A thrifty new wagon master

By Bill Heald - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Thu., Feb. 23, 2012
- Contributed Photo

The Toyota Prius is now on its third generation, and while each update has had much in common with its predecessors there’s always been just one Prius model available (a 5-door midsize sedan since ’04). This king of the high mileage/low emissions brigade still rules the roost in real-world fuel economy, and now for the first time will not just be one model but a family of hybrid gas/electric vehicles.

The newest edition now at Toyota dealers is the Prius v (where the “v” stands for versatility), and it’s a wagon version of the popular hatchback platform. I mentioned family earlier, and it’s an important choice of words, in that it’s not just apt in describing the new assortment of Prii (the official plural of Prius), but the v is designed to be a family wagon. This car is now part of an assortment because Toyota has also just rolled out the “c” model (a more compact version of the basic Prius) so the car now comes in three sizes. Today, we look at most fuel-efficient midsize wagons on the road, and this is a very sophisticated ride, to boot.

The front-drive hybrid powertrain of the Prius v is the same as the sedan, so we have a 1.8-liter gasoline engine combined with a 60 kW electric motor for a combined horsepower rating of 134. The motor is powered by a nickel-metal hydride battery pack, and this thrifty wagon has Standard, ECO, EV and Power modes that determine the balance of electric motor, gasoline engine or both that is used to propel the car. In standard mode 60 MPH arrived in a little over 10 seconds and the Constantly Variable Transmission (CVT) is smooth and efficient. EV (Electric Vehicle) mode is ideal for when you’re exiting a parking lot after a big event, as you can roll along at low speeds for up to about a mile on electric power alone. The v also has a very interesting suspension feature: Pitch and Bounce control. While the suspension is already retuned to carry more in terms of load, this new technology is designed to further improve handling. Toyota describes it thusly: “Pitch and Bounce Control uses the torque of the hybrid motor to enhance ride comfort and control. The system, working with wheel-speed sensors and in tune with the suspension, helps suppress bounce and toss motions to improve comfort for occupants.” As a result, the Prius v responds crisply, especially in bumpy corners, and feels very solid and substantial.

Finally, the question you’ve all been waiting for: how roomy is this new Prius wagon? The rear seat in particular is especially commodious, and even with passengers back there you still have 34 cubic feet of cargo space under the hatch. With the seatbacks folded, this grows to 67.3, which is approaching midsize SUV territory. Even with all this room, the Prius v Three is EPA rated 44 mpg city/40 highway and we saw 41.1 MPG during our week with the car. With options, our sticker came to $28,150. www.toyota.com.

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