Toyota Prius V: Shifting into a true believer

MOTORING: The Prius V does not tick every box, nor does it return headline-making fuel economy.



What exactly is it? Looks like a Prius hatchback but isn’t. Prius V is larger by 135mm and 80mm in the wheelbase, completely reconfigured with seven seats and a high-tech lithium-ion battery pack.

Powertrain: 1.8-litre Atkinson cycle petrol four producing 73kW/142Nm and lithium-ion battery pack producing 27kW. Continuously variable transmission, front-drive. Combined fuel consumption 4.1 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h 11.3 seconds.

Anything interesting in the equipment list? The flagship Prius V i-Tech comes with adaptive radar cruise control, satellite navigation, Pre-Crash safety system, automatic parking (parallel or reverse-line) and synthetic leather upholstery. Prius fact: the V’s transparent polycarbonate (that’s plastic to you and me) roof is a Toyota first.

Price: $65,490

Tom is Ford New Zealand’s communications manager.

He’s the man who deals with media requests for road test vehicles. A laconic sense of humour is essential for the job.

Telephone conversation, David to Tom: “Tom, I’m quite interested in the new Transit. I understand it has a new engine and stop-start.”

Shuffle of papers, Tom to David: “When are you moving?”

You have just learnt almost everything you need to know about how automotive writing works.

You might think I’m writing this simply to thank Tom for an extended loan of the excellent new Ford Transit, a vehicle which becomes all the more excellent when you’re in the middle of domestic property transferral. I’m not, although I’ve casually done that anyway. Which is another object lesson in strategy should you want to become a motoring journalist.

But really, my point is that because some things are too precious to entrust to a moving company (or so I am reliably and forcefully told), a select group of vehicles have been given the chance to surprise and delight me in new ways over the past couple of weeks. This has has nothing to do with Tom’s Transit, which does exactly what you’d expect it to do. Instead, I’ve rather unexpectedly become a fan of the Toyota Prius.

Lock and load
There comes a point in a move when the really big boxes are gone and the thought of yet more hard-core packing is too much to bear. There is no opportunity for stacking. That’s when you need a smaller, more nimble vehicle with much softer interior trim than the steel-and-wood sides of a Transit.

I know a bit about the Renault Koleos. It’s a French/Japanese/Korean (badge/platform/build) crossover that looks a bit awkward but is quiet and comfortable. It’s quite good at load-carrying too, with rear seats that automatically fold forward with the single pull of a lever. What I did not know is that a Koleos could be trounced by a Honda Civic for sheer versatility. The Civic Euro hatchback has a so-called Magic Seat system that liberates an astonishingly useful cargo space.

Transferring the power
The Toyota Prius V is not nearly as useful as a Koleos or Civic for shifting kitchen appliances and small pieces of artwork. But it did carry my hopes for the hybrid cause a bit further forward during moving week.

Generally, there are compromises involved in driving a hybrid vehicle: performance, handling and packaging are all heavily affected by the hardware needed to provide partial electric power. Fuel economy is excellent on paper of course but in the real world no more excellent than a really good turbo diesel.

Toyota has perfected its hybrid powertrain technology, no question. But you still have to be a hybrid-person to drive one. You must believe in the hybrid cause and image above all tangible qualities of the vehicle itself. I’ve never considered myself a hybrid person.

The Prius hatchback sells because it’s easy to drive, the futuristic styling makes a clear statement that you care, and it’s a star-car.

Prius is more than a car now, it’s a brand. The Prius V wagon is an upsized seven-seat version. It looks a bit like the hatchback, which will be a selling point. But it doesn’t share any body panels with the smaller Prius hatchback (or even smaller Prius C supermini) and can be regarded as a standalone model.

Prius V gives me hope. Finally, Toyota has a taken hybrid technology and turned it into something useful. It escapes the image issues of being a people mover because it’s clearly an other-worldly Prius. So it’s socially acceptable – celebrated, even.

It can be a seven-seater or a five-seat wagon with a massive boot. The seven seats are all fixed. But the chairs in the front two rows slide individually and the ones in rows two and three can be folded to give a flat loadspace.

I might not have thought a lot about all of this had I not required transport for a desktop computer and a box of umbrellas. But the newfound practicality of the V makes the standard Prius seem useless and wasteful. In that car, a massive block of nickel-metal hydride batteries occupies valuable cabin and cargo space. It adds weight and undermines any sense of dynamic purpose.

In the Prius V, the batteries are new-tech lithium-ion as in a laptop or cellphone. They are more powerful and therefore smaller and lighter. In the V, those batteries are cleverly packed under the centre console, between the driver and front passenger, allowing the platform to be truly versatile. The V is much more than simply a larger Prius: it’s progress.

Power failures
The Prius V does not tick every box. It’s expensive: even the cheapest version is over $50,000. The cabin is made of poorer-quality materials than the Prius hatchback, there is less storage space up front because of the position of those batteries and the petrol engine is noisy under load. The doors do not thunk shut. They clink.

Neither does the Prius V return headline-making fuel economy in actual driving but my week-long average of 5.8 litres per 100km is pretty good for a vehicle with so many seats and so much potential. Even though I am not a hybrid person, I will admit that I quite like gliding along on battery power in my weekday commute.

Driving a Prius makes you feel smug.

Driving a Prius V makes you feel smug and intelligent.

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