Take Prius for a pic­nic

The ‘V’ stands for ver­sa­til­ity and Toy­ota’s seven-seat hy­brid has that and more

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Road Test - NEIL DOWLING neil.dowling@cars­guide.com.au

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?

VALUE

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.

DE­SIGN

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.

TECH­NOL­OGY

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.

SAFETY

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.

DRIV­ING

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.

VER­DICT

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

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