Toyota Prius V delivers reliability without flash

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The Lowdown

Engine: 1.8-litre four-cylinder with electric motor and nickel metal-hydride battery pack

Transmission: Continuously variable transmission

Drive: Front-wheel drive

Horsepower: 134 horsepower net

Torque: 153 foot-pounds

Base Price: $27,200; as tested, $38,585.20

Fuel Economy: 4.3 litres per 100 kilometres city, 4.8 highway; regular fuel

Alternatives: Honda Insight, Honda Civic Hybrid, Ford C-MAX, Ford Fusion Hybrid, Toyota Camry Hybrid, Chevrolet Volt

In a recent issue of Consumer Reports magazine, the results of the organization’s latest predicted-reliability survey have Toyota in the top spots when it comes to dependability. This includes the company’s other marques, Scion and Lexus. “Toyota,” the study’s authors say, “excelled in our latest ratings.”

What’s more, the company’s hybrid models—in particular, the Prius—have also proven to be paragons of reliability, dispelling concerns about how well these power trains would stand up over the long haul. Indeed, Consumer Reports says, “reliability is a high point for most hybrids.”

Presumably, that would include the Prius V, which was introduced last year and is the largest model in the Prius stable—to the point where it’s almost a mini minivan. To put this in perspective, the V has 1,905 litres of interior cargo room with the back seats folded, while the similarly sized Mazda5 is good for 857 litres. Also, the rear seats slide back and forth, with the seat backs folding forward with the pull of a lever. Simple, and there’s plenty of room back there.

Power is delivered via Toyota’s by-now-proven Hybrid Synergy Drive, which, in this case, features an Atkinson-cycle, 1.8-litre four-cylinder with variable valve timing. Together with the V’s electric motor, it belts out a mighty 134 horsepower. So, not exactly a powerhouse.

That said, there are fewer emissions, and you will get 4.3 litres per 100 kilometres in town and 4.8 on the highway. These numbers are among the best in the industry. A console-mounted button allows you to choose from EV, Eco, and Power modes, and the V will run on pure electric power up to about 25 kilometres per hour, depending on how it’s driven.

Seating is for five, and if I had a complaint about the V (aside from its lack of punch), it would be that the interior is as bleak as an empty warehouse: lots of storage nooks and crannies, but little in the way of ambiance. My tester, with the Touring and Technology packages, featured heated front seats, synthetic leather seats (whatever they are), a voice-activated navi system, a back-up camera, and a goodly sized sunroof, but this cannot be described as a luxury-mobile.

Coincidentally, I had had a Chevrolet Volt the week before I picked up the Prius V, and it was interesting to compare the two in terms of day-to-day driving. The Volt has a hybrid drive train, but kind of in reverse. Instead of the internal-combustion engine working with the electric motor to propel the driving wheels, the engine in the Volt exists to supplement the battery pack and power the electric motor when the batteries run out. With the Volt, you run on pure battery power for bout 50 to 60 kilometres, at which point the engine is activated—but not before. With the Prius, it’s electric power all the way, and the engine comes on almost right away, sometimes as soon as you start the vehicle.

In the hurly-burly of city traffic, this gives the Volt an edge when it comes to performance. Believe it or not, it’s faster off the line and powers up much more readily than the Prius, which can be downright leisurely off the line. That’s one of the pluses of electric power: instant torque.

The Volt is also more hospitable inside. Quieter in operation than the Prius, this is a pleasant car to spend time in, and I found the switchgear and the ergonomics much more sensible than those in the Prius. The seat-warming controls in the Prius, for example, are almost hidden under the dashboard on the centre console, and the HVAC controls are more complicated than they need to be.

On the other hand, in order to take advantage of its battery power, the Volt must be plugged in every night. Without a quick-charger setup and just plugged into a regular house wall socket, it takes up to 15 hours to get the batteries up to a full charge. Yes, you can run it with discharged batteries and the engine powering the electric motor on the go, as it were, but that kind of defeats the purpose.

Let’s not forget about price. My top-of-the-range Prius V stickered out at over $38,000, but you can pick up a base model for well under $28,000, and the well-equipped Luxury model is priced just over $30,000. The Volt, on the other hand, starts at over $41,000 before extras, rebates, and all the rest.

Last but not least, reliability. The Prius has demonstrated conclusively that it is a dependable automobile, and it’s used by taxi fleets throughout North America. The Volt, on the other hand, is still an unknown quantity. Yes, it appears to tick all the boxes, but we won’t know exactly how dependable it is until it’s racked up some miles and paid some dues. Take this the right way, but the Volt is a GM product, and that company’s reputation for reliability is not what it could be. In the aforementioned Consumer Reports survey, Chevrolet is well down in the rankings when it comes to predicted reliability.

My test V was a 2012 model, but there are few, if any, differences between it and a 2013 edition.

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P Grube
Agree with some of the negative comments -- but -- I have owned the Prius V since June 2012 and am very impressed with its performance. It also has an interesting and effective sensor system coupled to its cruise control. Works very faithfully so far.
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