2013 Toyota Prius v Expert Review:Autoblog
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 seeking out electrified vehicles in increasing numbers.
Toyota has sold over one million Prius models in the United States since the vehicle first debuted a decade ago. That number blossoms to two million if 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 the Prius has taken off in ways that would have been difficult to imagine when the first gangly example 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.
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. Unsurprisingly, Toyota says that the Prius has the highest brand awareness of any 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 liftback, 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 sheetmetal. 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.
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 the current 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 from where we sit, they're far more attractive than the chunky designs of the Honda Insight and Civic hybrids.
From the rear, the Prius V offers up a fairly sizable hatch that terminates in 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 have 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 underbody cladding help the Prius V return its .29 coefficient of drag.
Toyota has also worked to keep weight as slim as possible on the Prius V, and those efforts have translated into unique material selections indoors. The Prius V will be available in a trio of trims labeled Two, Three and Five, with the top two tiers receiving a new faux leather surface that's lighter than real cowhide. 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 on sunny days. Finally, Toyota has 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 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 legroom 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.
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 have implemented concave door panels to provide more knee room and to help suggest a more open, airy cabin. Further, the Prius V wears upper dash panels that are so soft they're very nearly plush, and 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 our Short Cut video below to see what it's all about.
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 traveling; the driver does.
The engineers behind the Prius V essentially stretched the Prius floorpan to give the new model an extra three inches of wheelbase and six inches of overall length. Combined with its taller roof, additional glass and large rear hatch, the newcomer weighs in at 3,274 pounds. Toyota has 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.
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 has 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 a 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 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 a hidden location under the second-row seats.
All told, this 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 Prius V hit or exceed its EPA figures.
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 roofline and over 200 pounds into the Japanese hybrid was bound to have ill effects, but judging by our time with the vehicle, that simply isn'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 California's Half Moon Bay.
Fat-finger the Eco mode, however, and you're rewarded with an altogether 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 activating 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.
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 this 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 taken 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 a vehicle's wave-like motion. The result is a very stable-feeling drive, especially over aged sections of concrete interstate and expansion joints.
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 this wagon 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 backseat 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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The v stands for versatile.
Prius v is like a Prius with versatility. Toyota Prius v uses the same powertrain as in the popular Prius liftback, but with 58 percent more cargo space.
Prius v is 6 inches longer than the Prius liftback, 3.3 inches higher, and 1.1 inches wider, and on the same track. Like the original Prius liftback, the Prius v pairs a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder gas engine to an electric motor, for a total combined power output of 134 horsepower. The battery pack, like other non-plug-in Prius models, is nickel-metal hydride. The continuously variable transmission (CVT) is the same one used in the original Prius. We found it functional, but boring.
Prius v was introduced as a 2012 model and carries over unchanged. New for 2013 is a SoftTex synthetic leather steering wheel on top-of-the-line Prius v Five models.
Like other Prius models, the most compelling reason to buy a V is fuel economy. But because it's 230 pounds heavier than the original liftback, the V isn't as efficient. It loses 8 miles per gallon to the tune of an EPA-estimated 44/40 mpg City/Highway and 42 mpg combined, compared with 51/48 mpg city/highway and 50 mpg combined on 91 octane fuel.
The added weight means Prius v also loses performance: It takes 10.4 long seconds to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph, compared with Toyota's estimate of 9.8 seconds for the lethargic Prius liftback. Those are not impressive numbers. But although the Prius v is slower, thirstier and more expensive, it's is still a compelling choice for families looking for an efficient wagon/crossover with lots of functionality.
Prius v is a handsome vehicle, resembling a swoopy small minivan, not unlike the Mazda5, or maybe like a big Honda Fit without the sharp edges. The nose sweeps sharply up to the A pillars and roof. Toyota engineers paid careful aerodynamic attention to the bumpers, corners and roofline, as well as rocker panels, mirrors, wheels and wheelcovers, and it shows in the form of a drag coefficient of 0.29, which very sleek for a wagon or crossover.
With 34.3 cubic feet, Prius v offers more cargo space than 80 percent of the compact SUVs and mid-size wagons on the market. The rear seats slide back for legroom, or forward to increase cargo space; they also recline, and there's an optional panoramic roof for sky-watching. The front seat folds flat, like the Honda Fit or Jeep Patriot. With that extra 3.3 inches of height and long rear doors, it's very easy to climb in and out of the back.
Prius v handles and corners well, and we found it easier to drive around town than the liftback. Unfortunately, ride quality is quite firm. You feel every bump in this car, and it's soon irritating. Another major drawback, which we've found in all Prius models, is the noisy cabin. The V has added floor rigidity over the original Prius, which helps reduce interior noise, but it's still surprisingly buzzy. Sound deadening material adds weight, which reduces fuel efficiency.
While there aren't any direct competitors to the 2013 Toyota Prius v, the new Ford C-Max hybrid hatchback boasts better driving dynamics and a better interior with slightly better fuel economy. However, the C-Max doesn't offer as much cargo space as the Prius v does.
The 2013 Toyota Prius v comes in three models: Two, Three, and Five.
All Prius v models use a 98-horsepower 1.8-liter 4-cylinder Atkinson cycle gas engine with an 80-hp electric motor utilizing a nickel-metal hydride battery pack, with the hybrid power mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The combined horsepower is 134, and combined torque 105 pound-feet.
Prius v Two ($26,650) comes standard with fabric seats, 6-way adjustable driver seat, 60/40 split sliding reclining fold-down rear seat, fold-flat front passenger seat, under-floor cargo storage area, tonneau cover, automatic climate control with dust and pollen filters, two 12-volt power outlets, five cupholders, tilt/telescopic steering wheel with controls, cruise control, 6-inch touch-screen with backup camera, six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with USB port and iPod connectivity, voice recognition, full power, digital instrumentation, EV/Eco/Power modes, projector-beam halogen headlamps, 16-inch alloy wheels with wheel covers, LED taillamps and brake lights, power heated folding sideview mirrors, UV reduction glass windshield, and rear spoiler with LED brake light.
Prius v Three ($27,415) adds Navigation with Entune multi-media music and information app, SiriusXM HD radio, and hands-free phone capability.
Prius v Five ($30,295) adds 17-inch alloy wheels, SofTex synthetic leather upholstery and steering wheel, heated front seats, automatic halogen projector headlamps, foglamps, Smart Key system, and HomeLink.
The optional Advanced Technology Package ($5,580) upgrades to voice-activated navigation, eight-speaker JBL audio, satellite radio, Advanced Parking Guidance System, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, panoramic view moonroof, Pre-Collision system, Safety Connect with emergency assistance, stolen vehicle locator, roadside assistance and automatic collision notification, tilt/telescoping steering wheel.
Safety features includes Toyota's Star Safety System, encompassing Enhanced Vehicle Stability Control, Active Traction Control, ABS with electronic brake-force distribution, Brake Assist, and Smart Stop Technology; seven airbags; whiplash-lessening seats, tire pressure monitor, LATCH child seat system, and hill start assist. We recommend the optional Safety Connect system.
If the only reason you haven't bought a Prius is because it looks like a jellybean, you've lost your excuse. Now it looks like a real car.
Prius v's styling resembles a swoopy small minivan, not unlike the Mazda5, or maybe a big Honda Fit without the sharp edges. It's less distinctive than the Prius sedan, but then so is almost everything. It's 6 inches longer than the sedan, 3.3 inches higher, and 1.1 inches wider, on the same track.
The headlamps are sharp narrow triangles, flying away from the nose over thin vertical parking lamps, accenting an attractive front end. The nose sweeps sharply up to the A pillars and roof, about as wind-slicing as they come. At the rear, there's a standard spoiler that dips a bit at the exit of the roofline, and the wheels look great.
The coefficient of drag is 0.29, terrific for any SUV-like vehicle. Toyota engineers paid careful aerodynamic attention to the bumpers, corners, rocker panels, mirrors, wheels and wheelcovers, and especially the roofline, and it all shows. Its shape means it isn't as good as the stellar 0.25 Cd of the Prius liftback.
With 34.3 cubic feet, Toyota claims the Prius v offers more cargo space than 80 percent of the compact SUVs and mid-size wagons on the market. Even that can be expanded, to 40.2 cubic feet, by sliding the 60/40 rear seats forward another seven inches. Fold them flat and there's a relatively massive 67.3 cubic feet; plus, there are big cargo slots under the floor. That's 10 cubic feet more than a Honda Fit, the cargo champ among compact hatchbacks, but then the v is 20 inches longer than a Fit. Like the Fit, the v's front seat folds flat, for you kayakers, carpenters and pole-vaulters.
The rear seats recline 45 degrees, so with the optional panoramic roof passengers can watch the clouds. Passenger volume is 3.5 cubic feet greater than the sedan, with shoulder and hip room both increased nicely. Rear door openings are wide and door panels concave, for more passenger room. With that extra 3.3 inches of height and long rear doors, it's very easy to climb in and out of the back.
