First Look: 2012 Toyota Prius V

Hybrid

This shouldn't be such a big shock. In fact, I'm surprised it took Toyota this long to expand their Prius hybrid lineup. Considering sales have totaled more than a million units in the U.S. alone since its 2000 introduction, one could have predicted that different configurations would have come to market sooner. And despite the troubles the world's largest automaker has experienced over the past couple years with the unintended acceleration debacle, Toyota is quickly getting its footing back.

Sales are picking up and consumer confidence is being restored. Now is the time to capitalize on Toyota's hot-selling hybrid. Seriously, the Prius is expected to outsell the Camry within the next decade, according to president of Toyota USA, Jim Lentz. And with fresh hybrid/EV competition from both GM and Nissan, Toyota needs something else in their Prius lineup to stay ahead of the game. The answer is the 2012 Toyota Prius V, a five-passenger MPV style van.

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It' s built on the same platform as the standard Prius, but the wheelbase has been lengthened by 3.0 inches. Overall length is increased by 6.0 inches, height by 3.3 inches, and width by 1.1 inches. Interior volume is also increased by 3.5 cubic feet, adding increased head, shoulder, and hip room both up front and out back. Oddly enough, front legroom is down by 1.2 inches. But what will attract many customers to the Prius V is it's added cargo capacity.

Realizing this was a major factor for American buyers, Toyota sent their chief engineer to the U.S. to pinpoint how much additional space small crossover/MPV owners wanted. With two rows of seating for five, owners can fold the rear seats flat, with space now being nearly equal to that of two Camry trunks. Even with passengers in the rear seats, there's still sufficient space available. Combined with an elevated seating position, the Prius V is basically, well, an MPV version of the regular Prius.

It also shares the regular Prius's Hybrid Synergy powertrain that consists of a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine producing 98hp and 105 lb-ft of torque. And of course, there's the nickel-metal hydride battery pack and an electric hybrid transaxle that raises total output to 134hp. A CVT remains the only transmission offered. All told, Toyota is estimating EPA numbers to be in the range of 44/40 mpg city/highway. The exterior's design, believe it or not, is not just a bloated version of the regular Prius.

Designers had to focus extra attention on aerodynamics and weight in order for the Prius V to earn high fuel economy numbers. This has resulted in what they call "aero corners" on the front and rear bumpers along with a rear spoiler. We were surprised by the fact that Toyota opted to go for non-sliding rear doors. Considering this thing is clearly designed for family hauling duties, we're assuming sliding doors added extra weight that Toyota wanted to avoid. The interior bears yet another strong resemblance to that of the Prius hatch, with a wide instrument cluster containing the speedometer, fuel gauge, and other information.

A back-up camera is standard. There's also an optional panoramic moon roof that has two fixed polycarbonate roof panels. Pricing will range from around $25,000 to $35,000. On paper, the Prius V comes across as a solid car for those who must transfer their eco-friendly habits from a smaller Prius to a larger one. But the question is, will this formula be enough to attract future customers who don't already drive a regular Prius? Isn't the Mazda5 already good enough? It has three rows of seats and dual sliding doors.

Chances are the Toyota Prius V will sell well. But with Ford about to reveal their all-new C-Max MPV that will spawn both hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions, the Prius V won't be the only green friendly MPV at your local Home Depot parking lot.

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