First Drive: 2012 Toyota Prius V

INSIDE THE BIGGEST PRIUS YET As standard, the seats are upholstered in fabric. A new, leather-like fabric called SofTex is optional. To call it vinyl is unfair, because it’s soft and nice; Toyota says it weighs 28 percent less than leather and emits fewer VOC’s during production. The lid of the center console bin, which acts as an armrest, is upholstered in a swath of suede-like material. A wide instrument binnacle stretches across the center of the dash and contains the speedometer, fuel gauge, and other readouts. At the bottom of the center stack, a newly designed climate-control dial toggles left to right to move between mode, temperature, and fan speed; it’s a nicely designed mechanism.

The real news is in the rear seat. Huge rear doors and a two-level interior curb make ingress and egress easy. Parents should find it easy to step into the vehicle to install child seats and to secure rug rats into them. Sitting behind a five-foot, eleven-inch driver, I found plenty of rear-seat foot room, as your feet can extend under the front seats. There’s generous leg and knee room and good side visibility, plus a comfortable pull-down center armrest. The center seating position is awkward and rigid but it will be fine for short trips. The 60/40-split rear bench slides back and forth more than seven inches, so you can choose between more legroom and more cargo room. The seatbacks recline between 17 and 45 degrees.

PANORAMIC VIEWS, PANDORA, AND OTHER GOODIES An optional panoramic moon roof for the top-spec Prius v Five uses two fixed polycarbonate roof panels, which are 50 percent lighter than a similarly sized glass roof would be. Although the windows don’t open, they let in lots of light; a power roller shade can cover them completely.

A back-up camera is standard on all three Prius v grades, and radar cruise control is available as part of the Advanced Technology Package on the Five. An available JBL GreenEdge stereo weighs 4.2 lb less than a similar unit on the regular Prius and puts fewer demands on the alternator. Toyota makes much about its new Entune system, whereby you use an app on your smart phone to access Bing maps, Iheartradio, sports, weather, Pandora, and other services, all streamed through your mobile device but accessed through the touch screen. We had no luck getting Pandora to work in our first test car but in another vehicle it worked fine and we were hitting the thumbs-up and thumbs-down images on the touch screen to fine-tune our music preferences.

FUTURE PRIUS PLANS Toyota has already confirmed that it will introduce a plug-in-hybrid Prius, similar to the Chevy Volt, in the first half of 2012. The company will also bring us its smallest Prius yet, based on the Prius C concept, sometime next year. “I see Prius eventually leading Toyota sales here in the United States,” says Bob Carter, group vice president and general manager of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. “The Prius family defines Toyota today.” Carter says that, including the aforementioned new Prius models, Toyota will introduce some ten new hybrid models across its Toyota and Lexus brands over the next twenty months, and six will be entirely new.

With 44 city; 40 highway; 42 combined rating, I will prefer my Jetta Sportswagon TDI any day over the Prius V.... AT 39 city and 50 highway my 2010 Sportwagon is a drivers car.... And when the Prius batteries are just about dead at 150,000 miles, meaning $8000 for new batteries, the TDI engine has just about gotten to its half life....
Well, Toyota seems to be doing exactly what it ought to do to come out of its recent troubles. It's building on its strengths. Every generation of the Prius has gotten better to drive, here's hoping that they continue that trend.That being said, it is surprising that 232 pounds and a few ticks of aerodynamic coefficient should have such a huge effect on the MPG. Nearly ten miles per gallon worse? Geeuh. When the Scion Xb got the bloat, it was 600 pounds heavier and a lot more powerful, but the MPG stayed surprisingly close.

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