2012 Toyota Prius v

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These reviews are written by independent automotive journalists providing an objective and reliable assessment to help you make a smart buying decision. 2012 Toyota Prius v.

Reviewed By: Sam Moses
© 2012 NewCarTestDrive.com


The v in Prius v stands for versatility. The new Toyota Prius v uses the same powertrain as in the Prius sedan, with some 2012 improvements and upgrades, but what it's all about is the new wagon body that provides a 58 percent increase in cargo space.

Because it's 230 pounds heavier than the sedan, the Prius v loses 8 miles per gallon, as the EPA rating drops down to 44/40 mpg City/Highway from 51/48, on 91 octane fuel. It also loses some acceleration performance, again because of the weight. The v goes from 0 to 60 mph in 10.4 seconds, the sedan in 9.8 seconds. Those are not impressive numbers.

So the new Prius v is slower and more thirsty than the sedan, and is expected to cost about $4000 more. What you gain is family functionality. Prius v is 6 inches longer than the Prius sedan, 3.3 inches higher, and 1.1 inches wider, on the same track.

The Prius v is a handsome vehicle, resembling a swoopy small minivan, not unlike the Mazda5, or maybe like a big Honda Fit without the sharp edges. The nose sweeps sharply up to the A pillars and roof, about as wind-slicing as they come. The coefficient of drag is 0.29, very sleek for a an SUV-like vehicle. Toyota engineers paid careful aerodynamic attention to the bumpers, corners and roofline, as well as rocker panels, mirrors, wheels and wheelcovers, and it shows.

There are a number of battery cooling improvements to the Synergy Drive system for 2012 in the v. Some of these upgrades weren't even in the Lexus CT200h introduced for 2011, which might be considered the upscale Prius v.

With 34.3 cubic feet, the Prius v offers more cargo space than 80 percent of the compact SUVs and mid-size wagons on the market. The rear seats slide back for legroom, or forward to increase cargo space; they also recline, and there's an optional panoramic roof for sky-watching. The front seat folds flat, like the Honda Fit or Jeep Patriot. With that extra 3.3 inches of height and long rear doors, it's very easy to climb in and out of the back.

Standard equipment will leave you wanting for very little in the cabin, but if you want the nice SofTex leather-like seats, heated in front, you have to jump all the way up to a Prius v Five, the fully loaded model. The standard Prius v seats are fabric, and not very sporty or rugged.

Floor rigidity has been added to the v, which helps reduce interior noise, but it's still surprisingly buzzy in the cabin, mostly engine noise but also road noise. On the console, there's one simple HVAC dial, plus climate controls on the steering wheel. There are two gloveboxes, one of which rattled. The navigation system didn't fail during our drive, after we got used to its system of entering search words for the destination, something different.

In addition to Normal mode, there are three selectable modes: EV, or all-electric, with a very limited distance at 25 mph or less (if there's enough juice in the battery), most useful for underground parking garages; ECO, which minimizes fuel consumption by reducing the throttle opening and restricting the air conditioning; and Power for full acceleration. It automatically switches from ECO to Power when you step on the gas enough to need it. It needs it a lot.

The v uses the same CVT transaxle as the sedan. It's functional but boring. Around town you're not aware the CVT is there, which is how they're supposed to work.

The v handles and corners well, much like the Lexus CT200h. The Prius v is easier to drive around town than the sedan, with this nimbleness and especially its good visibility. Unfortunately the ride doesn't match the handling. The damping feels quite firm, so you feel every bump, and it's soon irritating. We found the same flaws in the Prius sedan: road noise and rough ride. It seems to be a Prius thing. Fuel economy good. Noise, vibration and harshness not so good.

Model Lineup

Toyota Prius v Two ($26,400), Prius v Three ($27,165), Prius v Five ($29,990)

Walk Around

The Prius v is a handsome vehicle, resembling a swoopy small minivan, not unlike the Mazda5, or maybe like a big Honda Fit without the sharp edges. It's less distinctive than the Prius sedan, but then so is almost everything. It's 6 inches longer than the sedan, 3.3 inches higher, and 1.1 inches wider, on the same track.

The headlamps are sharp narrow triangles, flying away from the nose over thin vertical parking lamps, accenting an attractive front end. The nose sweeps sharply up to the A pillars and roof, about as wind-slicing as they come. At the rear, there's a standard spoiler that dips a bit at the exit of the roofline, and the wheels look great.

The coefficient of drag is 0.29, compared to the sedan's 0.25, but 0.29 is terrific for any SUV-like vehicle. Toyota engineers paid careful aerodynamic attention to the bumpers, corners, rocker panels, mirrors, wheels and wheelcovers, and especially the roofline, and it all shows.

If the only reason you haven't bought a Prius is because it looks like a jellybean, you've lost your excuse. Now it looks like a real car.

Interior

With 34.3 cubic feet, Toyota claims the Prius v offers more cargo space than 80 percent of the compact SUVs and mid-size wagons on the market. Even that can be expanded, to 40.2 cubic feet, by sliding the 60/40 rear seats forward another seven inches. Fold them flat and there's a relatively massive 67.3 cubic feet; plus, there are big cargo slots under the floor. That's 10 cubic feet more than a Honda Fit, the cargo champ among compact hatchbacks, but then the v is 20 inches longer than a Fit. Like the Fit, the v's front seat folds flat, for you kayakers, carpenters and pole-vaulters.

The rear seats recline 45 degrees, so with the optional panoramic roof passengers can watch the clouds. Passenger volume is 3.5 cubic feet greater than the sedan, with shoulder and hip room both increased nicely. Rear door openings are wide and door panels concave, for more passenger room. With that extra 3.3 inches of height and long rear doors, it's very easy to climb in and out of the back.

