2012 Prius v complete review
First word, this is a long and detailed review and you know what? There’s a ton I’ve not included simply because I didn’t want scare people away. I am producing a series of videos showing the V in action. It’s video I shot this past week and will fill in some gaps and demonstrate a lot of the things I mention in the review below. Look for that link soon.
Unless otherwise noted, the photographs below were provided by Toyota and are used with their kind permission.
–What It Is And What It Isn’t
When I wrote review of the third generation Prius in 2009 (the 2010 model year), I said that one of the best things I could say about the car was that it was just a great car, not a great hybrid or some other special category, but a great car.
The Prius v (referred to henceforth as simply the “V”) represents Toyota’s very reasonable first move to expand the Prius into a family, sort of a sub-brand (I’m sure someone at Toyota just winced). The expansion, or, if you will, building on the brand equity that Toyota has developed with Prius . The V is intended to appeal to people who have considered a Prius but thought it was too small.
And please, note exactly what I said. It’s clear to me that Toyota is looking for new customers to further broaden the Prius ownership base. It’s not a vehicle intended to convince current Prius that they need to “upgrade”. This vehicle isn’t an upgrade, it’s different, primarily, it’s larger. Keep this in mind when reading through the below but especially when you hear someone critique the vehicle in reference to the standard Prius.
–What Do I Think
Let’s not hide the lede until the end. The V is a success. The V is in fact significantly larger and what’s more, it’s specifically engineered and built to please a different customer than Prius. This addresses one of my biggest concerns that perhaps the V wouldn’t be different enough.
The V is, in my opinion, efficient enough, 44MPG city, 40 MPG highway, to wear the Prius badge. The technology inside the V gives it that unmistakable Prius feel. It’s based on the most success hybrid vehicle on the planet and does not, in any way, represent any huge leap or new experimental technology.
Kind of a different sell isn’t it?
Look, in a marketplace where many companies feel they need to re-invent themselves and their products almost with every model every year, year after year, Toyota has long taken a different approach with incremental increases based on proven technologies.
Example? Lithium Ion batteries. The V doesn’t have them (in this country, globally, the V has Lion cells but mainly to open space for the third row of seats, which we here do not have). The V is partially powered by the same but slightly updated (but same watt hour capacity) NiHm batteries that have carried Prius to mainstream success, reliable and bulletproof.
In a sense, it’s things like this that help define the V as much as the features it has.
The interior is very Prius-like. Those familiar with the third generation Prius will note similarities in some of the design elements and layout. It’a a credit to Toyota that some of the niftiest changes are very small.
Here’s one, eyebrows. Eyebrows on the headlight covers. These eyebrows split the air flowing of the cover moving to the most efficient possible zones of the vehicle contributing to the overall drag coefficient of (Cd) .29. If that number means little to you, here’s a comparison,
Suburu Impreza WRX .36
Ford Fusion .33
So let’s get to breaking down the V and find out if it is the vehicle for you.
Understand, this vehicle is not a minivan killer. Anyone who seriously uses that phrase should not be taken seriously. While the V may appeal to people who don’t need the ultra-high head room, easy entry expanse of the minivan it’s not going to have mom’s trading in their soccer buses in droves. It’s meant to appeal to small, perhaps younger families who want to be able to move things and people comfortably but want to so as efficiently as possible. To me, this makes a great deal sense. There’s no reason to pilot a 12 MPG cargo ship around to move two tweens and a couple of soccer balls. Being a sensible approach I’m almost worried people might miss that concept completely.
And make mistake, the interior of this vehicle is roomy. This isn’t a cramped econobox pretending to be something it’s not.
The V handles, perhaps better than the third generation Prius. I know, I’ve driven a 3G since they came out. There’s a couple of reasons for this. Longer wheelbase and Toyota’s new Pitch control which constantly monitors the speed of the wheels tuning it to compensate for irregularities in the road. It’s pleasant to drive. It’s not a racecar. It’s doesn’t Ferrari steering or the uncomfortable contact with the road you’ll find in a Porsche. It’s not supposed. It’s supposed to comfortable, smooth and safe. Dare I suggest, the ride of the V, even compared to the standard Prius is elegant.
The V is heavier by 220 pounds this also helps stabilize the ride in addition to additional noise insulation Toyota has added to V to make it quieter than it’s brother.
One of the biggest revelations for me, while driving the car was the rear visibility, long a very valid criticism of the basic Prius design. removing the split rear window offers a larger, bright view of what’s behind that should compare favorably with most other cars on the road. For me, it was of the biggest positive changes in the V over the standard Prius.
–Telematics & Ergonomics
Like all things Toyota, The V is an evolution, not a revolution. An incremental improvement over the now dated standard Prius display. It’s finer grained, more added color, a little more elegance but still very Spartan, nothing so whimsical as decoration.
Pricing is still up in the air. One can guess at it but in the end, it depends on what TMS decides. I wouldn’t be surprised if the V went for as little as 15% more than a similar Prius or as much as 25% more. Sorry, that’s my best guess and yes, it’s vague.
Now discussing telematics and ergonomics isn’t something I need to guess at. This is what I like to think of as an area where I can speak with some expertise. While I am not the most technical person I do pay attention to what we might call the user experience.
Telematics are information and control displays in a vehicle. I’ll admit it’s a bit of a broader use of the word than it’s formal definition but I think it works. The displays in the V have been upgraded from what you find in any Prius. There two main screen sizes available in the V
All of the V’s have a backup camera which, if you don’t one now, you’ll find indispensable once you get one. The view via camera is clear and functional.
The center storage console is hinged on the long axis and opens towards the passenger. At first I thought this might make it more difficult for a passenger to access but in actually using, it works just fine from either position.
Thankfully, the AUX and USB inputs are not in the console as they are in the Prius, but located in a tray underneath the center of the dash, right next a 12V outlet. There is even a clever little tray that will hold a phone (or two). Now, you won’t really be able to see all of what’s on the display and it’s certainly not pleasant to stare at the floor of the vehicle when it’s moving (at least for some people) but the idea is that you connect via USB and use the center display and the steering wheel controls rather than handle the phone. Fair enough, safety and convenience packed into a single solution.
The new JBL GreenEdge sound system for the V sounds great. For you audiophile geeks, to my ears it’s a boom-hissy sound that I’ve found to be characteristic of a lot of Japanese speaker designs. It leaves the mids somewhat compressed and nasally. I think the vast majority of consumers will enjoy it and the built-in tone controls can be adjusted to somewhat account for this. JBL’s new GreenEdge was a big part of the new feature set of the V.
The other thing about GreenEdge that bothers me is that Harman-JBL is pushing this system as somehow revolutionary when it really isn’t in any meaningful way. I’m a little irritated by the descriptions offered up by JBL. In one sentence they say, “This requires the use of an Equivalent Watts rating, based on the amplifier’s average efficiency factor – 5X for the new Prius v system. The resulting Equivalent Watts rating for this system is 600 (120 GreenEdge Watts x 5). ” Using a phrase such as, “Equivalent Watts” is like saying, it’s really something we don’t want to tell you so we will tell a meaningless number that will get you excited. Put simply, while on one hand JBL says that the system is “greener” because it produce less watts and because of the speaker system made for the amp, this ok, and on the other hand, they talk about a 600 watt, high-voltage system that pumps out the jams. It saddens me that they skipped educating the consumer on the real issues, balance very efficient speakers with low wattage amps in favor of dancing around waving the “Equivalent Watts” flag. I got see the GreenEdge speakers, in a display created to show off the system out of the car. While there was a lot of flowery stuff written around the speakers, they appeared to my eye to be very basic paper or a composite material in a plastic cage. There’s nothing inherently wrong or unusual about that outside of portraying it as something different and new. The lower watt output digital amp is small and it’s punchy though I worry about compression of the signal and overall durability. Only time will tell on the latter and some more testing produce answers on the former. During my listens I was, overall, impressed with the system and I think it will meet the needs of the vast majority of Prius V owners. The addition of tweeters to the rear seat area help smooth out some of the odd idiosyncrasies that the older system had, especially if you have the habit of re-adjusting the fader system (yeah, that’s me).
The new dash display for the V is impressive. It’s sharp, compact and has added a few very nice new features while retaining the strength of the old display, legibility. The new display adds a constant MPG figure and a much improved eco-meter. It’s a very welcome addition that I think will better serve experienced Prius owners as well as those people new to Prius.
Driver accessibility of all the controls is excellent. Steering wheels controls are laid out in a manner of the current Prius with some small changes.
You may wonder how this item gets filed under this heading, I’ll be straightforward, it’s because it’s a major issue with Prius in general and it’s because the V solves the problem so well. Rear visibility in Prius has, since the second generation debuted in 2004, a major complaint and a legitimate one. Prius owners have suffered with reduced rear visibility because of the split rear window. The V responds to this by eliminating the split! The view out the rear of the V from the driver seat is large and bright. It’s truly like being in a different vehicle for those of us who own a current Prius. Of course, making the backup camera standard also helps but making that rear window larger and removing the bar across it makes all the difference in the world. Huge win for the V and for future V owners. Kudos to Toyota for so thoroughly addressing this long time complaint.
–Which Brings Me To Entune
Admittedly, I’ve been very skeptical of Entune. Entune is Toyota’s new proprietary system that lays on top of the standard nav and audio control based on the center information display. Enture uses apps and works with certain cell phones to display data and stream music. Entune’s opening app selection includes, Bing, iHeartRadio, OpenTable, MovieTicket.com and Pandora as well as live weather, traffic, fuel information (prices and locations), stocks and sports information.
For me, this lineup mostly leaves me cold. I don’t use Pandora, I prefer MOG. I don’t really need a mobile system for restaurant reservations or movie ticket buying and the last thing I want in my car is an app that plays terrestrial radio. iHeartRadio is Clear Channel’s streaming of some 700 Clear Channel radio stations and dedicated music streams offering near commercial free music to streaming broadcasts of their stations which are anything but commercial free. I’m not a huge fan of Clear Channel and I’m not sure why we needed a streaming app to provide the one thing consumer’s seem to have spent the last ten years repudiating but maybe that’s me. Recently I was in a office using it and the people love iHeartRadio.
As for the other live services, since most can’t be used while the car is in motion, I’m not really really sure how useful they are. They are there, which is good.
This isn’t an indictment of Entune, it’s my observation and opinion and it’s highly subjective. You may live a life and in a city where these services are invaluable to you. I am not making the case Entune is a failure I’m only saying why it doesn’t, at this stage of development, interest me much. You know the old say, YMMV (your mileage may vary).
And that”s the beauty of it, Toyota says they will be opening Entune to more apps and that flexibility may mean they’ll add apps I really want. Maybe.
Entune looks beautiful. It’s logically laid out and the UI is impressive. Rich media displays on most apps means they’re useful and pleasant to look at. Customer profile integration in Entune means you can access all your Pandora playlists in the car, a very cool feature. Entune’s integration of Bing with the nav system means that searching for things isn’t the frustrating and mostly futile experience it used to be. The standard nav is no longer DVD based and is now stored on either a hard drive or flash drive. Faster access of that data means less waiting time. Entune features a server based voice recognition system that offers a lot more than previously available with Prius. It’s not perfect but it’s good and I suspect it will get better given Toyota’s proclivity for disabling the keyboard while the vehicle is in motion, it’s required to leverage some of Entune’s feature when you not sitting still in your new Prius V.
We video-recorded a very detailed Entune presentation from Jason Shulz of Toyota, one of the Entune developers. Do watch it to see a live presentation of Entune features and get a real feel for how it works and make an informed judgment of whether or not it meets your needs. (look for that link and more video links very soon)
–Life Is Like A Box Of Chocolates… – inside the Prius V
Openness, airiness, it feels so much bigger inside the V. The addition of the resin moonroof in some models and some interior changes really open up the interior space of the V which makes it feel larger than the vehicle actually is. It may not be Dr. Who’s TARDIS but it’s good, very good. The new dash eliminates the “nose” that used to connect to the center console. The pass through design will appeal to many.
The front seats are nearly identical to current Prius front seats. The edge foam has been slightly stiffened. It’s comfortable and I imagine, that like my 3G Prius, long car trips will be comfortable. The roominess of back seats is almost shocking. The third generation Prius is not a tiny car. The back seat is large and comfortable but the V takes that another step further. The back row slides (independently, it’s a 60/40 split). So you can now adjust for leg room or for cargo capacity. It’s spacious back there. Almost agoraphobically so. And these new back seats in the V recline meaning the back is not only larger, it’s the exciting and hedonistic place we all think the back seats of our vehicles should be.
Speaking of cargo, slide those rear seat forward and you gain a respectable amount of cargo space. Fold those seats down and the overall carrying capacity of the V is outstanding. For a vehicle that gets 42 MPG average, it’s a quite respectable 67.3 cubic feet (back seats down and slid forward). Even with the back seats up and slid to the rear, you get 34.3 cubic feet.
The are clever design flourishes all over the car. The side pockets where specifically design to hold a number of things from cups and bottles to a stand size pad of paper. I appreciate that Toyota actually thought this rather than just molding something looked pretty but wasn’t useful.
Two cup holders pop out of the back of the center console for the back seats. There is are two cup holders facing forward in the center console, one lower down that slides out and one open holder built in on top. There is a also a dash mounted single cup holder mounted on the left side of the dash for the front passenger. I still the design of these things is, well, a little less than great but it’s better than Prius currently so once again, the prize goes to Toyota for at least an incremental improvement.
–Why You Want A Package Five
Dynamic Radar Cruise Control may be one of the coolest things ever. For some reason, Danny Cooper and I kept calling it “Laser Cruise” which we think sounds cooler. Call it whatever you want, the system works and is amazing. You have one button on the steering wheel that will set a distance between you and the vehicle of ahead of you. Once set at one of three follow distances the car simply follows that vehicle at the distance accelerating and braking to maintain the appropriate space between vehicles. I was amazed at how well it worked.
In one particularly enjoyable instance we were driving north on the Pacific Coast Highway through an area with construction taking place. While always maintaining the correct distance from the vehicle ahead of us, the V went from 56 MPH to 20 MPH and than back up to 45 MPH without any input from the driver. Seriously amazing.
I can think of so many times when a feature like this will not only make driving easier but safer. Fantastic feature and incredible implementation.
Just call it “Laser Cruise” ok? Please note, for the record, this is a radar based system.
IPA, and that’s not a beer, it’s Intelligent Parking Assist makes a return on the V Five. Although I live in a small urban center parallel park every day, usually several times a day, I’ve never been a big of IPA. I think it was kind of clunky to use and frankly, just overkill. The improved IPA featured on the V Five does work better than the previous system but it’s still, to me, pointless. If you have a deep seated fear of parallel parking or just find that you can’t manage no matter how hard you try, IPA may be a great solution.
Toyota has employed a number of upgrades in the basic system that make Prius (and help it to stop). Most of these have been slightly refined for the V and will offer no surprises to the current Prius owner and won’t surprise new owners as their implementation is seamless. Features such as VSC (Vehicle Stability Control), Brake Assist, Distributed Braking all make the vehicle safer without you having to think about it when you don’t have time. These innovations, like ABS, may seem odd at first but like ABS, once you actually use them you find your vehicle is safer because it’s computers are making high quality, data based decisions much, much faster than you ever could. The car controls the braking pressure between front and rear wheels. The system pre-pressures steering and braking allowing extra turning ability and braking power when you need it.
Perhaps the best example of this is something I couldn’t adequately test, or should I say, thankfully, I didn’t test, the radar pre-collision system. The system uses the front facing radar to predict an imminent collision and pre-tension the seat belts, increases the master cylinder braking pressure (to allow for increased braking ability) and also automatically engages the braking system to slow the vehicle down. It’s features like this that make the V and Prius in general, one of the safest cars on the road.
17″ alloy that do not require that standard Prius plastic covers for aerodynamics. They look great and if the MPG penalty isn’t too bad, they make a compelling visual statement that I think will appeal to many buyers.
–Downsides: There Aren’t Many
There is a black, microfiber cover on the console that not only looks out of place, it looks bad. I thought that Toyota had learned about these things in the second generation Prius, obviously not.
The instrument cluster is centered on the dash rather centered on the driver. This may be a matter of preference. Some of you may love it, some may not. It’s a change from the standard Prius and my experience driving the V has me concluding, it’s not a good move. For me, it’s natural to move my eyes slightly downward to glance at the display but down and right or diagonal eye movement is not habitual. And I’ll acknowledge, it may just be habit. It’s possible I could retrain myself and not care. If you love center mounted instrument displays, score one for Prius V. For now and for myself, I don’t like it.
TouchTracer went away. I’m assuming this is a harbinger for upcoming Prius models, maybe I am wrong. I would guess it wasn’t a feature people felt strongly about so Toyota, possibly in an economizing move, eliminated it. That’s sad because I think TouchTracer was one of those subtle, minor features that made Prius different and better than your average passenger car. Obviously it’s not a dealbreaker for anyone but so? As I’ve said many times, for me, one of the things that made Prius so appealing were those little idiosyncrasies that caught my eye, whether it was the joystick, or the pushbutton start or little LED spotlight that highlights the shifter in the G3.
One of the highly touted features, the reclining rear seats, which do in fact, recline, didn’t work so well for me. The pivot point on the recline is not at the base of the seat but at or above (depending on your body) the lumbar point. So it felt to me, almost like a yoga maneuver. My lower back mostly vertical while the rest of my back was reclining. I’m not sure I would have liked that for a long period of time a scenario which, I might opine, would be when people in the back would most like to recline. It’s great that the seats recline but I’ll be very interested to see owner reaction to how this feature was implemented.
As I mentioned above, the Entune system, for me, isn’t one that is very attractive. Maybe it will be to buyers in general. We’ll see.
I think one of the big things Toyota missed with the V was video. If this is indeed the mommycar of the future, there needs to be a video solution for it. No doubt a third party will offer headrests but it’s a shame Toyota isn’t offering that as well. Obviously ceiling mounted video is out in the V models with the panoramic roof. But offering an OEM video solution seems like a misstep in a car so clearly pointed at the family market.
–The Final Words
All in all, I think Prius V is a huge success. Most of my major concerns about the vehicle were removed in driving it and riding in it. In making a new, larger Prius, Toyota has retained all of the things that make a vehicle a Prius and added a few new things which enhance that lustre. I think the V is a an excellent solution for people who want more room than the standard Prius. The open question remains price. Will Toyota be able to offer up this vehicle at a price that makes it competitive with ICE powered vehicles in a similar class? I think Toyota has done an excellent job of making vehicle that competes with ICE cars delivering smilier performance and much more efficiency in addition some features that some ICE exclusive vehicles do not have. So price may be the determining factor here. For those of you who wanted a Prius with a little more room, well, maybe a lot more room, it’s coming and I think you’ll love it.