What’s hot: It's practical, fuel-efficient and sharply-priced
What’s not: No pre-set ratios or 'manual' controls for the CVT
X Factor: Like no other hybrid people mover, the 'v' has a new segment all to itself.
Vehicle style: People mover
Price: $35,990 (plus on-roads)
Fuel economy: (claimed combined) 4.4 l/100km running on 95RON unleaded fuel. CO2 emissions:101g/km.
Buoyed by a 29.8 percent spike in Prius hatch sales in the first four months of this year, Toyota has released a versatile people-mover version of its hybrid, the Prius v.
Despite its hybrid technologies, Toyota's new 'family-friendly' hybrid is second-only to Kia’s Rondo as Australia’s least-expensive seven-seater.
Longer, wider and taller than the standard Prius hatch, Toyota says the v stands for versatility. So, what's it like?
Quality: The whole interior ambience is one of surprising spaciousness.
Fit and finish on the two cars we drove could not be faulted; the doors shut with a solid thunk and there's a feel of quality throughout.
Second-row seats are set higher than those in the first row, and the third row is in turn higher than the second. The result is great all-round visibility and travelling comfort for all passengers.
The seating can be tailored a total of 64 ways to carry everything from its maximum seven occupants to a small van-sized load.
Comfort: The front two seats are well-bolstered for hips and thighs and there is plenty of adjustment. With up to 93 percent seat-back angle adjustment, they are great for a roadside power nap.
While not so heavily bolstered, the second-row seats are still pretty easy to sit in. The two third-row seats are a bit more 'park-bench-like' but the kids probably won’t mind.
The steering wheel has height-and reach adjustment and all switches and controls are placed within easy reach.
While I don’t like centre-of-dash information screens, the v has a head-up speed display that projects onto the base of the windscreen right in the driver’s eyeline.
Equipment: The just-released Pruis v will become the entry-level version when the top-spec i-Tech v arrives late this year.
The standard v has automatic climate-control air-con, reversing camera, head-up speed display, a 6.1-inch display audio screen, electric windows and exterior mirrors, a rear spoiler and a six-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system.
Also on the menu are daytime-running lights, front-and-rear fog lights, Bluetooth, USB jack and a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel.
Storage: Storage options are one of the v’s strong points; even with the third-row seats occupied, there is still room for a decent golf bag.
There are only five cup-holders to cover seven seats, but ample other cubby holes and lidded spaces (including an overhead sunglasses holder).
When all seven seats are occupied, there is 180 litres of luggage space. Flip the third-row seats down and there is a flat-floor area of 485 litres.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: Most of our driving was on city and suburban streets and freeways, with some country roads and a small amount of gravel.
Initial impressions are that the new Prius v is wholly car-like to drive and quite sure-footed.
Pushed hard through corners at highway speeds there is little understeer despite the front-wheel-drive layout.
Under the bonnet is a 1.8 litre, Atkinson cycle 'four' with variable valve timing. It produces maximum power of 73kW and peak torque of 142Nm, and is mated with a 650Volt, 100kW and 207Nm electric motor.
With those numbers, power is adequate but hardly rivetting. It doesn't have the verve of the Hybrid Camry (which is quite quick).
The only transmission is a CVT (continuously variable transmission). Unfortunately, it does not come with pre-selected gear ratios for manual paddles or stick-shift control. The result is the 'slipping-clutch' sound and feel that is inherent in CVTs.
That aside, the v is a comfortable, quiet cruiser and it’s nice to look at the fuel-consumption read-out and see figures in the low-to-mid 4.0 l/100km.
Refinement: While some long wheelbase vehicles can be prone to pitch and bounce, the Prius v uses the vehicle’s wheel-speed sensors to smooth out the ride.
The system uses electric-motor torque to apply small trim forces to counteract the direction in which the car wants to pitch or bounce. It's smart, and it seems to work.
The result is a flatter ride, reduced body movement and more relaxed driving.
Suspension: The front uses an independent MacPherson-strut system with L-arms, coil springs, gas dampers and a stabiliser bar.
At the rear there is a semi-independent torsion-beam set-up that also uses coil springs and gas dampers.
Braking: Braking is one of the new Pruis v’s strong points. It uses 296mm ventilated discs at the front and 290mm solids on the rear.
ANCAP: Not yet tested, but Toyota is confident of a 5-Star rating.
Safety features: There are seven airbags (dual front, side, curtain and driver’s knee), electronic stability control, traction control, ABS brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, hill-start assist an emergency-stop tail-light system and three-point seat belts.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY:
The new Prius v has, in Toyota’s view, a raft of competitors, including compact SUVs and crossover vehicles.
Kia Rondo SLi auto ($31,390) - Also a seven-seater, the pretty raw Rondo comes in under the v on the sticker price but beats the Prius v on little else. The v is considerably the better buy. (see Kia reviews)
Honda Odyssey ($37,100) - The pick of the car-like MPVs, it is beaten for price by the Prius v and has no answer to its miserly fuel use. It's an appealing car though, the Odyssey, with plenty of room, well-finished, and a good drive. (see Odyssey reviews)
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
With pin-sharp pricing, seven seats, outstanding flexibility and versatility, the Prius v is just the vehicle for value-conscious and environmentally-conscious families… (not to mention Queensland’s Labor opposition, which has the same number of seats).
A hybrid is not for everyone, but, like the Camry Hybrid, the Prius v is a cleverly thought-out and well-built car.
The real advantage of its hybrid system is on urban streets rather than the highway.
But for space and flexibility, for fuel efficiency and low CO2 emissions in increasingly grid-locked roads, the Prius v is safe and sensible buying.
Available in one trim grade, the Prius v is priced from $35,990 (plus on-road costs).
Prius v, like all new Toyota vehicles, is covered by Toyota Service Advantage with a capped price of $130 for each of up to six scheduled logbook services in the first three years or 60,000km. Clarify details with your dealer.
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