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Car reviews - Toyota - Prius V - 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Fuel efficiency, value, standard equipment, flexible cabin, silent drivetrain at low speeds, smooth ride
Room for improvement
Some average interior plastics, cramped third-row seating, lack of brake feel, no rear air vents

23 May 2012

TOYOTA has launched the petrol-electric Prius V, giving Australian car buyers the option of a seven-seat hybrid vehicle for the first time.

The Japanese company says its first dedicated hybrid people-mover is for Prius buyers who have outgrown the regular Prius hatch, and offers substantially better practicality while maintaining class-leading fuel economy.

Between them, Toyota and its Lexus luxury arm now offer hybrid vehicles across a range of vehicle segments including light cars (Prius C), small cars (Prius, Lexus CT200h), medium cars (Camry hybrid), luxury cars (Lexus GS) and premium SUVs (Lexus RX).

The V is based on the Prius hatch (albeit with entirely different panels) and shares its powertrain output, but is taller, longer and wider, with the majority of its longer wheelbase devoted to the area behind the central B-pillars, freeing up space in the rear.

The addition of a more advanced lithium-ion battery pack frees up rear space over the nickel-metal hydride system used in its cheaper siblings, while an extra 110mm of height coupled with larger windows creates a more open interior.

According to Toyota, the ‘V’ in Prius V stands for ‘versatile’, and on most fronts the cabin delivers just that, by offering a claimed 64 different seating arrangements.

The middle row of seats all slide and tilt independently, the front seats can fold flat and turn into a makeshift bed for a ‘powernap’, and the third row seats fold flat into the floor when not needed, freeing up a substantially larger cargo area than most compact SUVs.

There are no clever seat-release mechanisms in the cargo space as found in cars like the Renault Koleos, nor can they be removed altogether like in the Skoda Yeti, but they are nonetheless easy to manipulate and adjust.

The interior is also littered with an array of cupholders and various storage nooks, an under-floor cargo cabin and large door pockets, although the battery pack eats into the centre console.

The dash fascia is recognisable as a Prius, featuring similar modernist design coupled with a mixture of scratch-proof, fabric-like surfaces and harder, cheaper-feeling plastics on the dashtop and around the centre fascia.

The use of predominately light greys on the expansive dash gives off annoying reflections onto the windscreen in direct sunlight, but everything on the instrument panel and console is easy to read and largely intuitive.

We especially liked touches such as the one-piece circular air-conditioning control dial, lovely small steering wheel with rubbery audio controls, and the ease with which we were able to sync our phone’s Bluetooth function.

The lack of air-conditioning vents on either the middle or back row of seats is a poor omission, however.

While some surfaces felt cheap and hard to the touch, everything gave the appearance of being well-built and capable of handling a load of rowdy children, although we did notice an annoying rattle in the right-side door on one test vehicle.

Both front seats and the outer middle-row seats offer acceptable levels of support, knee-room and headspace, while the middle seat in the second-row has enough legroom for a tall adult only on shorter trips.

Like other small seven-seaters such as the Nissan Dualis +2, the third row is best used sparingly. Knee and foot room is cramped for all but small children, while the aerodynamic sloping roof impinges on headroom.

They may be fine for occasionally taking the neighbour’s kids to football training, but buyers looking to use the third row of seats on a regular basis should consider stepping up to a larger people-mover like the Honda Odyssey.

The lack of baby-seat anchor points in the third row (only the second row), and the relative paucity of cargo room when they are inclined (180 litres), further limits practicality.

Our time behind the wheel proved to be very reminiscent of other, lower-end hybrids we’ve driven.

It is fully electric at ‘idle’ and in reverse, so start-up is again a matter of pressing a button and being greeted by silence. Only the digital displays mounted over the instrument fascia and the easy-to-read green neon head-up display alert you to the fact that the car is on.

Give it a boot out into traffic or up an incline (once you’ve disengaged the archaic foot-operated park brake) and the small Atkinson-cycle petrol engine kicks in.

Performance can be described as modest at best – Toyota claims a rough 0-100km/h time of 11 seconds, which corresponded with our efforts.

The Prius V weighs 135kg more than the Prius hatch and has the same power output, albeit with a shorter final-drive ratio to help spice up performance.

Despite a more thorough use of cabin insulation than other Prius models, engine noise intrudes into the cabin from low revs, as well as tyre roar and wind noise at higher speeds, especially in the rear.

We had no real complaints about the ride, however, with the V handling corrugated outer-suburban roads and smooth freeways with equal dexterity.

The engine’s far-from-inspiring monochrome drone is not helped by the fuel-conserving CVT automatic, which like other transmissions of this type lacks set ratios and therefore detaches the driver from the driving experience.

However, this car is far more about fuel economy than outright speed, and on this front it delivers.

Our 200km drive route took in an even mixture of suburban and highway driving, with an overall figure of 4.9 litres per 100km. This is an excellent result and presents a clean pair of heels to key people-mover rivals.

Toyota offers three drive modes – EV, Power and Eco – and we found Power mode to be the best in the city, where its sharpened throttle response is needed to dart in and out of traffic, while Eco mode helps save the juice once at speed.

EV mode delays throttle response to keep the car at low speeds, and thus keep it running purely on silent electricity. Toyota says the car can runs at speeds of up to 50km/h for two kilometres on electric power only.

As with other Prius models, we found the Prius V’s brakes too ‘wooden’ and steering feel too artificial.

Through the corners, the car is predictable and well-behaved, with respectably low levels of body roll and pitch and a stable feel at higher-speed cruising.

Still, this car is not about driving dynamics as much as it is about value, fuel efficiency and practicality.

To this end, the Prius V makes sense for families who need a large and spacious five-seat wagon with a third row of seats to use at a pinch.

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