2012 Toyota Prius V - A Stretched Rude Gesture Towards Gas Prices

Just some Facts:

-% Increase Americans have paid in Price Per Gallon of unleaded fuel: 150% (between 2003 and 2012)

-Barrels of crude oil consumed by U.S. each year: 6.9 billion barrels

– Motor vehicle petroleum consumption as a % of total annual U.S. consumption: 44%

-Total annual petroleum yield of  U.S. oil fields: 2 billion barrels (2010)

-Annual American petroleum consumption as % of global total: 22%

-No. of Americans who have bought gas-electric hybrid vehicles between 1999-2011:  2.3 million

-Peak annual market share of new car vehicles in U.S. that were gas electric hybrids: 2.6% of 13.8 million (in 2007)

-Toyota Prius market share as of total gas-electric hybrids sold in U.S.: 50% (since 1999)

-% of gas-electric hybrid vehicle owners who traded in for another hybrid in 2011: 33% (According to R.L. Polk Survey)

-% of Toyota Prius owners who traded in for another gas-electric hybrid in 2011: 41% (According to R.L. Polk Survey)

-% slip of Toyota Prius in market share of U.S. gas-electric hybrid sales: 10%+ (since 2005).

Just our Analysis:

Some industry analysts have interpreted the R.L Polk survey findings as suggesting consumers are wary that the recoupment of the higher prices of hybrid models in fuel savings can exceed the average duration of vehicle ownership, especially in the case of luxury parallel hybrids. More recently hybrids have had to compete with less expensive  diesel and gasoline, yes gasoline, propulsion. Advances such as direct fuel injection, valve throttling, shorter cycle strokes, forced induction, and sophisticated transmission gearing has made 30 miles per gallon combined efficiency a reality in competitive cars costing some 20% less than the least expensive $22,000 standard Toyota Prius.

Our wild guess here at “Drive…He Said” was that even the environmentalists were getting tired of watching their fellow Sierra Club members in the getting-old [if slightly refreshed] Prius family 5-door.

For 2012 Toyota responded by expanding the Prius range in two directions: up in size with the Prius V touring wagon and down in size with the Prius C subcompact.

Here at “Drive…He Said” we recently put the “Super Sized” 2012 Toyota Prius V through the hoops. For an extra half foot in length, the base price jumps by nearly $4000 over the standard Prius. Leatherette upholstery, power seats, 17″ alloy wheels, leveling LED headlamps, moonroof, dual climate control, 8.1″ touch screen Navigation pushed the fare of our Prius V-five tester up another $4000. And then there was the Advanced Technology Package, featuring among other tidbits, a JBL Green hi-fi, a Panoramic roof to let the “sun shine in,” intelligent cruise control and AGPS park assist. Topping this Matterhorn sundae of gas-electric hybrids the $5580 Maraschino cherry of option packages take the price to an alpine $36,330.

Right off the bat we noticed that the switch from low rolling resistance tires to a more aggressive and larger 215/50 series Toyo Proxes performance touring types sure changes the character of the Prius. The more aggressive rubber renders the Novocaine-laden front strut/ rear torsion beam suspension moderately less squishy. Dare we say there is a bare amount of greater steering accuracy. Combined with four-wheel disc brakes, pedal response has a degree of linearity though the regenerative braking still coughs up some pedal push back over severe frost heaves. There is a concession, at least on freeway runs, where we noticed a level of tire roar not heard since our last visit to the jungle cat house at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

Just the same 1.8L inline-4 gas engine and AC motor juiced by a 1.3kWh NiMh battery pack as the standard Prius generate just the same combined 134 horsepower in the Prius V.  Avoid goosing the throttle, and at least a full mile of all-electric driving is possible up to 20 mph before the Atkinson engine awakens from its slumber. Toyota does throw in another 200 lbs for the extra dough. While the longer profile bears less an un-flattering resemblance to a Dust Buster than the standard 5-door Prius, aerodynamic drag increases from 0.25 to .0.29 cd. The confluence of added weight, higher drag and the higher resistance tires is in lower combined fuel economy of 42 miles per gallon. “Don’t-Wait-For-Me” acceleration at less than full throttle is also part of the Prius V driving experience.  We were this close to duct taping over any center console energy mode setting other than “Power ” during earnest attempts by the continually variable pulley box to break 60 mph in under 12 seconds.

Extra rear legroom and expandable cargo capacity from 34 to 67 cubic feet in the Prius V are appreciated. Greater body flex than in a Camry is not. Go ahead and pocket the savings from skipping the $19.95 / hour rental pick-up at the home improvement store. If yours is a family of five criss-crossing the nation there’s no need for an external cargo carrier. Still, we couldn’t help but feel a little “jipped” when we discovered Prius V models in other markets get a third row seat. Making the omission more glaring is the inclusion of the [granted, kid-limited] third row seat in the Mazda5 compact mini-van, which actually has a 1″ deficit to the Prius V’s 109″ wheelbase.

It’s kind of hard to argue with the wagon-like utility of the 2012 Toyota Prius V, polarizing looks, Novocaine and all.  Here is to another 2.3 million Americans raising empty gas cans as a rude gesture in defiance of rising gas prices.

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