A practical, efficient hybrid

by Haney Louka . Sep 09 2016

It seems no Toyota press release on the gas-electric hybrid Prius is complete without using the term “fun to drive” to describe the character of these popular vehicles. For the more commodious Prius v tested here, Toyota goes on to say the v delivers all of the benefits of a crossover and more.

While both of those claims can be written off as marketing hyperbole, the truth is that the v is as commodious a family wagon as one could ask for. We were able to find this out during a week-long trip to Sioux Narrows, Ont., approximately three hours southeast of Winnipeg.

For starters, we had no problem matching the hybrid’s official 5.8 L/100 km fuel consumption rating, even beating it by a couple of points over the week.

And our family of four fit in the v just fine, along with all of the luggage and supplies needed for seven days out at the lake.

The v can swallow up to 971 litres of stuff behind the rear seats, which slots it below the RAV4/Rogue crowd, while it’s more commodious than the likes of the Hyundai Tucson or Mazda CX-5. The passenger/cargo volumes can be adjusted thanks to the fore-aft and recline adjustments available to the rear passengers.

Toyota’s most practical hybrid acquitted itself well on the highway drive, with comfortable seats and surprisingly clear, full sound coming from the standard-issue six-speaker audio system.

I’ve long praised the intuitive simplicity of the cruise control system that can be found in most Toyota and Lexus vehicles. Poking out of the steering wheel at the four o’clock position, operation is straightforward and allows for minimal distraction from the task at hand.

Problem is, there were construction zones where we were driving, and I often set the cruise at the lower speed. Once the construction zone ended, I got back up to speed and tapped the stalk down for “set,” and the system reverted to the previously set speed. Turns out you can’t set a higher speed without first cancelling the cruise.

The hybrid system musters just 136 net horsepower, so passing on the highway takes some planning. And don’t expect the Prius to pretend it enjoys such gratuitous displays of excessive consumption: the incessant droning from the four-banger tells you when you’re doing something you shouldn’t be.

Around town, I was struck by how far the Prius’ hybrid system has come in terms of the seamless transition from electric to gas propulsion and back again. When tooling about, it really is difficult to discern whether the gas engine is contributing to propulsion, or if the car is being powered purely by electricity.

There is a driver-selectable EV mode that instructs the computers to draw power only from the battery pack, but it only works at parking lot speeds with very light throttle application. Exceed 30 km/h when in this mode and prepare for EV mode to be disabled, accompanied by a reprimand advising of excessive speed.

Fun to drive? Try again, Toyota.

Our loaded-up tester came with the $5,985 technology package: 17-inch alloys in place of the standard 16s, navigation, lane-departure alert, “SofTex” synthetic upholstery, radar cruise control, tinted plastic fixed roof panels, trick automatic high-beams, and a few other goodies.

The lane departure warning is annoying, but thankfully, it can be turned off via a button on the dash, and won’t turn on again by default next time the car is powered up. Other companies have developed much less intrusive systems, like a vibration in the steering wheel or seat, to quietly tell the driver that they need to pay more attention. In the Prius, everybody gets to find out when you colour outside the lines.

Also producing a grating beep is the mandatory reverse warning, a shrill reminder to all in the car that the Prius has been put into reverse. The design of the shift lever is such that it returns to its original position, so it doesn’t identify which gear has been selected. There is a small indicator at the centre of the upper dash display, but the alarm makes sure everyone is aware.

So it’s not exactly fun to drive, and the crossover argument gets dismissed as soon as one finds out that all-wheel drive isn’t available here. But put aside those lofty claims, and the Prius v more than makes its case as a practical, efficient family hauler.