Driving the Toyota Prius v

by Ernie Hernandez on January 15, 2012

Toyota Prius v

Lackluster performance in today’s station wagon

Toyota’s Prius must be credited with changing the way that people think about cars. Honda tried to get a leg up in the United States by beating Toyota to the market here with the Insight, but Toyota Prius actually was the first hybrid sold publicly in Japan in 1997. Prius has come a long way in the last 15 years.

Prius started life as a relatively unattractive four-door.

Toyota Prius - first generation

First generation Toyota Prius

The second generation took on the more familiar general tear drop shape that we know today. Toyota finally recognized that with the success of the Prius hatchback, perhaps they should broaden the line-up. So now Toyota will offer a family of Prii in various shapes and sizes, with a plug-in due in the spring. We had an opportunity to drive the Prius v recently. This is what we found.

The Prius v is an attractive station wagon variant of the original Prius hatchback. The obvious gain is more cargo capacity. The next question might be – why? Because with a combined EPA fuel economy of 42 miles per gallon with the Prius v, it offers significantly better fuel economy than pretty much anything else in the segment that will carry this much cargo. For example, the Ford Escape hybrid will not carry quite as much as the Prius while returning a less than stellar (comparatively speaking) 32 miles per gallon combined (two-wheel drive).

While we have no access to instrumentation for testing, we do have the seat of our pants. Based on this, we noted sluggish performance from the Prius v – which frankly surprised us. According to the spec sheet, the Prius v electric motor provides the same torque as the LEAF. We expected similar acceleration, perhaps even a bit better, as the Prius v uses a continuously variable transmission to accommodate the gasoline engine along with the electric motor. We expected this variable gearing to improve acceleration times. We were disappointed. It is not due to weight, as the Toyota is almost 100 pounds lighter than the LEAF. We can only surmise that the transmission mapping is optimized for fuel economy although this makes no real sense during a standing start when it should be fully electrical driven. No matter the cause – the Toyota will not light anyone’s fire with its casual takeoffs.

If you need more room for stuff than that offered by the hatch, the Prius v could be what you’re looking for. Room for five, and their luggage, along with 42 miles per gallon combined. If you can stand the sluggish performance the Prius v looks to be a reasonable choice.

UPDATE: 1/16/2011

Amazingly enough, one day after writing this article, we saw this driving around in our neighborhood:

Toyota Prius first generationI don’t think I’ve ever seen one on the road before. Or maybe I just wasn’t looking.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom K January 16, 2012 at 8:06 am

Imagine that! A Prius in a museum… What’s next? A LEAF in a museum? :-0

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Ernie Hernandez (LEAFguy) January 16, 2012 at 8:22 pm

Tom – Actually, it is a Toyota museum. I’m sure that Nissan’s job one LEAF will also end up in a Nissan museum somewhere.

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steve January 16, 2012 at 8:43 pm

Having owned a 1st Gen Prius from 2002 until last fall when we got our Leaf, I can tell you there are some details of the Prius drive train that make your experience unsurprising. Firstly the power spec quoted for the electric motor is a little deceiving because its a combined total of the two motor/generators required to make the Prius system work. In brief, there’s a “power split” device with three input/outputs, one for the ICE, one for a smaller motor/generator and one for the larger motor/generator and the drive wheels. The effect of a transmission is achieved by varying the speeds of each of the three input/outputs.

Remember in non-plugin hybrids, the electric drive is designed to be a supplement to the ICE, not take its place…even though the Prius design does allow for electric-only operation in limited situations.

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Ernie Hernandez (LEAFguy) January 16, 2012 at 10:37 pm

steve – thanks for that. I must say that my experience is limited driving hybrids of any sort. Too – you’re right when you say that the electric portion of the drivetrain is designed to supplement the ice portion of the drivetrain. It will be interesting to see how the plug-in Prius acceleration compares.

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Sasparilla January 25, 2012 at 11:32 am

I have to say I wasn’t surprised about the sluggish feeling you get with the Prius v. We have a 2007 Prius and have driven our neighbors 2010 Prius (whose power-train the V is lifted from). The acceleration on the 2010 Prius requires a significantly heavier foot to get the same acceleration compared to the previous generation Prius – pressing the accelerator through a big marshmallow is a term that comes to mind from my experience. I’d expect the same behavior from the v as well (which appears to be what you experienced).

The mileage on it is great, although it looks like Ford will be offering something similar with a plug later on this year (C-Max Energi), although the battery capacity in it isn’t nearly what I’d want (better than nothing of course).

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