'V' Is for Versatile
By Bill Moore
It’s longer. Taller. Wider. Heavier and it’s less energy efficient. Meet the new Toyota V, as in versatile; and that’s why Toyota has spent the last five years creating the second member of the Prii family of hybrids.
Now this seems a bit of a contradiction in these days of $4 gasoline (in the USA). Is Toyota retreating from its privileged position as the king of the hybrid, owning 53 percent of the global market by offering a car that under performs its predecessor by some 6-8 miles per gallon? Actually, just the opposite. The V isn’t meant to compete against the popular hatchback version of the Prius, but to compliment it; to offer a new set of customers a family vehicle with more interior room and cargo hauling capacity than competing crossovers, compact SUVs and station wagons, plus fuel economy none of them can match.
Toyota invited EV World, along with several dozen other journalists to test drive the four packages that the V will be offered in dubbed V2, their base line model, V3 with upgraded electronics, V5 with even better electronics and V5 Advanced with all the bells, whistles, and sun roofs.
What all four models share in common and with their progenitor is the 1.8L Hybrid Synergy Drive. That is both its strength and weakness as our climb up California Highway 92 from Half Moon Bay on the Pacific Coast to San Francisco demonstrates. The engine has to work hard to keep up with the traffic racing up the grade on their way into the city. But once it’s back on less challenging terrain, the V comes into its own, offering close to the performance of the hatchback, but with 58 percent more cargo volume, made possible by extending the roof line, lengthening the wheelbase by 3 inches and the length by 6 inches. V is also an inch wider and taller; the result being a car that weighs 232 lbs more than the class-leading Prius hatchback. As a result, the V is tentatively rated at 44 mpg in city driving and 42 mpg combined.
As with the current Prius, the driver can select three operational modes: EV, Eco and PWR. EV mode allows the car to move on electric power only for about 1 mile at speeds, if you’re very light-footed, up to around 40 mph. Eco mode is used to better fuel economy; while PWR (power) helps you climb that steep grade between Half Moon Bay and San Francisco. As a safety precaution while operating in EV mode, the V introduces an externally audible sound that increases in amplitude the faster the car moves. It is meant to alert pedestrians, but try as I might, I could not hear it in the cabin. I had to stand outside and have a Toyota employee drive the car slowly past me. It sounds somewhat like a low buzzing. It’s certainly not distracting nor does it add unwanted noise pollution. Future Pruis hybrids will be similarly equipped.
The “versatile” aspect of the car extends beyond its added cargo room. Toyota engineers also gave it more flexible seating capacity. Unlike the hatchback model, the V’s rear passenger seat is a 60/40 split that not only folds nearly flat for hauling items up to around 65-70 inches in length (it’s still not wide enough or long enough to handle a standard 4x8 sheet of plywood, however -- that’s what the Tundra is for) but also can be adjusted to slide fore and aft, as well as recline up to 45 degrees.
As for “hauling” cups of coffee and bottles of soda pop, the V is amply equipped with them, including the center console, the door panels and even one that pops out from under the passenger right side air vent. Toyota also added a 12V plug in the rear cargo deck, presumably to power camping gear or inner tube inflators.
During my three test drives, some as navigator for Valerie Menard, a latino journalist, we put the car through its paces on Interstate 280, downtown Half Moon Bay, up and down twisting coastal canyon roads with blind corners and precipitous drop offs. The car handled them easily with two of us on board. Given the extremes of elevation in the test drive area, literally from sea level (San Gregorio State Park) to 1,000 feet, our fuel economy numbers were all over the map, but they tended to average in the mid-to-high 30s. Out on the less challenging terrains of the American Midwest or East Coast, it would be easy to hit those 40 mpg numbers, which will put the V in league of its own.
I asked chief engineer Kayukawa if there were any plans to offer a plug-in version of the V, as Toyota plans to do with the classic Prius. He replied, no. However, a quick peak under the rear cargo deck reveals plenty of space for extra batteries and their pre-requisite charger. Because of its added cargo space and estimated 1000 pounds of payload capacity, the V might make an idea light delivery vehicle for florists, small package delivery services, etc. Wedding that to a 10kWh lithium battery could make a gangbuster light commercial vehicle with even better MPG performance. But that’ll be up to others to deliver on that idea: Toyota has its hands full just trying to get back up to full production capacity after the earthquake and tsunami.
The biggest difference between the three models is their infotainment packages, which become progressively more sophisticated with each upgrade:basic audio package and 6 inch color video display (V2); navigation system (V3); top-of-the-line JBL audio with 7 inch high-definition display and matching navigation system (V5). The V5 advanced model comes with dual moon roofs for both the front and rear passengers. They automatically close when you lock the car and walk away. All of the models offer hands-free Bluetooth cellphone capability and Entune, a new Toyota infotainment service that lets you listen to your favorite music via Pandora and IheartRadio, as well do Points-of-Interest searches via Bing, Microsoft’s search engine. Some seven exterior colors will be offered and three interior trims, similar to the Prius hatchback. Pricing hasn’t yet been set, but Toyota sees it running “a bit more” than the hatchback model. While the Japanese model, which will have a 7-seat option, will be delayed for an unspecified period (despite more than 34,000 pre-orders according to V chief engineer Hiroshi Kagukawa) the V will hit the US market sometime this Fall.
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