And then there were two.
The Prius brand is welcoming a new family member with the autumn arrival of the Prius v wagon. Toyota explains the lower-case “v” stands for versatile, but perhaps the automaker should have also added a “p” for practicality.
The current Prius hatchback that was introduced for the 2010 model year is already plenty practical, but the upcoming wagon goes one better. It also has a more conventional appearance that should make the Prius more appealing to a wider range of buyers. And the fact that the v’s similar gasoline-electric power team produces exemplary fuel economy numbers — although not nearly as good as the hatch — is one more checkmark in its favor.
The adjustments in converting the Prius into a Prius v are many. First off, the distance between the front and rear wheels has been increased by slightly more than three inches and the wagon’s additional rear overhang adds about six inches in length. The roof has also been elevated by three inches and the body width increased just a touch.
From the driver’s perspective, the v’s nearly vertical liftgate makes for improved rear vision. Raising the hatch reveals a cargo hold that’s about 50 percent larger than that of the standard Prius. However, with the 60:40 split-folding rear-seat and the front-passenger seat back lowered, interior stowage volume bests most other compact wagons on the market and nearly matches Toyota’s mid-size Venza wagon for space. When transporting people, the rear bench can be adjusted fore and aft and will recline up to 45 degrees.
Toyota’s designers have also created a completely different dashboard and control panel layout for the v that appears much more user friendly, with larger dials, switches and vital information within closer proximity to the driver’s field of vision. In addition, the dual glove compartments are larger and more accessible.
Due to the bigger cabin, the electrically powered (instead of the traditional belt-driven) air-conditioning compressor has been beefed up to handle the additional coverage area.
With the launch of the v, Toyota is also introducing what it calls SofTex. It’s an optional synthetic leather-like seat covering that the company claims is lighter than leather, more stain resistant and uses far fewer nasty chemicals in the manufacturing process than other faux leather materials.
Paring the weight was a major issue for the bulkier Prius v since it shares the 98-horsepower 1.8-liter gas engine and 80-horsepower electric motor (that generates 134 net horsepower) and continuously variable transmission with its smaller hatchback sibling. Still, even with the use of lighter high-strength steel and aluminum, the v is about 225 pounds heavier than a regular Prius and pays the price in the fuel-economy department, recording 44 mpg in the city and 40 on the highway. The lighter and more streamlined hatchback earns a 51/48 rating, which is 16-20 percent better than the v.
Wagons tend to carry greater loads than conventional models and to better cope with the extra weight the Prius v comes with Pitch and Bounce Control. This includes redesigned front and rear suspension components that can handle the heft without compromising overall ride quality.
All Prius models arrive well equipped, including the usual power-operated and creature-comfort content. Among the more interesting options is a Panoramic View Moonroof with power-retractable sunshades. Toyota says that the resin-based material is much lighter than conventional glass and offers better thermal insulation.
Other options include a rear backup camera, Light Emitting Diode (LED) headlamps that draw less energy than conventional lamps and Toyota’s new Entune multimedia system that provides an interface with so-called “smart” phones. There’s also a premium audio/navigation system.
So far, Toyota is keeping mum on the cost of v ownership, but an on-the-road price in the $26,000 range is expected. At that rate, the v could add the letter “s” for successful to the wagon’s nomenclature.