Standard equipment (see above) will leave you wanting for very little in the cabin, but if you want the nice SofTex leather-like seats, heated in front, you have to jump all the way up to a Prius v Five, which is a bunch more money. But those seats are lovely; real leather is going away and mostly won't be missed because the synthetics are so good (and SofTex weighs half as much as leather).

The standard seats are fabric, but not very sporty or rugged. They were gray and rather fuddy-duddy, also not so comfortable, with pressure points that weren't right for us.

Prius v's digital display on the 6-inch screen adds color compared to the Prius sedan, although much of the information remains primarily for amusement; that is, you just don't need it. It's fun to watch for a while, but soon you forget about where the power is going and coming from at any given moment, and just drive. Besides, there's too much glare on the instrument panel, so you can't always see the color displays. But visibility is good out all the windows, front and back.

This whole optional Entune connectivity thing is uncharted territory that the v is leading the way into. It will integrate everything your smart phone knows, download apps to entertain you, offer you enough music (700 radio stations for starters) to hear for the rest of your life, do internet searches, read your email and texts to you, and astral project you to the moon when you finally freak out and want peace and solitude.

We find it distracting, no matter what the manufacturers claim. For example, Toyota says with Entune, you'll be able to find what's playing on the movies, find a theater, and buy tickets while you're driving into the city (on a crowded freeway). Without being distracted from your driving. Please. If you just pull over, all features will be available.

The v leads the way in another area, that of energy-efficient sound systems. The optional Green Edge system by JBL is 4 pounds lighter and uses 80 percent less power. You'll be seeing more of this. Any time you can throw out 4 pounds of wiring and use less juice it's good.

On the console, there's one simple HVAC dial, plus climate controls on the steering wheel. There are two gloveboxes, one of which rattled on our car. The optional panoramic roof uses a new type of resin making it lighter, and it's thermal, reflecting light and keeping the interior warmer in winter. The navigation system didn't fail during our drive, after we got used to its system of entering search words for the destination, something different.

Floor rigidity has been added to the v, which helps reduce interior noise, but it's still surprisingly buzzy in the cabin, mostly engine noise but also road noise. The good news is the JBL sound system is great, so you just play it loud.

Driving Impressions

The bottom line on Prius v performance is that it's slower and less fuel efficient than the sedan, because of the extra weight. It's only 230 pounds heavier, but that makes a big difference in a car with only 134 horsepower to start with. It doesn't feel like a dog on the road, but it's at least 0.6 seconds slower from zero to 60, and the sedan is no bullet.

The EPA mileage for the v is 44 city, 40 highway for a combined 42, or 8 mpg less than the sedan. We got less than that during our five-hour drive, an average of 38.4 mpg, not doing any leadfooting, and keeping it in the Normal driving mode. In order to perk up the acceleration, the rear-end ratio was changed from 3.27 in the sedan to 3.71 in the v, and that doesn't help fuel mileage because the wheels and engine turn more revolutions. Curiously, when we tested the Prius sedan we got a few miles higher than the EPA estimate; with the v we got a few less. Same driver.

In addition to Normal mode, there are three selectable modes: EV, or all-electric, with a very limited distance at 25 mph or less (if there's enough juice in the battery), most useful for underground parking garages; ECO, which minimizes fuel consumption by reducing the throttle opening and restricting the air conditioning; and Power for full acceleration. It automatically switches from ECO to Power when you step on the gas enough to need it. It needs it a lot.

The v uses the same CVT transaxle as the sedan. It's functional enough, but sure is boring. When you accelerate hard and the engine kicks into Power mode, it can be abrupt, like a transmission kick-down, as the CVT also winds up. But driving more casually, you're not aware the CVT is there, which is how they're supposed to work.

There are a number of battery cooling improvements to the Synergy Drive system in the v. Some of these upgrades aren't even in the Lexus CT200H introduced last year, which might be considered the upscale Prius v.

The v handles and corners well, much like the Lexus CT200H. It's easier to drive around town than the sedan, with this nimbleness and especially its good visibility. The front suspension components have been upgraded, and there are different front strut mounts.

Unfortunately the ride doesn't match the handling. The damping feels quite firm, so you can feel every bump, and it's soon irritating. We should mention these were pre-production models at the introduction, and shock tuning might be changed by the time the v makes it into showrooms.

But probably not. We found the same flaws in the Prius sedan: road noise and rough ride. It seems to be a Prius thing.

There's also electronic Pitch and Bounce control, intending to prevent that up-and-down porpoising motion. We found a short stretch on the road that might cause a car to porpoise, and the Prius v ? porpoised, a little bit. Who knows, maybe it would have been more without the electronic pitch control.

We already mentioned the engine buzz, but we mention it again here because it's so prominent under full throttle. Our notes say the engine sounds unsophisticated. As original and needed as the Prius v might be, when you have a nearly $30,000 car that's slow and loud, you have to wonder if it's worth it.

The new Toyota Prius v offers the functionality of a wagon, with excellent cargo space. There some small improvements to the Hybrid Synergy Drive system. It's very good looking, with a roomy interior. It's slower, less fuel efficient and more expensive than the Prius sedan, while being slower and more expensive than similar-sized wagons. But still, it gets 42 mpg, however on 91 octane fuel. The road noise is higher and ride rougher than they should be.

Sam Moses filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report from the Pacific Northwest.

33 Toyota Prius v vehicles in stock at carmax.com

33 Toyota Prius v vehicles in stock