By on May 30, 2011

Once upon a time Japanese cars came to our shores promising high fuel economy and despite feeling small and cheap, buyers flocked to the dealers. Over time however, the Japanese auto industry grew up. “Small and flimsy” are qualities that modern Japanese imports do not possess but as is the way with the world, better quality came with a price: lower fuel economy. The first generation Prius proved that good fuel economy did not mean jamming yourself into a two-seater light-weight vehicle full of compromises a family of four just couldn’t make. Still, it was far from perfect; it was dreadfully boring, felt small and cheap and was not large enough for many families.

In an era when ginormous SUVs were all the rage, the Prius’ mileage was nothing short of show-stopping and they sold like hotcakes once the Hollywood set made them the latest fashion accessory. When the third generation Prius saw the light of the automotive press, it was obvious that the upstart had grown up. Unlike the other Toyota family members however, the Prius becomes more efficient and larger with every revision. One complaint however has stuck: the Prius is just too small for some.



To show us how versatile Toyota’s Prius platform can be, Toyota invited us to the press preview of the Prius V (pronounced “vee” not five). The shape is familiar to anyone overseas as the V is known as the Prius Alpha in Japan and the Prius + in Europe. What is the V? It’s basically a Prius Wagon, but Toyota would prefer we just called it the largest and most versatile Prius on the market. It’s not a crossover because it retains its car-like ride height and FWD based hybrid drivetrain.

The biggest change from the Prius Alpha that has been exciting the green bloggers for a few months is the lack of a third row seat in the American Prius V. Toyota tells us that less than 5% of RAV4 buyers choose the third row option citing their research that buyers interested in a third row opt for the Highlander. Still, this seems like fuzzy logic to me since a buyer that is seriously interested in a 40+ MPG hybrid wagon is really going to be happy stepping up to a large SUV. Prius shoppers have always marched to a different drummer and may just be happy with jamming two extra passengers in the cramped back seat to save some MPGs. The real issue is a lithium-ion battery pack is required to make the 3rd row possible, and in the Prius +/Alpha, Toyota stashed a portion of this battery in the center console making the overseas models a little shy on storage space. Toyota claims that the EPA rating of the lithium-ion Prius would not have been any higher than the NiMH version either making it just more expensive in a market that just wants to jumbo-size their Prius combo for 99-cents.

Our brief encounter with the V started on an unusually sunny Monterey afternoon. We were paired up and sent off on a 98-mile road course, and like good children we shared the wheel-time. Toyota graciously allowed me an additional 40 miles of solo time to explore the car and a brief photo shoot.

Inside the V, the Prius family resemblance is obvious with many of the parts lifted right out of the liftback. Rather than just inflating the sheet metal and calling it done, Toyota chose to introduce a new three-color instrument cluster that is far more readable than the one in the liftback and some new soft-touch panels on the dash. Fit and finish was adequate, but as we were driving a pro-production vehicle I expect the final product to have these wrinkles ironed out.

The rear seats in the V are the biggest difference compared to the liftback, providing about three-inches more leg room along with seats that recline up to 45-degrees and can be moved forward/aft. The increased dimensions mean that it is possible to comfortable fit two rearward facing child seats in the rear with normal-sized parents up front. In addition to kid-friendly rear seats the V delivers more cargo room than 80% of small SUV/CUVs on the market in the US including the Escape Hybrid, Equinox, and Jetta TDI wagon. Even the payload capacity seems beefy at 1,056lbs. Just keep in mind that you still have to motivate that additional ½ ton of weight with the same 134HP as the regular Prius.

During our short stint in the V, we averaged 40.1 MPG in mixed driving which jives with the newly announced EPA estimated numbers of 44/40/42 (City/Highway/Combined) compared to the liftback’s numbers of 51/48/50, this is a 16% reduction for a 60% increase in usable cargo space and decent improvement in passenger space. The difference in fuel economy is largely due to the V’s larger profile, longer wheelbase, additional weight (230lbs) and less aerodynamic profile.

Pricing has not yet been announced, but we expect it to ring in around $26,000 base price based on Toyota’s statements that the V will command a price premium over the liftback. Toyota only expects to sell some 25,000 examples in the USA, but I suspect the take rate could be higher. Be sure to check back with TheTruthAboutCars.com for a full review including comparisons when the production model becomes available. In the meantime, if you have any review suggestions, post in our comment section or on our Facebook page and let us know.

