Toyota Prius V: Hybrid Blessings

Prius V profileAlternative energy technology comes in a few forms; wind and solar for the household/business sectors are the most well known. For the automotive group it’s a little more clear cut; petrol or diesel then hybrid (battery and an engine) before pure electric. Hydrogen fuel cell power is still years away, conspiracy theories not withstanding. Diesel offers plenty of torque and economy at the expense of emissions and this is where hybrid technology currently has an edge.
Toyota’s Prius is, perhaps, the torchbearer for hybrid technology, having been around since 1997. A constant part of the design ethic has been its petrol and battery combination aiding its wind cheating exterior to become classified as an ULEV (Ultra Low Emission Vehicle) and with some redesigns since release, has evolved into a hatchback, smaller hatchback and seven seater wagon, the V with which A Wheel Thing spent a week.
The drivetrain is a geek’s dream; a 100 kW 1.8L petrol engine is used to top up the battery and aid in driving situations where the 100kW battery/electric system needs backup. Computers control the lot, from the push start button to the small lever selector for Drive and Reverse, to switching on and off the petrol engine almost seamlessly. There’s three Prius V dashdrive modes available; Eco, EV (full electric) and Power. As one would expect, it’s a foot on brake and press the Start button procedure. Drive or Reverse is engaged via small lever on the dash and electronically disengages the Parking brake. There’s no driver engagement; Holden’s Volt is a “fun” experience on start up, with a whooshing sound through the entertainment system and two seven inch LCD screens doing an electronic dance whereas the Prius simply…..sits…..There is a display on the upper centre dash which can display a bewildering amount of information but still doesn’t have the wow factor of the Volt.
Underway the Prius belies its near 1400kg mass with a well sorted handling and ride package; there’s no wallowing after a speedbump, it’s firm and flat with a suppleness that provides a feeling of quiet confidence on the straights and certainly when pushed into corners. It’s a touch numb on centre but there’s good feedback through the wheel. But to get all of this takes time; the Prius V is a slow accelerator via the CVT, although the Power mode does feel (naturally) a little quicker. The petrol engine kicks in and out with nary a vibration and rarely intrudes into the cabin. Naturally there’s a swag of electronic enhancements, including Dynamic Radar Cruise; a sonar system works hand in hand with the cruise control to slow the Prius V down if Prius V seatsthe car in front slows below the preset cruise level.
The front seats are comfortable, heated (although the switches are hidden down low and under a Prius V rear seatsbinnacle) and well padded whilst the mid row (remember, it’s a seven seater) are individually mounted, allowing sliding and folding for each plus providing access for the third row of two. The audio and satnav system is clear, if a little boomy through the JBL speakers, but annoying retains the audible speed warning system that nannys drivers. The overall design is, as one expects, clear and ergonomic with a major highlight being the HUD (Heads Up Display) directly in front of the Prius V HUDdriver. It’s adjustable for the eyesight angle of the driver and shows speed plus minor instrument (i.e. volume) changes. Aircon controls are minimal, with a couple of switches and a jog dial to select options, whilst the “gear” lever is unobtrusive to the point of being unrecognisable for its intended purpose.
The exterior retains the slippery, aero, profile that’s been a staple of the design since its release, helping overall efficiency. The V is larger than the hatch, which costs on fuel economy but the regenerative energy system tops the battery up from the braking the car does. The nose of the Prius is clearly part of Toyota’s new edgy design family, Prius V frontwith a row of LED driving lights flanking a pair of standard bulb lamps, underneath a set of arrow-head style headlights that throw a eerie cobalt blue light at night.
It’s a technological wonder, the Prius V, with a surprising handling feel, but….as so often has been levelled at Toyota cars it lacks soul, an engagement with the driver. For information on pricing, check with your local dealer (RRP is $35990 plus on roads and metallic paint) and go Prius V rearhere: http://www.toyota.com.au/prius-v#its-your-prius-v for more indepth information.

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