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The 2012 Toyota Prius V is now available in Canada, here's a first drive review & pictures of the Prius V from a Canadian automotive news website....

Review and photos by Grant Yoxon

Quebec City, Quebec – It has become a symbol for responsible transportation, a public statement of one’s commitment to environmental responsibility and now, in many parts of North America, as common as a yellow cab in New York City.

The Toyota Prius started out as a gasoline-electric hybrid demonstration program in the late 1990s, but has gradually gained acceptance across the continent, although it has been embraced more in the United States than here in Canada. While Toyota has sold 23,000 Prius’ in Canada, the company has sold well over 1,000,000 units of the latest generation alone (the third variant since 1997) in the U.S.

A lot of those sales have been to fleets – taxi companies in other words – in response to directives from increasingly sensitive municipal governments. Vancouver has lead the way in Canada where you would be hard pressed to find any other vehicle used as a taxi, but other cities are embracing hybrid taxis as well. Experience has proven that the Prius can do the job – Prius taxis with over 1,000,000 miles are not uncommon.

At one time, the Prius was a small sideline, one that Toyota was proud of because it demonstrated their commitment to alternative energy and advanced technology, but now the Prius has become a core vehicle in their line-up, of equal importance to such stalwarts as the Camry, Corolla and RAV4.

So it is no surprise that Toyota has well advanced plans to expand the choices based on the Prius. The Prius v is the first of three new Prius variants to arrive soon (the others being the Prius plug-in Hybrid and the Prius c, a smaller Prius coupe model).

The Prius v rides on a slightly stretched Prius platform with a 2780 mm (109.4 in.) wheelbase that is 80 mm longer than the Prius hatchback’s. Overall, it is 155 mm (6.1 in.) longer, 30 mm (1.2 in.) wider and 95 mm (3.7 in.) higher. The expanded size adds more room for rear seat passengers, a longer and taller luggage area and about 105 kg (232 lbs.) more weight.
It could have been worse, but the Prius v uses a lot of aluminum in the hood and front and rear bumper reinforcements to help reduce weight. As well, the Prius v’s optional panoramic-style roof, with two large windows over front and rear seats, is made of polycarbonate resin rather than glass.

The Prius v uses the same proven gasoline-electric drivetrain – 1.8-litre inline four-cylinder with 134 net hybrid horsepower – as the 2011 Prius hatch. Naturally it is not as quick and adds an additional 0.5 seconds to the Prius’ already leisurely 10 second zero to 100 km/h time.

But people won’t be buying the Prius v to challenge pocket rockets at stop lights. They’ll be buying it because it meets their needs for a versatile vehicle that holds a lot of people and stuff and still gets amazing fuel economy – 4.3 L/100 km city, 4.8 L/100 km highway and 4.6 L/100 km combined, according to Energuide. Of course, your mileage may vary. This is not nearly as good as the rating for the Prius hatchback (3.7 L/100 km city and 4.0 L/100 km highway). But during our day of driving the Prius through both city and highway conditions in and around Quebec City, the Prius v averaged 5.4 L/100 km. Still, not bad mileage when you compare it to other compact wagons and SUVs.

The Prius hatchback is a roomy and versatile being in its own right, thanks to its hatchback design. The Prius v takes practicality to a whole new level. A wide rear hatch and 34.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats makes it one of the most spacious hybrid vehicles on the market.

Sliding second row seats provide rear-storage flexibility and ample leg room for the big and tall passengers. 60/40 split, folding rear seatbacks give more passenger/cargo flexibility, while a fold-flat front-passenger seat allows for extremely long cargo.

The Prius v sports a new centre console, likely to appear in the 2012 Prius hatchback and other variants as well. It is still a centre mounted instrument panel, but with a space-efficient and user-friendly design. It is not as geewhiz-high-tech as the 2011 Prius with its floating control images where touching the steering wheel controls causes an image of the control to magically appear in the information display. Some will appreciate the new simplicity, some will miss the old, technically sophisticated display.

