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After attending a press launch in the green-car-crazy California Bay Area, senior editor Jonny Lieberman made his way home to L.A. in a new 2012 Toyota Prius v. During his drive back, Señor Lieberman put the puffed-up Prius through its paces on highways and windy roads from San Fran to the City of Angels with foot firmly glued to the accelerator. He returned enlightened, extolling the virtues of the Prius v's driving experience, proclaiming it to be better than any other Prius before it after some 400 manic miles behind the wheel.
But that was merely the beginning. Before staffers could sample the Prius v on their customary commuting routes, the road test team set out to explore the finer points of the factory-shod Yokohama BluEarth eco-themed tires and the MacPherson front and semi-independent torsion-beam rear suspension. Oh, and we can't forget about Toyota's now-famous Hybrid Synergy Drive, the technology that made the automaker a hybrid powerhouse.
There were few surprises at the track. Compared to a run-of-the-mill Prius, the v is saddled with a longer wheelbase (109.4 vs. 106.3 inches) and extra weight. The top-of-the-line Prius v Five model we tested had 3374 pounds to shuttle around, roughly 300 pounds more than a standard Prius. The 17-inch wheels are mounted by appropriately wide 215/50R17 rubber. Knowing additional weight will take more force to stop and subsequently create more heat, Toyota upsized the brake rotors all around -- 10.8 inches up front (vs. 10.0 inches on the Prius) and 11.5 inches in the rear (vs. 10.2 inches). In spite of its low-rolling-resistance tires, the Prius v ground to a halt from 60-0 mph in 124 feet, just 1 foot farther than a Prius.
Forward momentum comes courtesy of the very familiar partnership of a 1.8-liter Atkinson cycle inline-four and a permanent magnet AC electric motor, with motive efforts orchestrated by an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission. Net powertrain output is 134 horsepower when peak draw from the 1.3-kilowatt-hour, nickel-metal-hydride battery is used in parallel with the engine. Early rumors tagged the Prius v to receive a more modern lithium-ion pack, and that has partially panned out: Asia and Europe will get it, but the United States won't (for now at least).
With the high compression four-cylinder wailing away, the Prius v belts out the 0-60 mph sprint in 10.2 seconds, which is pleasantly 0.2 second quicker than the manufacturer's estimate. As far removed as possible from the word "barnstormer," the quarter mile is run and done in 17.6 seconds with a trap speed of 78.2 mph. Toyota specifies a top speed of 103 mph, but we'll leave it to the reader to fantasize how much time is needed to reach it.
Honestly, performance is not how you want to evaluate this hybrid. Our figure-eight time -- 29.8 seconds at an average of 0.52 g -- is identical to a Honda Element with all-wheel drive and a GMC Sierra 1500 with the Z71 off-road package and four-wheel drive. However, neither the boxy crossover nor the full-size pickup truck is rated the Prius v's 44 city/40 highway mpg; the 42.1 combined mpg also matches the outgoing Honda Civic Hybrid (40 city/45 highway mpg). And there's more than fuel economy. The practical nature of the wagon/small MPV body style has been well-documented in the enthusiast ranks, and it shines through strongly in the v. The second-row seats can slide forward or fold flat to relinquish more cargo space. All those Prius owners out there know there's been a time when they wished they had just a little bit more room. Prius v can swallow 34.3 cubic feet with the back seats up and 67.3 when they're flat.
The pseudo hybrid minivan rides better than a Prius, too. Since Toyota expects Prius v customers to come from crossovers and SUVs, making it not feel like a small hatchback was a key goal. Pitch and Bounce Control is the hallmark feature that uses the electric motor's torque output to alter load transfer longitudinally in order to keep the ride as flat as possible on uneven road surfaces. The suspension was then tuned to keep the drive nice and tidy.
On paper, bonding the attributes of a hybrid and a wagon together in the U.S. market would be, for lack of a better term, a death wish. On the other hand, the Prius v is still a Prius. We shall see if that will be enough to keep the new Prius variant moving off Toyota lots.
2012 Toyota Prius V Specs
BASE PRICE - $26,000 (est)
PRICE AS TESTED - N/A
VEHICLE LAYOUT - Front engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door wagon
ENGINE - 1.8L/98-hp/105-lb-ft Atkinson cycle DOHC 16-valve I-4 plus 80-hp/153-lb-ft electric motor
TRANSMISSION - cont. variable auto
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) - 3374 lb (59/41%)
WHEELBASE - 109.4 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT - 181.7 x 69.9 x 63.0 in
0-60 MPH - 10.2 sec
QUARTER MILE - 17.6 sec @ 78.2 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH - 124 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION - 0.78 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT - 29.8 sec @ 0.52 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON - 44/40 mpg
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY - 77/84 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS - 0.46 lb/mile
Read more: 2012 Toyota Prius v Five First Test - Motor Trend