Toyota provided the pre-production Prius V, one night’s stay at a swanky hotel in Monterey and the $10 admission fee to the “17-mile drive.”

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43 Comments on “Pre-Production Review: Toyota Prius V...”


  • avatar
    Amendment X

    All hail the Prius Van.

  • avatar
    cmoibenlepro

    Interesting product.
    I would like to see more wagons and less crossovers on the market.

  • avatar
    redliner

    Even as a car enthusiast, I still respect the Prius for what it is. I wouldn’t mind having one, because my expectations are not of Corvette levels of acceleration or Mini Cooper style handling. Just decent MPG.

    I would still need a fun week end car though.

  • avatar
    jimmyy

    When Detroit talks technology, they put a bunch of useless computer junk in the vehicles, then advertise the heck out of the trash. Furthermore, they game the EPA numbers on the sticker. They figure you won’t check it.

    But, Toyota gives you real technology you can use. The Toyota hybrid can not be matched by Detroit. In fact, Ford purchases this technology from Toyota.

    Toyota advances state of the art again. All Detroit can rely on is another recall smear to trick people into purchasing Detroit garbage.

    Detroit, RIP.

    • 0 avatar
      cmoibenlepro

      Ford Fusion Hybrid has good EPA comparable to Toyota Camry Hybrid.

    • 0 avatar
      meefer

      Not so much there jimmyy. Might want to use a little thing called a search engine before getting all misinformed like that.

      http://green.autoblog.com/2009/07/03/once-more-with-feeling-ford-does-not-use-the-toyota-hybrid-syst/

      • 0 avatar
        jimmyy

        meefer, your link is just crap. Someone twisting facts in order to hide the truth. The Wall Street Journal has it right. Ford buys hybrid technology from Toyota.

        If the Wall Street Journal was wrong, you can bet Ford would call the lawyers and demand the Wall Street Journal retract their comment. But, no such event. End of story.

      • 0 avatar
        John Horner

        “The Wall Street Journal has it right.”

        Doubtful. Ever since Murdoch took over the WSJ’s reporting quality has been uneven, at best.

      • 0 avatar
        MikeAR

        John Horner, since Murdoch bought the WSJ it has tilted further and further to the left especially on the editorial pages, the news reporting has been lefty for years.

        You’re no more than a reflexive liberal, Murdoch is evil and anything else you’ve been told to think. Learn to think for yourself or better yet read something that isn’t strict party line liberal for a change.

      • 0 avatar
        car_guy2010

        @MikeAR- Wow, such a nasty comment from someone who is obviously a brainless, neo-con.

        Do we really need to get this political whenever the Prius is mentioned? It’s nearly comical and highly predictable to see hybrid-haters show up in an article about a hybrid.

        Why don’t YOU get a clue?

        As for the WSJ and Murdoch? “Liberal” is not how I would describe ANY of their policies, etc.

    • 0 avatar
      panzerfaust

      From the article; “When Ford introduced the Escape Hybrid, Toyota went after the Blue Oval for infringing on its patents. Ford had patents of its own on the technology that Toyota was using. Eventually, the two companies reached a cross-licensing agreement that gives both companies the right to build their own systems. Such cross-licensing agreements are common in these kinds of cases, but Ford did not use the Toyota hybrid system. The only other company that uses Toyota’s system is Nissan for its Altima hybrid, and they actually buy hardware from Toyota.”

      Cross-licensing and buying someone else’s technology are two different things.

      • 0 avatar
        jimmyy

        more misinformation. This is what Detroit is good at.

        I can remember Ford crying when Toyota was not selling Ford enough Hybrid parts.

        http://www.clublexus.com/forums/car-chat/174250-ford-slams-toyota-on-hybrids.html

        The Wall Street Journal is the most credible source that exists. Toyota is the leader in hybrids. That is a fact. Ford is just blowing smoke. Ford is licensing hybrid technology from Toyota. The autoblog you are quoting is a joke.

        http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/10/business/ford-to-use-toyota-s-hybrid-technology.html

        http://electric-vehicles-cars-bikes.blogspot.com/2010/03/toyota-to-license-hybrid-technology-to.html

        Furthermore, on the last earnings call, Ford executives stated that Ford was suffering quality issues.

