Take Prius for a picnic
The ‘V’ stands for versatility and Toyota’s seven-seat hybrid has that and more
ONE car that passed me on the congested freeway this week was distinguished not by its colour or brand, but its two occupants. Single-occupant vehicles dominate the lonely road to work each morning. So why are we obsessed with SUVs and other multi-seat wagons? Perhaps it’s all in the letter ‘‘ v’’— the one denoting Toyota’s extended Prius that seats seven people and, the company says, stands for ‘‘ versatility’’. The hybrid wagon is versatile and correctly claims to be fuelefficient, quiet (mostly), roomy and as good for the planet as it is for Toyota’s bottom line. But will commuters become passengers?
No dispute here— this is very good value. The $35,990 singlespec Prius V gets a chock-ablock list of goodies, including head-up instrument display, sunshades on side windows, Bluetooth with a six-speaker iPod/USB audio, alloy wheels, climate aircon and reversing camera. Prius V does everything its $52,490 Tarago sibling will do, but uses about half as much fuel. Capped price servicing is $130 each for up to six services in the first three years or 60,000km.
It is sold as a ground-up design, but clearly hasn’t stretched the designers’ abilities, ending up just like a longer version of a standard Prius despite not sharing one body panel. Getting three seat rows inside is achieved by slight but significant growth in all dimensions.
There’s a decent boot even with three rows up. There is more cabin room than the mildly enhanced size implies, thanks to a new and relocated battery. Space-age dashboard design carries over, as does the Playstation gearshift toggle and — questionably— the archaic foot-operated park brake.
The cabin is muted in colour, sensible in design and very flexible, with a trio of flip-fold centre-row seats on runners, plus rear seats that tuck into the cargo floor.
If you understand hybrids— a petrol engine that automatically works with an
electric motor— then this is a no-brainer. It’s all Prius with a 1.8-litre engine and two motors, though the new bits include the more compact and lighter lithium-ion batteries (saving 7kg on the old metal-hydride sparker) for the first time in a Toyota.
The bonnet is aluminium while other pressed parts are of steel of different strengths. LED running lights and the head-up display are standard, while the electric motor will automatically counter any floating feeling in the body (read: car sickness).
Regenerative braking is enhanced with electronics that smoothly sync it to the conventional brake system.
The V is likely to get a five-star rating, given the seven airbags, electronic aids and Isofix child restraint points in the centre row. It also gets a reverse camera, whiplash-injury protection front seats and leg impact-absorbing pads in the front foot wells. The spacesaver occupies a wheel well capable of taking a full-size spare.
There’s no mistaking this as a Prius, from the silent start-up to the late rumble as the engine steps in to the leisurely acceleration and the lifeless low-speed steering feel. But it doesn’t feel as big as, say, the Tarago and can even feel nimble through the corners.
At higher speeds, steering feel returns so by 100km/h it is nicely— if not artificially— weighted. The ride goes from comfy to weird, as the unusual torque-sensing ride-control widgets counteract the boatlike body sway and pitch. It does so by applying subtle power or brake inputs to the wheels, hence the driver can feel a gentle, if not strange, push-pull tugging on the chassis.
Power delivery is soft and occasionally drove me mad, so I switched in the ‘‘ power’’ mode. And it was so much better I kept it on, knowing fuel consumption may suffer, but that my dignity wouldn’t be questioned at the traffic lights.
A big green bus for big green families. It’s likable, but some rivals— Citroen’s Picasso, for example— are more satisfying to drive.
Feel-good: Price and safety factors make PriusVa big, green family bus