Two new models of Prius have come out in the past year, one larger and the other smaller than the standard Prius. These cars are what make Prius begin to turn into the “hybrid” brand at Toyota.
Just as Toyota has created the Scion brand for young people, they want to see the Prius grow into a family of cars that offer people several options, not just in alternative powerplants, but in capability and size as well.
The two new cars this year – the Prius v and Prius c – represent the two big complaints that potential buyers as well as owners express about the Prius. They are, “Can we have some more space, please?” and, “There’s no such thing as saving too much gas, um, money.”
The instrument panel and dashboard are shared by the models, and are much improved. In addition to being more attractive, it’s better designed. The instrument panel still gives the driver all the extra information about what the hybrid system is doing, but it isn’t nearly as intrusive as earlier models.
There are lots of little shelves throughout the car that are very handy. The only setback I can see to these is finding what’s sliding back and forth in which tray when you go around a corner. But they work well and certainly add value where there would otherwise just be empty space.
You also get a Power as well as an Eco setting, which gives you what the button says for occasions when you need or want more or less performance. There’s also a EV button that runs the car off pure electricity. It’s useless and seems to be there just to allow Toyota to say they’ve got it. It won’t do any “true” driving that the car in normal mode won’t do.
Step slightly too hard on the accelerator and the car’s engine starts. Have the battery slightly too discharged and again the engine comes on. Get above a crawl and the engine starts. Sounds good in commercials, though. Since there are systems on hybrids that actually drive the car at usable speeds for a bit of a distance, Toyota needs to make this functionally usable.
I tested the two models back-to-back, which was interesting. Both drive well, and both make a clear statement that you’re driving a hybrid. From the driver’s seat, the operation of the car and the comfort and convenience of them are comparable. There’s a slight difference in acceleration, but in normal suburban or city driving, it’ll make little to no difference.
The Prius v is the big boy of the Prius fleet, with Toyota saying that the “v” stands for versatility. That versatility comes from the car being bigger than the “standard” Prius. Its job is to be the family car of this fleet. While it doesn’t get quite as good a fuel economy rating, that isn’t surprising, since it’s larger.
This is a Prius a family might consider if they want a smallish, environmentally friendly car. Inside, there’s enough space to make this vehicle a member of the mid-size sedan category. The Prius v still lets you make a statement, but can get the kids and their gear to hockey practice in one trip.
That sort of utility is something that gets a lot of consideration by the environmentally hardcore. But automakers do consider that if a person can’t accomplish the transportation task with their fuel-efficient vehicle, they’ll accomplish it with their other vehicle.
Yes, Virginia, almost everyone who owns a Prius owns another vehicle, and a multitude of them are large. So the Prius v makes sense in the real world, allowing people with defined transportation needs the opportunity to participate in the environmental improvement program.
Toyota wants this model to appeal to young families. Sure, there are other mid-sized hybrid cars and even small sports utes, but they aren’t a Prius and don’t make the same statement. It’s sort of like a Corvette owner saying it’s as fast as a Ferrari. Like who cares, it’s not a Ferrari. So here’s a dedicated hybrid vehicle that offers real seating for five, especially if a couple of them are children.
The second row seats slide and recline up to 45 degrees. They also fold 60/40 for even more storage space than the 34.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats. Even the front passenger’s seat folds flat, adding even more cargo carrying versatility. All the while, it still earns an estimated EPA rating of 44 mpg in city driving and 40 mpg on the highway, for a combined rating of 42 mpg.
So this is basically a mid-sized sedan that’s still a dedicated hybrid. Does that make much difference compared to the many other hybrid models of mid-sized sedans? Well, being designed specifically to be a hybrid, it’s better organized for things such as batteries and other hybrid-oriented bits.
More to the point, the engineering is specific to this power package. That should help with fuel economy, certainly the level of aerodynamics and shape of the underbody and wheel wells improve airflow, and therefore, efficiency. Since weight is a big deal in a hybrid, engineers can make used of lightweight materials and parts that they wouldn’t use in a mass-market vehicle.
The Prius c – which stands for city – is the sub-compact sized model aimed at the urban young. Part of its appeal is a lower price, with the car having a starting price of around $19,000. It’s noticeably smaller from the outside, but not from the front seat, which is where the urban cool folks buying this will hang out. The Prius c is smaller and lighter than its standard Prius sibling, being 19.1 inches shorter and 542 lbs. lighter in weight than the Prius v. This results in a mileage rating of 53 mpg in the city and 46 mpg on the highway, for a combined rating of 50 mpg.
The model I drove had a decent sound coming out of the audio system, and allowed my phone to find the car’s Bluetooth with ease. Other than that, the difference in driving the two models was about what you could put in the car and who you could bring along.
The addition of two models of Prius certainly broadens its appeal in the marketplace at a time when more competition means Toyota can’t stand still or rest on its laurels. This also broadens the group of people who might consider a Prius.
There are certainly other models that could follow this marketing philosophy. Me, I’m waiting for the hybrid sports car version. Fun and frugality aren’t necessarily incompatible.