      • 0 avatar
        eamiller

        I take issue with Jimmyy’s summary of his linked articles (as in, he’s wrong). The WSJ article from 2004 has little to no information in it, except that Ford is paying Toyota an undisclosed amount and they are exchanging technology on “emissions reduction”. This is essentially a settlement of “patent nuclear war” (hence why Ford is licensing considerably less than Nissan, since the Nissan system is a direct buy of Toyota’s HSD).

        The article on the clublexus.com discusses that Ford is using the SAME SUPPLIERS for some parts as Toyota. Obviously, “Jimmyy” has no concept of how the automotive supply chain works. Since I happen to work for one of the largest automotive parts suppliers in the world, I’ll explain:

        Supplier A develops a design/technology. This design/technology is then sold in various flavors to many automotive OEMs. Usually, this is customized to each customer’s requirements (which are sometimes drastically different for similar applications).

        In the Clublexus article, they were talking about the Aisin developed transmission used in the Fords. This happens to be the same supplier as Toyota (and there may be similar core technologies used in both transmissions that Aisin developed), but is likely drastically different in implementation. However, Aisin has a finite amount of production capacity that it has to balance among all its programs. When multiple high-volume programs spin up at the same time, parts shortages can develop, especially if those parts are made on the same assembly line (thanks to flexible assembly techniques).

        So, yes, Jimmyy either can’t, or didn’t bother to read the articles closely.

    • 0 avatar
      probert

      The Chevy Volt is the state of the art technology. Many owners report around 80mpg in typical commuting scenarios. The demand is so high dealers are charging up to 50% markups.

      So what are you talking about here?

  • avatar
    jimmyy

    I will consider a Prius if gas stays above 3.50, and this Prius is just the one I need.

    • 0 avatar
      car_guy2010

      I prefer the liftback. Then again, I don’t have a family or much else to haul.

      Of course, the price will always be a detriment to the working poor like myself (I’m a janitor for a living).

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        Even the existing hatchback Prius is a pretty good family hauler. It works pretty well for us least so far with two parents, one kid, a small dog, and the associated stuff. Our kid (in his carseat) can even fit into the backseat with both grandparents for trips across town. The hatchback form factor makes the interior volume much more useful than it is for a sedan, and the footprint of the passenger compartment isn’t too different from a lot of the smaller CUVs — though it’s not nearly as tall (which suits me just fine; I’m short).

        It’s a good choice, if you want a reliable/efficient/practical AtoB transportation appliance. If you want something fun to drive, though, you might have to own two cars… The Prius is a great little car, but it is what it is — and it is not a sports car.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    I think part of the reason for no third row is the failure of the Mazda 5 to catch on in the US. I think that’s a mistake on Toyota’s part, the fact that Mazda can’t market a small people-mover doesn’t mean Toyota couldn’t.

    • 0 avatar
      chris724

      The biggest problem with the Mazda 5 is its rather mediocre mpg. I loved the idea, and took one for a test drive. But it would have needed 5 more mpg combined to convince me to pull the trigger on a new Mazda.

      • 0 avatar
        John Horner

        Mazda’s dealership network doesn’t do the company any favors either. The last time I was car shopping and wanted to test drive a Mazda5 the guy told me to come back during the week when he wasn’t so busy!

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve been observing 22 MPG in suburban driving in the Mazda5. So, yes, another 5 MPG would help. Maybe with Mazda’s new miracle engine?

      • 0 avatar
        GiddyHitch

        Mazda5 was the first thing I thought of when I saw the pictures of the Prius V (actually, I thought why are they showing us the fifth gen Prius when we haven’t even see the fourth gen Prius yet?). But I digress. I don’t understand why the Mazda5 gets such terrible mileage with its diminutive proportions and relatively light weight – the hulking and much more spacious Sienna and Odyssey come within spitting distance and offer much more utility. Is it really a matter of old engine tech vs new engine tech? If that’s the case, I hope that Mazda is able to bring the mileage up with the new one and fix the ridiculous front end and side swoops while they’re at it. I’m a closet 5 fan, but the new one is just plain fugly.

        It seems like the V really needs some sliding rear doors to accommodate families of 4 ready to downsize to something practical in the era of $4-5 gas. I’m guessing that would drive away more customers than it would bring in however.

      • 0 avatar
        Steve B

        Mazda5 is close in weight, dimensions, and displacement to a 2WD Honda CR-V. They are rated exactly the same (21/28). My ex-wife had a 2006, which under adjusted EPA ratings got 19/24.

