Toyota's Prius family is growing. The Prius V is bigger in every key dimension than the stock Prius, and the company just unveiled the smallest Prius ever, the Prius C, which will cost less than $20K and get more than 50 mpg. We haven't yet driven the Prius C, but I'm going go out on a limb and project that Toyota will have done a better job of shrinking its ultrasuccessful Prius formula than it has in enlarging it.
Why? Because although the Prius V is appreciably bigger than the stock Prius, with a huge amount of rear-seat room and a substantial cargo area, its size is a definite liability in terms of NVH: noise, vibration, and harshness. The enlarged cabin is, quite simply, an echo chamber for road noise, tire noise, powertrain noise, wind noise, any noise. The point of the bigger Prius is to be able to more comfortably haul people and belongings, presumably over longer distances. This should be the Prius that you want to take on a long road trip. But if you have to drive this car more than 50 miles on the freeway, you'll be turning up the volume on the excellent, optional JBL stereo to maintain your sanity.
In the August 2011 issue of Automobile Magazine, I reported that the new Toyota Prius V "has a very comfortable freeway ride." That was true last May on the smooth pavement of the freeways near Half Moon Bay, California, but it sure wasn't true in January 2012, when I drove our Prius V tester in the Ann Arbor and Detroit vicinities. Here on the pockmarked roads of Michigan, the Prius V transmitted every bump, pothole, expansion strip, or dimple in the pavement to the bums of every passenger.
Other complaints include:
- Every time I come to a stop, I have to think for a minute, now, how do I put this car in park? There are two buttons, one on top of each other, above the gearshift selector. They both begin with the letter P. One is for Park, immediately above the gearshifter, and another is the power button, which you have to push after hitting Park. I suppose you'd get used to this over time, but, really, why isn't the Park function part of the gearshift selector?
- The heated-seat buttons are practically hidden and have only one setting.
Complaints aside, here's what I like:
- Very good high-beam headlamps
- Superb visibility out the huge windshield and side windows
- Pretty decent snow traction getting up my steep driveway
- Car actually handles well, with little body roll
- Good navigation system and back-up camera
- Excellent interior room
As for fuel economy, over 214 miles, about half freeway, half two-lane and city streets, the trip computer said I achieved 33 mpg.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
I find it funny that Toyota's advertising tries to compare the Prius V to "other small SUVs." I can't look at this car for a second and think of it as an SUV, or even a crossover. This is undoubtedly a wagon - although I'm sure marketing officials loathe the idea of using the dirty "W" word when trying to sell Toyota's latest hybrid.
In a nutshell, the V is essentially new from the B-pillars aft. The V is 6.1 inches longer than a standard Prius, but that doesn't just translate into extra cargo space. Rear-seat passengers are gifted with a surprising amount of space. In fact, there's nearly 35.9 inches of legroom in the second row, which is almost akin to that of a midsize sedan.
Apart from the newfound space, nothing's new. The hybrid drive system is the same, and the buckboard-stiff ride quality still annoys me, but as Joe DeMatio points out, the Prius doesn't exhibit all that much body roll. I am happy to see that the designers eliminated the ungainly sloping center stack, although some controls - notably the heated seat switches and the USB audio input - are still placed in an unusual and almost invisible location. Another bonus: soft-touch materials for the instrument panel, even if they are limited to the trim pieces flanking the steering column and glovebox.
Anyone expecting the Prius V to be an all-new offering will likely walk away a bit disappointed, but those who love the existing Prius but long for a bit more passenger space - be it for older children, taxi fares, pets, or cargo - will find the V an appealing package.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
I had the PruisV for the weekend -- by request -- as my wife and I were anxious to check it out as our Odyssey rides into the sunset. I would say overall, the new "big" Prius accomplishes its tasks, but with little enthusiasm -- from itself or it's occupants.
For starters, 35 mpg was the best I was able to achieve after a weekend of mixed local and highway driving -- not as good as I was expecting nor as advertised. And the interior styling and execution left much to be desired.
Let me echo Joe D's sentiments regarding the strange Power/Park/gearshift set-up. The Nissan Leaf employs a similar rocker gearshift that requires a push of a button for Park, but it incorporates that button atop the gearshift, and is therefore a more natural progression to place the car in Park, then push Off. In the PriusV, I twice placed the PriusV in Park, and unintentionally began to exit the car without turning it off. A situation made more likely by the fact that it is more often than not silent and gives no sensory indication that it is still on. I'm sure eventually these quibbles would disappear for an owner who becomes accustomed to such quirks, but is just seemed so easily avoided by Toyota.
