Test Drive: 2015 Toyota Prius v

I've got to admit that I have a bit of a love/hate thing going when it comes to Toyota's oh-so-practical-and-efficient Prius lower-case v. So picking up the keys for a week behind the wheel of the mildly restyled 2015 version left me with a familiar mix of contentment, pleasure and regret. Contentment knowing that I'd be able to easily handle whatever driving duties were thrown at me that week, from ferrying tall passengers around town to hauling bulky cargo home from the gardening centre. Pleasure knowing that I'd be able to do it all for only a few dollars worth of fuel. And regret that I'd have to do it all in a car that's well-stocked with technology and infotainment features but quite utterly devoid of emotion.

In 2015, with its chin now jutting out like that of a bulldog with an attitude problem, the Prius v earns the coveted IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award…

As noted, the big news for the Prius v this year is that Toyota has tweaked the styling with redesigned taillights and an all-new front fascia. Toyota says that it's a "sporty makeover" designed to "sharpen the distinctive design" and give the Prius v "fresh attitude." I beg to differ, because I suspect that while the new front end may look like it was designed for vacuuming up squirrels and other small animals, what it was in fact designed to do is ram into solid objects at high speed with minimal overlap. The Prius v's IIHS crash test results support this hypothesis: In 2014, with the old front end, the Prius v achieved a rather undistinguished overall result, including a "poor" rating on the demanding new small front overlap crash test.

In 2015, with its chin now jutting out like that of a bulldog with an attitude problem, the Prius v earns the coveted IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award thanks to good crash scores across the board and a full suite of available driver assistance technologies. It just proves what six inches of extra bodywork on the corners can do for you, and you've got to hand it to Toyota for making it all work without looking too much like they just implanted a big length of guardrail under the car's original front end. Or actually … uh … anyway, it's umm … a sporty and distinctive new look, so that's nice.

In addition to the robust new front end, for 2015 Toyota has upgraded the suite of driver assistance technologies available with the Technology Package, adding lane departure alert and automatic high beams to the existing dynamic cruise control and pre-collision system.

In most other respects, and with the exception of a few subtle changes to the audio and multimedia offerings, the Prius v remains the same car we all know and love/hate. Toyota says the "v" in the car's name stands for versatility, and the Prius v certainly excels in that regard, with practicality on par with most compact SUVs. It has 50 percent more cargo capacity behind the rear seats than the Prius Liftback (971 versus 612L), and almost twice as much cargo capacity with the rear seats folded flat (1,906 versus 1,121L). 

It offers a taller seating position and much more space in the back seat, with reclining functionality for rear passengers. It also offers a more upscale-looking interior compared to the Liftback, with padded soft-touch sections on the dash, front door uppers and console box top (the remainder of the interior, as expected is constructed of rigid plastics).

Standard interior amenities include such things as automatic air conditioning, power windows, keyless entry with pushbutton start, backup camera, cruise control, and a six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio system with 6.1-inch touchscreen display, Bluetooth connectivity, USB jack and auxiliary input.

The available Luxury and Technology packages both upgrade the fabric upholstery to SoftTex synthetic leather (this may be a rather loose use of the term "upgrade" because I'm not a huge fan of Toyota's SoftTex material), and add various bits of kit including (in no particular order or demarcation by package) satellite radio, navigation system, power-adjustable front seating, heated front seats, auto-dimming mirror, integrated garage door opener, a lightweight panoramic roof (made of resin, no less), LED headlights, fog lights, bigger alloy wheels (17s instead of 16s) and the previously mentioned driver assistance features. My test car had the Technology Package, making it the fully-loaded version.

Under the hood, the Prius v uses the same drivetrain as the Liftback, with the addition of a bit more cooling capacity. From a mechanical perspective this means it gets the same 1.8L Atkinson-cycle gas engine paired with same electric traction motor, the same CVT transmission, the same regenerative brakes, and the same 1.3 kW/h nickel-metal hydride motive battery. Where the Prius Liftback claims 134 net horsepower the Prius v claims 136 (or at least that's what Toyota's Canadian website says), but to the extent there are actually any extra horses hiding under the hood they're saddled down with a good deal of extra heft compared to the Prius Liftback, making the Prius v an even more modest performer than its already fairly relaxed Liftback cousin.