    • 0 avatar
      MattPete

      We actually bought a Mazda5 because it’s gas mileage and pricing, was so much better than it’s larger competitors (minivans, SUVs, CUVs, mythical Mercury hybrid) *and* it had a 3rd row seat.

      What Mazda needs to fix is:

      (1) More oompphh.

      (2) More width. It’s 3 inches narrower than a Camry and 10 inches narrower than an Odyssey. An extra 4 inches will still leave it substantially narrower than an Odyssey, but give enough room in the 2nd row for 3-across seating.

      (3) Quieter. This is the first car where I regret not getting the undercoating. The water that splashes up when driving through a puddle sounds like metal shot is bouncing off the wheel wells.

      (4) Redesign the rear suspension so that the shocks don’t blow out at 30k miles.

    • 0 avatar
      Bob12

      Supposedly Mazda’s SKYACTIV technology program will boost fuel economy. I hope so.

      http://mazdausa.com/MusaWeb/skyactiv.action

  • avatar
    Steve B

    When was this? I saw a Prius driving around, and something looked off about it, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it?

    /live in Monterey… well, Seaside, but close enough.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    I think Toyota made the right tradeoff in ditching the almost useless third row seating in return for lower production costs and improved storage space.

    Third row seating in a vehicle of this size is pretty much a joke for any passenger over 8 years old, and even 8 year olds are going to grow up!

    I’m looking forward to checking the Prius V out.

    • 0 avatar
      cmoibenlepro

      Exactly.

    • 0 avatar
      Sothy

      I gotta disagree. As one of those with a RAV4 with 7 seats, I must point out that the RAV4 is (currently) only available in base form with 7 seats (before it was Limited form) and in Canada only in base form with a V6. So in other words, of the 6 RAV4 options (base, sport, limited, then 4 or 6 cylinder) only one or two of them have a 7 seat option…

      why are 7 seats great? Sometimes you need to take an extra kid or grandparent, car seats take a lot of room, etc.

      Plus, the 7 seat model has a higher payload to boot.

      Give us the option…

      • 0 avatar
        Bob12

        +1. Furthermore, 7-seat RAV4 models are virtually impossible to find in dealer stock. I’m sure this further depresses sales.

        Toyota’s justification that “buyers interested in a third row opt for the Highlander” is very weak when the deck is stacked against buyers interested in a 3-row RAV4.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      My kid is under 8 years old. Having a 3rd row that isn’t big for adults would be great for me for at least another 7 years, and longer if he has any younger sisters or brothers. Why does everyone think that a family hauler wouldn’t have kids in the seats…?

      Wouldn’t people who regularly haul around 7 adults just get a not-so-mini-van like the new Sienna? That thing is huge! It’s a freaking sasquatch, and way to big for my family.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    While my wife seems dead set on a CT200h, I think I’m going to end up pushing for this. Sure, it gives up the supposedly nice handling of the CT, but I’m a total sucker for practicality and versatility. I’m damn certain I could fit 2 bikes inside the cargo area of this. No MPG hit, no worrying about the bikes coming loose from the hitch mount, reduced worry of theft. Especially if we have kids, this thing will be wayyy better at hauling around today’s monstrous child seats and strollers.

  • avatar
    mazder3

    Prius V? As in Victor? They couldn’t spring for the letters e, r, s and o to give it a full name? I can’t wait to hear the adverts, “Come on down and test drive the all-new Prius Five!”

  • avatar
    Skink

    Once upon a time I was among those who felt small and cheap. Still am.

  • avatar
    stuki

    Other than the crashiness of the suspension over potholes, the Prius is one heck of an (sub)urban hauler for anyone less than concerned about maximizing speed and throughput at every opportunity, which seems to be at least 98% of people on the road. This bigger one ought to really light up American buyers.

  • avatar
    beken

    It’s good to see the Prius V has some pick-up to make a passing move…against a slow cruising MINI Clubman at that.

    I’m wondering if the move made at about 1min 50sec into the video would be considered legal (passing on the right, using the merge-out and merge-in lanes to pass, passing in an intersection) or considered a safe maneuver in that jurisdiction.

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      Not admitting to anything in a legal sense, in California there is no prohibition on passing on the right, or passing in an intersection as long as the speed limit and lane use is observed. So no, there is nothing wrong with passing the the merge lanes per se and the Mini was going quite slow.


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