When Toyota first introduced the Prius like many old school car guys I thought I was looking at the appearance of the Anti-Christ. Armageddon had arrived, the world would soon end. After all the Prius was everything a real car wasn't; it was a ‘hybrid' a mixture of gas and electric power. What I felt we were seeing was the beginning of the end of the automobile as we knew it. Replaced by something that was, to me, nothing more than a golf cart with a body laid over it.
Those fears, at least so far, have not been borne out; there are still plenty of gas-guzzling cars on the road. But since its introduction the Prius has steadily grown in market share thanks in large part to the sheiks in the Middle East keeping gas prices so high that filling your tank can seem to cost as much as your monthly car payment. For all the faults old car guys might still find, it can't be denied that the main attraction for buying a Prius is the money one can save at the pump.
When I was given a Prius to try a few months ago I was at first reluctant to do so. After all this to me was like entering through the gates of Hades. But the alternative was walking everywhere for a week, so I gave it a try. While I didn't grow fond of the sedan version during my week, I was able to tolerate it and in the end I understood where those who like it were coming from.
I'm not big on leaving a ‘small footprint' being kind to Mother Earth, hugging a tree, being a friend to Al Gore, but I am a realist and as such I get it. Buying a Prius is all about saving money at the pump, and in that regard the Prius does it very well. So well in fact that the Prius models now outsell all other hybrids in the US combined. In 2102 Toyota introduced the ‘V' model Prius, a bigger, roomier model. For 2103 the model has not changed.
Recently I was given a 2013 ‘V' model to try out, another week with a Prius, but at least this time I didn't feel like as reluctant as the first go around.
The cabin of the ‘V' is bigger than the sedan version, and there seems to be more than ample room. But there are problems. You see there are three levels of the V: Two, Three and Five. Each level has more features than the last and of course a more expensive MSRP to go along with it. My companion for the week was the Three, and while I could tolerate the regular Prius, this larger cousin and I could never really find a reason to get along. One problem is that no matter which level you have, you still get the basically same hybrid powerplant found in all Prius models. While no one can ever expect a Prius to be a speed demon, the regular model has just enough power to make it adequate; in the larger, heavier, V model we are introduced to Captain Sluggo. Sure the power is enough to get the job done, but just so. There are three driving modes: EV, for all-electric drive at low speeds; Eco, for better fuel economy; and Power, which gives a driver just enough ‘power' not to be scared in traffic.
There is little comfort, no luxury whatsoever, and the interior design is uninspired. If this vehicle is intended to serve a family, they better be a clean one. The cloth seats seem to me to be almost sacrificial lambs; ready to hold the stains that come standard with kids for years to come. The SofTex fabric, an environmentally friendly leather comes only with the Five model but would have been better suited across all models. The dash differs markedly from the regular Prius. In the V the area in front of the driver is empty, instead the display juts out of the center of the dash to the right of driver. As with the regular Prius the display is crowded with all manner of information; in the V if the driver needs to glance away from the road to see their speed, once they get used to finding it amid the rest of the information that is. There is no gearshift in the traditional sense; instead there is a small joystick like device sticking out from the dash that can be downright confusing. You don't use it to shift to park; ‘park' is actually done via a button. At least in regular Prius the gearshift resembles something found in a non-hybrid, in the V it actually took a few minutes and a glance at the owner's manual to figure it out.
The uninspired design continues with the outside. It's almost like someone took a large air hose to the inside of a regular Prius and turned it on until it popped. But the V isn't about style, it isn't about design. It's all about function and practicality. This will not be a fun car, practical maybe, but far from exhilarating. And that's a shame.
Toyota is leading the way when it comes to the hybrid. Maybe they don't want to mess with something that has been such a sales success. But with a few tweaks, and an upgraded design, perhaps those of us outside the hybrid world might take more of an interest. However, for now there is nothing exciting about a Prius, it's still the same blah, no-nonsense vehicle it has been since the start. And that carries over to the V. In fact while the fuel mileage in the Prius sedan, an estimated 50 MPG on the highway and an astounding 53 MPG during my test, allowed me to overlook the faults I found in the sedan, the same cannot be said of the V. The V has mileage estimates of 42 MPG combined, which is near the 41.5 MPG I got during my test. While that number is still very good, it seemed to make the things I didn't like stand out. And given the fact that others in the same class have MPGs near the V, this model seems less attractive then the sedan.
Other than the fuel savings there seems to be no reason to like the Prius line. It's almost as if Toyota has said, ‘If we build it, they will buy it'. For the most part that's true. No matter what I or any critic says, the Prius is still the hybrid leader and probably will be for some time.
Until that changes, until another hybrid model threatens its dominance, expect Toyota to simply build it knowing that consumers will buy it, no matter what.
2013 Prius V (Three)
Price as tested: $27,925
MPG Hwy 44/Combined 42/City 40
Average MPG as tested (mixed conditions) 43.1
Hybrid system net power: 134 hp (100kW) Standard
Engine: 1.8-Liter Aluminum DOHC 16-Valve Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i), EV20/ECO/POWER Modes; 98 hp @ 5200 rpm (73 kW @ 5200 rpm); 105 lb.-ft. @ 4000 rpm (142 N•m @ 4000 rpm)
Electronically controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (ECVT)
Mileage Estimates (mpg city/highway/combined) 44/40/42
Exterior Dimensions (in.)
Overall height/width/length 62.0/69.9/181.7
Track (front/rear, 16-in. wheels) 60.6/60.8
Minimum running ground clearance 5.7
Interior Dimensions, front/rear (in.)
Head room 39.6/38.6
Shoulder room 55.9/55.2
Hip room 53.5/53.5
Leg room 41.3/35.9