Driving Today

Prius Gets a Bigger Baby Brother

Once a single model, the Prius has now become part of a family of eco-friendly vehicles.

Since its introduction more than a decade ago, Prius has become synonymous with hybrid cars here in the United States. Because of that strong reputation, Toyota has decided to create a range of hybrids all bearing the Prius name, and the first example of that new thinking is the Prius v. (The “v” stands for “versatility.”) Larger than the current Prius, the v will offer more interior space and deliver estimated EPA fuel economy ratings of 44 mpg city, 40 mpg highway, and 42 mpg combined.

Not surprisingly, the Prius v will use the same Hybrid Synergy Drive system as the third-generation Prius. The emphasis is on space and comfort rather than ultra-high fuel economy, so the overall vehicle is larger than the Prius and features a high seating position, ample headroom and generous rear legroom. A wide-opening rear hatch reveals 34.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats. The sliding second-row seats allow passengers to get in and out of the car more easily, and they offer a 45-degree recline for greater comfort. The 60-40 split-folding rear seats present four different seating arrangements, while the fold-flat front-passenger seat creates room for extremely long cargo.

The driver is kept well-informed via a center-mounted instrument panel that has become a Prius trademark. As with other Prius models, the driving controls include push-button start, a parking switch, a drive-by-wire shift toggle, and driving mode buttons. A Bluetooth wireless connection for compatible hands-free phone calls is standard, as is a USB port that allows playing of music and video from portable audio devices, including full iPod integration. The standard audio system has a 6.1-inch screen and six speakers. The screen also displays the energy monitor and fuel consumption data. It also functions as the monitor for the integrated back-up camera and the audio system.

The Hybrid Synergy Drive system in the Prius v uses two high-output motors, one 60kw (80 horsepower) unit whose key job is to power the compact, lightweight transaxle and a smaller motor that largely functions as the electric power source. Maximum motor drive voltage is 650 volts DC. The nickel-metal hydride battery pack may not be state-of-the-art, but it is reliable and proven.

Arguably the most innovative feature is Pitch and Bounce Control, which works with suspension to improve ride comfort. The system, which works with wheel-speed sensors and is in tune with the suspension, uses the torque of the hybrid motor to help suppress bouncing and tossing motions and improve comfort for occupants.



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