With abundant leaks and advance teasers both official and unofficial, there was really not much suspense in the official debut of the so-called “large Prius” at the 2011 Detroit Auto Show, except, perhaps, what badge it would wear. We reported earlier speculation that the “Prius MPV” would wear either Prius Alpha or Prius Verso badging, but, even days before the official unveiling, there was talk of the final name being Prius V. This author dismissed such talk as nonsense, given the potential for confusion between the Prius V top-of-the-line trim level for the original “fastback Prius” and the new “squareback” model. (I’m channeling Volkswagens from the mid-1960’s, aren’t I?) Yet, as Akio Toyoda, President of Toyota Motor Corporation and Bob Carter, Group Vice President & General Manager of Toyota Division USA unveiled the new vehicle, we learned that it would be named… Prius v!
Officially, Toyota explains that the new larger Prius is Prius vee (and, yes, the letter “v” is to be italicized and in lower case) and stands for versatility. On the other hand, the top-of-the line version of the current 3rd-generation Prius is Prius Five, and uses the Roman numeral V to denote this. It is interesting to note, however, that, as of this writing, the official Toyota USA consumer website still lists the 2010 Prius in II, III, IV and V guises, while page 5 of the 2011 Prius Product Information PDF document in the Toyota USA Newsroom lists Prius One, Two, Three, Four and Five. (Prius One, we suspect, is a stripped-down fleet sales-only version for taxis and the like). And that, probably, is how Toyota will solve the V vs v conundrum: by using the written-out number name (or the Arabic numerals 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) going forward for the Prius trim levels, or, possibly, ditching the system for 2012 and going with either package names (such as Convenience, Comfort, Leather, Premium) or trim level denoters (such as base, LE, SE, XLE, Limited).
The powertrain? Same ol’-same ‘ol
As we predicted back in November, the Prius v powertrain is the tried-and-true 2ZR-FXE 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine and CVT transmission from the 3rd-generation Toyota Prius, Toyota Auris HSD and Lexus CT 200h. Unfortunately, the hoped-for power increase never materialized, and the vital numbers remain at 98 engine horsepower, 80 hp electric motor power output, which combine for a hybrid system net power rating of 134 hp and 105 lb-ft of torque. Thus, with Prius v being the largest and, presumably, heaviest application yet for this powertrain, we’d be surprised if 0-60 mph acceleration times remained barely below 10 seconds as they do for the current Prius and Lexus CT. Expected EPA fuel economy numbers, too, take something of a hit at 42 mpg city/38 mpg highway/40 mpg combined, versus 51 mpg city/48 mpg highway/50 mpg combined for “fastback” Prius and 43 mpg city/40 mpg highway/42 mpg combined for Lexus CT 200h.
The resin Panoramic View moonroof: having your cake and eating it, too
Over the years, the desire for some semblance of open-air, let-the-outside-in motoring without the perceived drawbacks of an actual convertible has evolved from smallish, body-colored sunroofs to larger, full-length glass skylights with opening portions and shades to keep out direct sunlight. And, while both the general public and automotive stylists love them, hardcore purists bemoan the concept of adding extra weight atop the car, thus raising the center of gravity and adversely affecting handling agility. Heck, this pundit would mandate carbon fiber roofs as on the BMW M3 and M6 coupes if he could. Yet, for those who love this concept too much, the official “Prius family” press release informs us that Prius v‘s optional resin Panoramic View moonroof with power retractable sun shades provides an open atmosphere in the cabin with a 40-percent reduction in weight as compared to conventional glass roofs of the same size, along with excellent heat insulation performance.
Toyota Entune debuts here
One of the many factors in Ford’s continuing ascent in the automotive industry in recent years is its alliance with Microsoft that, back in 2007, led to the creation of SYNC, a factory-installed, fully integrated in-vehicle communications and entertainment system that allows users to make hands-free telephone calls and control music and other functions using voice commands, using a series of applications and user interfaces that run on the Microsoft Windows Embedded Automotive operating system. With the Ford/Microsoft exclusivity agreement expiring in November 2008, the next major Microsoft carmaker alliance led to Kia’s UVO. Toyota, however, did something of an end-run around Microsoft with its take on the concept: Toyota Entune.
Detailed in a 4 January 2011 press release, Entune is a multimedia in-car communications and entertainment system that leverages the customer’s mobile smartphone and conversational voice recognition capabilities to fully integrate access to Pandora internet radio, High Definition (HD) Radio, XM satellite radio, and iHeartradio, as well as a CD player and Bluetooth and USB connectivity. The Microsoft juggernaut is inescapable, though, for the software giant’s Bing for Mobile and Bing Maps is also part of the Entune suite of features.
Although initial information did not delve on vehicle availability information for Toyota Enform, we now know that Prius v will be one of the first Toyotas to offer this handy feature.
Stretching the MC platform
Although Toyota, in the end, rejected the notion of giving the newest model a Prius Verso nameplate, the new Prius v does share something vital with the European market’s larger Verso model: a 2780mm (109.4″) wheelbase, which, incidentally, they also share with the Japanese Domestic Market’s Toyota Venza look-alike, the Mark X ZiO. Yes, we’re seeing Toyota MC platform (or architecture) ubiquity at its finest. More familiar in its 2600mm (Corolla and Matrix) and 2700mm (Scion tC, Prius “fastback”, Lexus HS) wheelbase iterations, the longest version (to our knowledge) of MC underpins Prius v. Stay tuned for an upcoming Kaizen Factor story that will delve further into this ultra-flexible vehicle architecture.
Other Prius v vital figures are an overall length of 181.7″, overall width of 69.9″, overall height of 62″, ground clearance of 5.7″, a coefficient of drag of 0.29, standard 16″ and optional 17″ alloy wheels (the latter the attractive 10-spoke with star center design shown at left).
What about third-row seating?
Although Prius v is seemingly attractive and comfortable enough, this author’s disappointment is two-fold: the carryover weakling powertrain and the lack of third-row seating, which would’ve made this a strong contender in the slowly resurging 3-row seating mini-minivan segment against the Mazda5 and upcoming Ford C-MAX (Grand C-MAX outside North America). After all, the latter has a 0.3″ longer wheelbase and is 3.7″ shorter, yet manages to squeeze in a third row of seats. Perhaps the space occupied by Toyota’s relatively bulky nickel-metal hydride batteries would’ve rendered a third row of seats downright uninhabitable, as opposed to child-only friendly and, notably, the hybrid versions of Ford C-MAX (C-MAX Hybrid and the plug-in C-MAX Energi) build off the smaller two-row C-MAX (with an even shorter 104.2″ wheelbase and 173.6″ overall length).
While major English-language automotive press pundits have remained silent on the lack of third-row seating, internet commentary has been anything but, ranging from anger on Autoblog Green to hopes that the Japanese and European markets will offer a “+2” third row option on Autoblog.