Also, I have to register my disappointment with the interior layout. After recently spending time in a surprisingly stylish and well-laid-out Yaris, I expected better from a car further up the model chain. Unfortunately the PriusV follows so many other Toyotas with unusual grain textures, slippery and flat seating surfaces and an overall feel of being cocooned in a giant piece of Tupperware. The list of oddities was long: The strange cloth pad atop the armrest that seemed to be a lint magnet and sure to be torn and unsightly in no time... a massive center console yet only one cupholder... the too low and far away tray in front of the console... rear seats that while spacious enough for a center passenger between two carseats, looked terrible and felt worse. The high trunk floor necessitated a higher than normal hinge point for the seats to fold down, resulting in four big, hard plastic hinges that encroached too much on the passengers and an axis of unwelcome lumbar support.
And I'm sorry, but I'm just NEVER going to accept an instrument panel integrated into the center tower as anything but ghastly. I know Toyota thinks it's futuristic or something, but I think it makes the car look like some sort of robotic Disney ride wherein even the driver is just a passenger. But since I actually have to pilot this vehicle, I find having to look at an angle for information annoying and the long narrow panel of the Prius particularly tough to decipher at a glance. What's more, the blank space beyond the wheel just seems empty and wasted. At least MINI gives you something to look at and use within eyesight.
The single multifunction knob for the climate system is gimmicky and unnecessary, and needlessly complicates the function of a system that seemed to need constant adjustment, and the seat switch down in the cavern beneath the dash was inexcusable.
Matt Tierney, Art Director
If you're going to schlep your family around in a characterless utility vehicle, why not do it with maximum fuel efficiency? I suspect that Toyota's swollen Prius will seduce many families cross-shopping compact SUVs that have a combined fuel economy number 15 mpg lower than the Prius V's 42 mpg. In photos and press releases, the idea of a slightly larger Prius seemed trivial. In person, the benefits are much clearer. The long, limo-like rear doors open to a back seat with tons of legroom and the tall roof adds a substantial amount of room to the regular Prius's cargo hold. As long as you don't require a third row, the Prius V should easily accommodate your brood and their belongings.
It's disappointing -- but not at all surprising -- that the V drives just like the Prius. If you tally Joe and Evan and Matt's complaints, you might come to the conclusion that the Prius V is flawed in almost every aspect of vehicle engineering. That's not far from the truth. The powertrain bellows under load, the ride is unforgiving, and the interior design is bizarre at the expense of ergonomics. I was hoping the V would inject much-needed refinement into the Prius, but it's now clear to me this wasn't an engineering project. The V could just as easily have been birthed by a bean counter assigned to amortize the cost of Toyota's hybrid research and development program. The Prius name still dominates hybrid sales, but now is hardly the time for complacency at Toyota. General Motors is far ahead of Toyota in managing the noise, vibration, and harshness of the gas engine with the Chevrolet Volt and the Prius will soon face direct competition from Ford with its C-Max Hybrid and C-Max Energi Plug-in Hybrid.
If you want the Prius V package with a less punishing driving experience, check out the Mazda 5. If you care about fuel economy above all else, then there is no choice to make: Toyota has the only horse in this race right now. While Matt's observed 35 mpg doesn't match up with the fuel economy claims, it's far better than what you'll achieve with anything you might compare with the Prius V.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
I suspect that Eric is right -- the Prius V will appeal to those in the market for a vehicle with the room and versatility of a crossover and who place a premium on fuel economy. For those buyers, the simple fact that the Prius V hits the 40 mpg mark will override the fact that the ride isn't that refined or that the cabin is a little too noisy. I've read recently that some pundits are predicting that gas will reach $5 per gallon in the not-too-distant future, which, if it's true, should bode well for Toyota's entire Prius franchise. That includes the Prius V, which despite the shortcomings mentioned above is, for the moment at least, in a class of one.
Yes, the interior is odd -- the fact that I had to look to the right to see any of the instruments is disconcerting. The gear-shift selector, particularly the Park button, is a feature that doesn't seem at all intuitive, but I suppose if you owned this vehicle you'd become accustomed to it in no time. The driving experience is perfectly adequate for non-enthusiasts. None of this is exactly high praise, but for now, at least, Toyota can count on the Prius's name recognition and reputation to lure prospective buyers. As other manufacturers enter the game, however, the bar will likely be raised, and Toyota will have to respond.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor