Taking all that made the ubiquitous gas-electric loved and loathed and super-sizing it for the family
"Brand equity," is one of those catch phrases like "leveraging synergies," and "drilling down," that makes me want to hurl heavy things at the marketing gurus that use them. That said, I do understand why they obsess over this so endlessly.
See, if I say, 'Camaro,' even your grannies probably going to know what that car's all about: Speed, power - and mullets. Making a car's name something that even non-auto geeks know and understand is no small feat.
For better or worse, Toyota's done one heck of a job making its Prius hybrid the car everyone thinks of when the conversation turns to eco-conscious automobiles. No wonder some three million have been sold globally since 1997 (including 23,000 in Canada) - more hybrids than any other automaker.
Today, Toyota's leveraging that car's brand equity big time by slapping the 'Prius' badge on a new line of like-minded hybrid vehicles. First out of the gate is this 'v' (for versatile) model, a gas-electric crossover for the family priced at $27,200. Stephen Beatty, managing director of Toyota Canada, said that back in 2000 when the first Prius hit Canada, "the very first question I had, was 'but when can I have a minivan or something bigger to fit my life?'… This will make Prius a mass market vehicle."
The powertrain parts in Prius v are essentially the same as those found in its five-door hatchback forefather: a 1.8-litre, 134 horsepower, gasoline-powered engine, a 60 kW electric battery, a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), a nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery pack (more on that later, kids…) and a nuclear submarine's worth of computers.
A new exhaust heat recirculation system warms up the engine more rapidly than the Prius of old, so the engine reaches ideal temperature and switches off at stoplights sooner - all in order to save dino juice. Toyota says winter fuel economy is up two percent in the 'v.'
This is not a car to buy if you enjoy driving. It's an appliance, albeit a high-tech one. The suspension has been revised from the first Prius, but it's still spongy, the electric steering's been re-tuned, but it doesn't provide much feedback and the gas engine can get plenty loud if you're trying to pass on the highway or drive up a hill. A new ‘pitch and bounce,’ control system purports to reduce up and down motion over rough tarmac by fine tuning the torque the car's electric motor sends to the front wheels. We didn't feel it working, which may be the point.
Toyota's added a bunch of high-strength steel and aluminum to the v's new body structure, but weight still increases 105 kg (232 lbs.) over the original Prius. The automaker says 0-100 km/h times are identical between the two models, though we haven't yet tested that theory.
The goal here is moving the family and their parcels about while using the least amount of fuel, not engaging the driver. As in its forbearer, the Prius v can motor about in normal, power, eco or EV modes (at least under 40 km/h if you whisper upon the gas pedal). Toyota claims stellar average consumption of 4.6 L/100 km, better than any SUV, crossover or wagon.
As per usual, Toyota Canada derided diesel cars at the v's press launch, claiming its new hybrid produces a whooping 79 percent less CO2 than modern oil burners. Read between the lines and it seems the automaker realizes its greatest rival here is the stellar $ $27,025 Volkswagen Golf TDI wagon, which also seats five and delivers magic fuel efficiency too.
Looking like the oversized lovechild of the Honda Fit and Pontiac Vibe, Prius v measures 15.5 centimetres (6 inches) longer, 3 cm (one inch) wider and 9.5 cm (3.7 in.) higher than Toyota's standard hybrid, with most of that extra length going to rear seat and especially cargo room. (Toyota claims there's now 50 percent more space behind the front seat.)
The interior design follows the established, slightly weird motif of the smaller Prius, with central digital gauges, eco-materials, that little blue shifter and a new, three-functions-in-one climate control knob. Toyota says the v's optional resin roof is the largest in the world and 50 percent lighter than its glass equivalent. The materials, quality and seating comfort are all a step up from the existing hybrid though, but still a ways from German rivals.
Rear seat riders get 3.5 cm more legroom than in the regular Prius, which I never thought was a confined space anyway (save for rear headroom). That rear bench can still hold three people and slides fore and aft a generous 18 cm. Here we get back to that battery: more specifically, its placement. To make the Prius v a cargo-carrying wizard, Toyota had to stuff the battery under the rear seat. The problem is, it intrudes into foot space, which means less room for larger feet and less space to get comfy when this ride's inevitably used for the family vacation,
Ah yes, and here, not surprisingly, is where the Prius v shines (though I always thought the regular hatchback Prius was quite practical too…). Get this: the Prius v actually qualifies for fleet sales in Canada because of the size of its cargo area. Maybe this will become the taxi of choice now that the Ford Crown Victoria's dead, if not a green marketing tool for cab companies.
The seats still split 60/40, but the v's rear cargo deck is 40 cm (15.7 in.) longer than the standard Prius - making the cargo hole more generous than the Chevrolet Equinox, Nissan Rogue and Ford Escape Hybrid. Golf bags, strollers and bikes will fit in without issue. Tumble the front seat and this newest Prius will swallow an eight-foot kayak.
The Prius v is priced under the regular Prius by $600 and has more standard kit, so this could become the hybrid family's breadwinner. Standard gear includes Bluetooth connectivity, auto climate control, a tilt/telescopic steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, a backup camera and push button start. Three option packs add gear like leather-like seating, larger wheels, a JBL audio system, radar cruise control and park assist. A 'v' will top out near $40,000.
Toyota Canada expects to sell 4,000 v's in the first year, mostly to buyers new to hybrids, to drivers of divergent ages from the standard Prius and, yes, even more women. Apologies for being overly negative, but I can't help shake the feeling that some of the v's buyers are going to be those annoying neighbours down the street who think their kids are smarter than yours and will buy the hybrid just to look down their nose at you and your 'lesser' planet-killing ride…like a Chevy Equinox that still manages 6.1 L/100 km highway.
Either way, the Prius v builds towards Toyota's goal of having a hybrid in every segment by 2020. With the impending arrival of the (hopefully somewhat sporty) Prius c in the spring, could Toyota create an entirely new car division around these hybrids? Says Stephen Beatty: "it could be one of the future considerations." Let's see how Prius v does first, shall we?