The standard audio system has a 6.1-inch screen and six speakers. The screen also displays the energy monitor and fuel consumption data, and functions as the monitor for the integrated back-up camera and the Display Audio System. Bluetooth wireless connection for cell phones is standard. Also standard is a USB port that allows playing of music and video from portable audio devices, using the vehicle sound system and in-dash display screen, including full iPod integration.

The top-of-the-line audio is equipped with a new seven-inch Premium HDD Navigation system with Multimedia system. This system offers a new split-screen feature that allows for simultaneously displaying navigation and audio information and full iPod video integration.

The driving controls, including the Prius’ push-button start, parking switch, drive-by-wire shift toggle, and driving mode buttons are located on the left, close to the driver. Each of these driving control features are distinguished by silver trim. Instrument-panel controls, including a single dial automatic climate control, are user-friendly.

A wide variety of engineered storage spaces are located throughout the cabin. These include dual glove boxes, a centre console utility tray and five cup holders in large and medium sizes. Bottle holders are built into the front and rear door pockets, while all models feature an overhead storage space for sunglasses. In addition to the larger main luggage compartment, there are storage units built into the sides and under the cargo platform for storing equipment such as car wash items or gloves. Even a special space for umbrellas is located under the second row of seats.

Rear seats fold, slide and recline to configure for any mix of passengers and cargo. New for Toyota and available on top trim lines is a seat material called SofTex that is very leather-like in its look and feel. The material weighs 50 per cent less than comparable leather or leatherette materials, and generates approximately 99 per cent fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in manufacturing than conventional synthetic leather. There is no animal-based material and it is water and stain resistant.

With the Prius v, Toyota introduces a new technology to reduce the pitch and bounce that one feels on a bumpy road or when accelerating or decelerating. Using sensors a controller adjusts the torque output of the electric motor to reduce the effects of pitch and bounce. For example, if the nose were diving, the controller could sense this and increase the electric motor torque and reduce the pitch motion to the cabin. This feature flattens the overall ride of the Prius v and increases the handling performance of the car over rough roads and allows the spring rates to remain low and soft for a comfortable compliant ride.

Passengers don’t feel the system working so it is difficult to judge its effectiveness without a back to back with and without test over the same road surface. Whether due to the pitch and bounce system or its compliant suspension, the Prius v provides a firm ride without compromising comfort and handling is on par with other competitive mid-size sedans.

Safety features include stability control, traction Control, anti-lock brakes (ABS), electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, as well as Toyota’s Smart Stop Technology brake-override system. An electronic tire pressure monitoring system is standard equipment as are seven airbags including a knee airbag for the driver. A new Vehicle Proximity Notification System helps alert pedestrians and cyclists to an oncoming vehicle when under electric-only power by emitting a small warning sound.

An optional Pre-Collision System (PCS) retracts seatbelts and applies the brakes in certain conditions when a frontal crash is unavoidable. It is paired with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control.

The Toyota Prius v will begin at $27,200 for the base model equipped with fabric seats automatic climate control, power door locks and windows (auto up and down for all windows), back-up camera, tilt and telescopic steering wheel with audio and HVAC controls, cruise control, smart key and push-button start, cargo net, 16-inch alloy wheels, power adjustable heated mirrors, driver door handle with touch sensitive lock/unlock, variable intermittent wipers and intermittent rear window wiper/washer, halogen headlamps and automatic headlamp system.

A Luxury package ($31,550) adds leather-wrapped steering wheel, integrated XM satellite radio, display audio with navigation, SofTex seats, resin panoramic sunroof, touch-sensitive lock and unlock passenger door handle and rear hatch handles, footwell lamps, electrochromic rearview mirror and heated front seats.

A Touring package ($33,350) includes features of the Luxury package and adds 17-inch alloy wheels, LED auto-levelling headlamps, headlamp washers and fog lamps.

At the top is the Touring + Technology package ($36,875) with premium JBL audio, eight speakers, seven-inch monitor with video graphics display, pre-collision system, dynamic radar cruise control, intelligent parking assist and voice-activated DVD navigation system.

The Prius v is on sale now at Toyota retailers across Canada.

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