If you floor the gas pedal, the run from 0-100 km/h takes 11 seconds or so, accompanied by an insistent drone from the hard-working gas engine. But chances are you won't feel compelled to floor the pedal very often, because the hybrid drivetrain encourages an easy-going driving style. And when driven in an easy-going manner the Prius v is remarkably quiet and pleasant, and delivers extremely good fuel economy for such a capacious machine. Its official five-cycle city/highway ratings are 5.4 / 5.8 L/100 km (yes, it does better in the city) and my own consumption was bang in the middle of this at 5.6 L/100km overall in mixed driving. The best trip average I managed was 4.2 L/100 km, with the worst clocking in at 6.9 L/100 km.

If you're even more efficiency-minded there's an "Eco" drivetrain mode that dulls the performance to slug-mode in return for improved economy. There's also a "Pwr" (power) mode that kicks in the gas engine a little earlier and more forcefully to provide a more spritely driving experience. On the other hand, if you want to keep the gas engine out of the equation entirely you can engage "EV" (electric vehicle) mode, which allows you to drive using just the electric motor for several hundred metres (provided you have sufficient battery charge).

Handling-wise the Prius v rides comfortably and goes where you point it. There's not a whole lot of steering feedback, but the car feels docile and safe in the corners, with no surprises near the limits of adhesion, just plenty of understeer.

So far then, so good. During my week with the 2015 Prius v I found it to be a pleasant conveyance, with plenty of room for myself, my family and all our gear. It's not without its faults, however, and these extend well beyond my griping about it being somewhat unexciting.

First off the infotainment touch-screen is too small, especially in terms of the navigation screen (it's just too small to be effective in map mode), and also in terms of the touch controls for both the navigation system and the radio presets. It really is awfully easy to press the wrong button, indeed I found it downright difficult to press the correct buttons.

Some of the car's more basic ergonomics are also questionable, and I'm not just talking about the fact that the driver must look to the middle of the dash to see the instrumentation. The seat heater controls are a long, long reach down and forward (it's almost like Toyota was trying to make them as inconvenient as possible) and there's only on/off, with no medium setting. There's only one cupholder in the console, and the passenger instead gets a flimsy little pop-out cupholder below their outside vent (speaking of the console, the console bin lid opens sideways, which is great you're using the car as a taxicab and you don't want your fares peering into the bin or messing with its contents, but it's an inconvenience if your passenger is legitimately trying to find something in there). Lastly, Toyota boasts of its "One Touch" climate controls, which feature a single knob used to select and then adjust functions including the fan setting, temperature, and air distribution. Unfortunately this means you need to take your eyes off the road in order to adjust anything, and most of the time I found myself changing the wrong setting, turning down the fan when I wanted to decrease the temperature, or turning up the temperature when I wanted to turn up the fan.

Something new that I discovered (though I don't know whether this is something Toyota has recently changed or whether I was just being thick-headed and didn't discover it during previous test drives) is that you can alter the car's computer settings to turn off the infernal interior backup beeper (the beeper is long-time Prius annoyance, likely required due to the gearshift wand's oddball shift pattern) and disable the automatic closing of the panoramic roof shade whenever you lock the doors. The frustrating thing, however, is that apparently you have to take the car into a Toyota dealership to get either of these things done. Don't they trust us with this stuff? Harumph!

Overall, those petty complaints aside, my love of the Prius v's practical and thrifty attributes outweighs my disdain for its unemotional driving characteristics and occasionally questionable ergonomics. I respect the car, I like it even – especially when I pull up to the pump. And at a starting price of $29,710 including the $1,620 destination fee (and with my loaded test car clocking in at $35,715 destination in) it's priced so that you don't need drive 300,000 km before its pumpside thriftiness pays off. Buyer who rack up a lot of highway miles might also want to investigate the possibility of a diesel-powered wagon like Volkswagen's Golf Wagon TDI, and I'd want to compare against Ford's C-Max hybrid if I was shopping in the Prius v's hybrid-specific market segment, but speaking as a city dweller with two kids and an active life, it's a undeniably a market segment that makes a lot of sense.

Warranty:
3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 3 years/60,000 km 24-hour roadside assistance

Competitors:
Ford C-Max
Vokswagen Golf Wagon TDI

 

2015 Toyota Prius v
2015 Toyota Prius v
Base Price $28,090
Optional Equipment $6,005 (Technology Package)
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,620
Price as Tested $35,815
Optional Equipment