RICHARD BLACKBURN May 22, 2012
Prius V brings hybrid power to the people-mover market.
Toyota has released Australia’s first seven-seater hybrid – and the third member of its growing Prius family.
The Prius V, a stretched version of the world’s top-selling hybrid, uses less fuel than most city runabouts, sipping just 4.4 litres per 100km. It’s slightly thirstier than Toyota’s environmental hero, the Prius, which uses 3.9 litres per 100km. But fully loaded, the seven-seater is a more efficient people carrier.
The Prius V effectively replaces the Avensis as little brother to the Tarago people-mover in the Toyota range. It is 35mm shorter than the Avensis, but slightly wider.
It’s also significantly cheaper, with prices starting from $35,990 plus on-road costs, compared with the Avensis’s $39,990 asking price prior to it being withdrawn from local sale in 2010. The Prius V is 135mm longer than the standard Prius hatch.
Toyota says it expects the Prius V to take sales away from mid-sized family cars and compact SUVs, although its most obvious competitor is the similarly-sized Kia Rondo, which starts at $25,990.
It is also likely to take sales way from the original Prius, which has fallen out of favour with local buyers in recent years. Prius sales dropped from more than 3000 a year in 2009 to less than 1000 last year, although sales have lifted in the first four months of this year. Overall hybrid sales were also down 10 per cent last year, but have rebounded strongly this year.
The Prius V joins the recently launched Prius C small car and the Camry Hybrid in Toyota’s expanding petrol-electric stable. The company plans to have a petrol-electric version of every car in its range by 2020.
As with most of its seven-seat SUV rivals, it is more a part-time seven-seater than a full-blooded people-mover. With the third-row seats up, it offers just 180 litres of luggage space, which is less than a Porsche 911. With the rear seats down, the luggage space expands to 485 litres, which is competitive with the average compact SUV.
The middle row of seats reclines, slides and split-folds, while the last row can split-fold. The rear seats are also tiered in the same way as theatre seating, giving rear seat passengers better vision.
The Prius V becomes the first hybrid in the Toyota range to use a more advanced lithium-ion battery pack in lieu of the nickel metal hydride units in existing Toyotas.
The technology, which is used on the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf, packs more punch in a small package - Toyota says the new lithium-ion battery pack is half the size but pushes out the same amount of power, and is seven kilograms lighter than a NiMH pack, at 34kg. Overall, the Prius V is 135kg heavier than the regular Prius hatch.
The batteries for the Prius V were moved from under the rear floor to make room for the extra two seats, with the 56-cell pack now housed in the centre console.
As with the Prius C, the Prius V’s cabin has a technological bent, with a jet-fighter style head-up display, keyless entry, a reversing camera, a 6.1-inch screen on the dash and a trip computer that gives detailed information about fuel consumption and tips on how to drive economically.
Safety gear includes seven airbags and stability control.
The car is powered by a combination of 60kW electric motor and 73kW, 1.8-litre petrol engine. Together they produce maximum power of 100kW.
It can be driven in three modes: EV, which allows it to travel up to 2km on electric power alone, Eco, which saves fuel by damping throttle response and reducing air-conditioning power, and power mode, for better acceleration. The engine switches off when the car is stopped at the lights to save fuel.
The car has a new “body control with torque demand” system that Toyota says improves steering feel and makes the car sit flatter for a more stable feel at freeway speeds.
The system feeds information from wheel sensors into the car’s ECU, which then uses the torque from the electric motor to counteract the natural pitching that occurs as a car travels along a freeway. When the nose of the car lifts, the torque is increased; when the nose dips, torque is reduced, and Toyota claims this allows the car to keep better contact with road and thus improve steering feel.
Toyota’s executive director of sales and marketing, Matthew Callachor says the Prius V will compete across a number of market segments.
“We see Prius V as an alternative to small or mid-size sedans and wagons as well as compact SUVs and crossover vehicles – with fuel economy few of them can match,” he says.
Some of the competitors Toyota Australia listed include the Honda Odyssey and Citroen C4 Picasso people-movers, through to the Peugeot 508 wagon and even compact SUVs such as Skoda's Yeti and Hyundai's ix35.
“It gives people a place to go when they outgrow the Prius,” he says.
Callachor says the car will also have commercial applications.
“With the added cargo space, the Prius V might also make an ideal light delivery vehicle for florists and small-package delivery services,” he says.
Toyota says it is on track to sell more than a million hybrid vehicles worldwide this year.
“This level of volume makes it clear that hybrid technology has arrived and is offering a clear path to the future,” Callachor says.
Toyota Australia says it hopes to sell 100 Prius Vs per month, as part of its total sales target for hybrids of about 1000 to 1100 units. Of those, the Prius and Prius V should account for 100 sales each, the diminutive Prius C should add 200 per month, while the Camry Hybrid makes up 600 to 700 sales per month.
Toyota Prius V
Price: From $35,990 plus on road costs
Engine: 1.8-litre four cylinder combined with electric motor
Power: 73kW (petrol engine), 60kW (electric motor), 100kW (combined)
Torque: 142Nm (petrol engine), 207Nm (electric motor), no combined output quoted
Fuel use: 4.4L/100km
Emissions: 101g/km CO2