According to Toyota, its Prius accounts for 52 percent of the United States hybrid market and outsells all its competitors combined. It’s no surprise, then, that the company would want to give the car some siblings.
Toyota brought a preproduction fleet of its latest hybrid, the Prius V, to Westchester County on Wednesday and offered drives along the Connecticut-New York border. Though journalists could choose among various scenic routes, given the car’s clear family-hauler aspirations, a trip to a big-box food wholesaler would not have been inappropriate.
The V, which stands for “Versatility,” according to Toyota, will be joined by a plug-in Prius sedan and a smaller car based on the Prius C concept, first shown at the Detroit auto show in January, in the next two years. The V, with extra legroom and 58 percent more cargo space than its sedan counterpart, is the firstborn and is expected to be on the market in the fall.
According to Rick LoFaso, corporate marketing manager for cars and vans at Toyota, the V took its cues from the American lifestyle. Hiroshi Kayukawa, the car’s chief engineer, visited malls, big-box stores and tourist sites to see how Americans shop, Mr. LoFaso said, and concluded that — surprise surprise — we like to move a lot of stuff.
As such, 3 inches were added to the Prius sedan’s wheelbase and 6 inches to the overall length. The cabin offers 34.3 cubic feet of stowage, or 67.3 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. Mr. LoFaso noted the V had more cargo space than the Chevrolet Equinox, Honda Element, Ford Escape or Nissan Rogue.
The V is heavier and slightly less aerodynamic (a 0.29 coefficient of drag) than a regular Prius (0.25), so it sacrifices a measure of fuel economy. The car is rated at 44 m.p.g. in the city, 40 on the highway and 42 combined. Though a 19-mile test drive over twisty two-lane, with the obligatory hard acceleration and braking, does not offer a representative test drive by any means, I observed 32.1 m.p.g.
The V is closely related to the regular Prius under the skin, so it doesn’t offer many on-road surprises. More revelatory was stretching out in the back after folding the rear seats. A 6’ 1″ reporter fit with only slightly bent knees. An added bonus is good rear legroom, even behind a fully extended driver’s seat — a rarity in modern cars.
Another test that could be performed in the V without actually going anywhere was programming a new Pandora station. The Internet radio service builds a listening experience around favorite artists, and it worked well in the test car, though down the road, the music died briefly when passing through an area of spotty cell service.
In its upmarket versions — there are Two, Three and Five trims, and an advanced technology package — the V is equipped with the Entune multimedia system, which accesses other applications like MovieTickets.com, iHeartRadio and OpenTable through the owner’s smartphone.
As preproduction prototypes, the V’s I drove still had some kinks. Testing the self-parking system, a feature found on the Lexus LS luxury sedan, was an adventure; the beep tone that alerts the driver when to put the car into reverse did not sound. But with a little trial and error the car tucked itself away with great dexterity.
The Toyota Prius is already a family car, but stretching it makes it even more of one. There’s no bottom line yet, but Mr. LoFaso said the V would be priced “a little higher than the current Prius.”