First Look: 2012 Toyota Prius v

Toyota will capitalize on the exceptional success and vaunted image of the Prius hybrid when it expands the nameplate with the 2012 Prius V model. The V is for versatility, says Toyota, with the new model packing 50 percent more cargo space than the current Prius. The larger, heavier, and less aerodynamic body, however, does have a significant impact on fuel economy, with the EPA estimates dropping from 51 mpg in the city and 48 mpg on the highway to 42/38 mpg. The Prius V has an EPA combined estimate of 40 mpg versus the Prius’ 50 mpg.

To build a roomier Prius, Toyota has stretched every dimension of the existing car. The wheelbase grows by 3.1 inches while the overall length increases by 6.1 inches. It is also 3.3 inches taller and 1.2 inches wider with the coefficient of drag rising from 0.25 to 0.29. Toyota hasn’t discussed the weight of the new Prius V, but you can be sure that it comes in quite a bit above the Prius’ 3042-pounds curb weight.

The new Prius takes on the shape of an MPV, a form factor that’s popular with families in Europe. It seats five and uses four conventional doors. Inside the rear hatch, owners can store up to 34.3 cubic feet of cargo. To accommodate both passengers and gear, the rear seats slide and recline, and the front passenger seat folds flat to make way for long items.

When it arrives in late summer 2011, the Prius V will also launch Toyota’s new Entune multimedia system, which uses a driver’s cell phone and apps like Bing, OpenTable, movietickets.com, and Pandora to connect to the Internet. The apps offer the ability to search for businesses, check the weather, make a dinner reservation, buy movie tickets, or pull up a personalized radio station. The system will read text messages to drivers and allow them to reply with a set of canned responses. Entune also includes voice recognition, HD radio, Bluetooth hands-free phone, XM satellite radio, and iPod integration.

Keyless ignition, 16-inch aluminum wheels, and a back-up camera are standard on the Prius V. Adaptive cruise control, 17-inch wheels, and a parking guidance system are among the available equipment. Toyota’s Prius V will also be the first vehicle to offer a panoramic roof made from composite, resulting in a 40 percent weight reduction compared to a glass roof.

Mechanicals for the Prius V match those of the current Prius with a 98-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder and an 80-hp electric motor (drawing from a nickel-metal hydride battery) powering the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission. Drivers can choose from normal, power, eco and EV driving modes.

Toyota also used the Detroit stage to show the subcompact Prius C concept and announce the production of the Prius plug-in hybrid. The Prius family builds a brand around the vehicle that’s delivered 955,000 sales in the United States since the hybrid’s debut in 2000.

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