned and repositioned under the front seat – which assists weight distribution – but the 1.8-litre, 4-cylinder engine is the same as we're used to. Combined with the electric motor, it offers 100kW. The only negative of the mechanical package is the sometimes annoying whine that emanates from the CVT. It's a whine that we repeat just about whenever we drive anything with a CVT but it is there and it does get a little annoying. Aside from that and the feeling that you could use more grunt, the Prius V gets about its business quietly and efficiently.
And quietly is certainly the word. As you know by now, the Prius pulls away silently using only the electric motor for starters. Drivers can use electric motor only for the first few kilometres. However, pick up speed, find a hill or squeeze the accelerator pedal too hard, and the petrol engine quickly kicks into life. The transition from electric to petrol power is as seamless as you're ever likely to get. Three driving modes are available, with EV using just electric power for as long as possible, ‘Normal' being fairly self explanatory and finally ‘Power'. We found ourselves using Power for the overwhelming majority of the time with Normal just too dull for our tastes. Normal mode gets the job done, but Power was more our taste.
Prius V feels a little slower than Prius, but it is 135kg heavier so that's to be expected. And again, we need to temper any criticism of speed or lack thereof with the reality. This is a car that is aimed at a family, with a firm focus on fuel efficiency and environmental impact. There's not a lot that's attractive, speedy or alluring about that so this is no racecar. Load the Prius V up however, and you will have to work the little petrol engine fairly hard to get up to speed.
Fuel efficiency is the focus here and Toyota is claiming an ADR figure of 4.4L/100km. That's pretty impressive given what the Prius V is capable of. The digital display fluctuated between mid 4s and mid 5s for the day's drive with a fair highway run thrown in, so the real world number won't be too far off the ADR claim.
With pricing that starts at a tick under 36 grand, the Prius V is seriously good value if you require a mix of space, build quality, excellent fuel consumption and that bulletproof feeling every Toyota seems to exude. You could spend a whole lot more money doing the same job.
The Prius V has every chance of doing exactly what Toyota is hoping for. And that's a twofold proposition. That is, offering current Prius owners a bigger option to step up from the model they already have. Secondly, the V might attract new buyers to the Prius fold who had never considered the ‘smaller' Prius offering previously. The Prius V does what it is supposed to do well. It's that simple. It's pertinent to remember the purpose for which this vehicle is designed rather than criticise it's lack of dynamics or on road performance. If getting from A to B efficiently is the main game, the Prius V is an exceptional way to do it.
|Body type||5-door hatchback|
Airy cabin, fuel economy, rock solid build.
Can feel a little stiff on bad roads, third row is cramped.
|Country of manufacture||Japan|
|Available from||June 2012|
|Number of cylinders||4|
|Engine size||1.8 L|
|Claimed fuel consumption||4.4 L/100km|