Standard equipment will leave you wanting for very little in the cabin, but if you want the nice SofTex faux leather seats, which are heated in front, you have to jump all the way up to a Prius v Five, pushing the price over the $30k mark.
Standard seats are fabric, and aren't very sporty or rugged. They were gray and fuddy-duddy and not so comfortable, with pressure points that weren't right for us.
Prius v's digital display on the 6-inch screen adds color compared to the Prius sedan, although much of the information remains primarily for amusement; that is, you just don't need it. It's fun to watch for a while, but soon you forget about where the power is going and coming from at any given moment, and just drive. Besides, there's too much glare on the instrument panel, so you can't always see the color displays. But visibility is good out all the windows, front and back.
Toyota's optional Entune smartphone integration system allows for connectivity to many apps including Pandora and OpenTable. You can also do Internet searches, read your email, send text messages using the built-in voice-recognition. Although it's billed as a way to reduce driver distraction, we found that Entune, like many other infotainment interfaces, took our eyes and minds off driving more than we'd like.
The v leads the way in energy-efficient sound systems. The optional Green Edge system by JBL is 4 pounds lighter and uses 80 percent less power. You'll be seeing more of this. Any time you can throw out 4 pounds of wiring and use less juice it's good.
On the console, there's one simple climate control dial, plus redundant buttons on the steering wheel. There are two gloveboxes, one of which rattled during our test drive. The optional panoramic roof uses a new type of resin making it lighter, and it's thermal, reflecting light and keeping the interior warmer in winter. The navigation system worked fine, once we got used to its system of entering search words for the destination.
Performance is lacking in the Prius v, in part due to its weight. It's 230 pounds heavier than the original Prius liftback, which makes a big difference in a car with only 134 horsepower.
EPA mileage for Prius v is 44/40 mpg City/Highway for a Combined 42 mpg, or 8 mpg less than the Prius liftback. We got less than that during our five-hour drive, an average of 38.4 mpg, not doing any leadfooting, and keeping it in the Normal driving mode. In order to perk up the acceleration, the rear-end ratio was changed from 3.27 in the sedan to 3.71 in the v, and that doesn't help fuel mileage because the wheels and engine turn more revolutions. Curiously, when we tested the Prius sedan we got a few miles higher than the EPA estimate; with the v we got a few less. Same driver.
In addition to Normal mode, there are three selectable modes: EV, or all-electric, with a very limited distance at 25 mph or less (if there's enough juice in the battery), most useful for underground parking garages; ECO, which minimizes fuel consumption by reducing the throttle opening and restricting the air conditioning; and Power for full acceleration. It automatically switches from ECO to Power when you step on the gas enough to need it. It needs it a lot.
The v uses the same CVT transaxle as the sedan. It's functional enough, but sure is boring. When you accelerate hard and the engine kicks into Power mode, it can be abrupt, like a transmission kick-down, as the CVT also winds up. But driving more casually, you're not aware the CVT is there, which is how they're supposed to work.
The v handles and corners well, much like the Lexus CT200H. It's easier to drive around town than the sedan, with this nimbleness and especially its good visibility. The front suspension components have been upgraded, and there are different front strut mounts.
Unfortunately, the ride doesn't match the handling. The damping feels quite firm, so you can feel every bump, and it's soon irritating. We found the same flaws in the Prius sedan: road noise and rough ride. It seems to be a Prius thing.
There's also electronic Pitch and Bounce control, intending to prevent that up-and-down porpoising motion. We found a short stretch on the road that might cause a car to porpoise, and the Prius v porpoised, a little bit. Who knows, maybe it would have been more without the electronic pitch control.
We already mentioned the engine buzz, but we mention it again here because it's so prominent under full throttle. Our notes say the engine sounds unsophisticated. As original and needed as the Prius v might be, when you have a nearly $30,000 car that's slow and loud, you have to wonder if it's worth it.
The Toyota Prius v offers the functionality of a wagon with hybrid-worthy fuel economy and excellent cargo space. Still, sluggish acceleration, cabin noise and a rough ride make it less than stellar.
Sam Moses filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report from the Pacific Northwest, with Laura Burstein reporting from Los Angeles.
Toyota Prius v Two ($26,650), Prius v Three ($27,415), Prius v Five ($30,295).
Options As Tested
Toyota Prius v Three ($27,415).
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