Despite showing its age, Australia's most fuel-efficient seven-seater still offers plenty of appeal alongside rival people-movers and SUVs.
The Toyota Prius V remains the most fuel-efficient seven-seater available in Australia after more than three years on the market.
The largest member of the Japanese manufacturer’s hybrid family boasts combined cycle fuel consumption of 4.4 litres per 100km – edging its nearest rival, the diesel-powered Citroen Grand C4 Picasso, by the narrowest of margins (4.5L/100km combined), while undercutting its nearest petrol-powered competitor, the Mitsubishi Outlander SUV, by more than 40 per cent. The Outlander is available as an ultra-frugal plug-in hybrid, but that version only comes with five seats.
While its economy remains the class benchmark, the arrival of a number of new people-movers means the market is now much more competitive than the one the Prius V launched into in 2011.
As in that test, our focus here is the high-grade $46,490 Toyota Prius V i-Tech. It sits above the $35,990 entry model in the simple, two-variant line-up, and is positioned $7000 north of the flagship Rondo Platinum, $2500 above the sole Picasso Exclusive, and $1130 beneath the top-spec Odyssey VTi-L. The $40,490 Peugeot 5008 Active diesel is another frugal rival, while Kia’s larger Grand Carnival is available at various spec levels between $38,990-$56,290. Toyota even has an internal competitor in the shape of the ageing Tarago van (priced between $48,990-$70,665).
The Prius V i-Tech’s equipment list stacks up well against its rivals, and is a technological tour de force compared with the modestly specified base model.
Families will no doubt appreciate the i-Tech’s extra safety kit, which adds adaptive cruise control and a pre-collision safety system that uses a front-facing radar to detect obstacles, alert the driver of danger and hold the seatbelts tight in anticipation of a crash.
They come on top of the Prius V’s standard safety package that features electronic stability control, a reverse-view camera, and seven airbags, including a driver’s knee bag and curtains that protect passengers in the third row.
The i-Tech also gains LED headlights, a panoramic sunroof, auto reverse parking, electrochromatic rear-view mirror, leather upholstery, heated front seats, and an eight-speaker JBL premium audio system with 7.0-inch touchscreen, satellite navigation and digital radio.
They add to the base model’s already standard 16-inch alloy wheels, fog-lights, auto headlights, keyless entry with push-button start, dual-zone climate control, head-up display, USB port and Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming.
The Prius V’s dashboard will take most drivers some getting used to, with the instrument cluster positioned over the centre stack rather than behind the steering wheel. It’s no less functional than the conventional layout, though its monochrome display looks dated. So too does the central screen, which is easy to use but appears low-resolution and displays daggy graphics.
The textured grey plastics and grey leather used throughout the cabin do little to lift the old-school vibe, though there’s a feeling of quality to its buttons and controls and the way it fits together in general.
The centre console bin is tiny, but the twin gloveboxes and nine cupholders – including two in the third row – provide ample storage space. There’s also a clever compartment beneath the boot floor for stowing the cargo blind when the rearmost seats are in use.
Legroom in the second row is adequate, though the Prius V is class-topping for passenger comfort. Tilt and slide the 60:40 split seats forward and it’s a similar story in the third row, with a nicely tilted and supportive bench. Headroom for passengers six and seven also impresses, bettering that offered by the similarly sized Grand C4 Picasso and Rondo.
The Prius V’s lack of second- and third-row air vents is a serious oversight for a people-mover in a hot climate like ours, though we found the three central vents in the dashboard did a decent job of circulating air around the cabin when cranked up.
With all seven seats upright the Prius V’s boot can accommodate 180 litres worth of cargo – about half the capacity of a small hatchback. It expands to a more practical - though far-from-capacious - 485L in five-seat mode. The hybrid system’s lithium-ion battery pack and other components are positioned beneath the centre console and driver’s seat in an attempt to maximise passenger and cargo space.
The 56-cell battery sends its power to an electric motor, which works in tandem with a 1.8-litre ‘Atkinson cycle’ four-cylinder petrol engine to power the Prius V. The internal combustion engine produces 73kW of power at 5200rpm and 142Nm of torque at 4000rpm, while the electric motor generates 60kW and 207Nm. You can’t simply add the two together, however, and Toyota says combined the hybrid system produces up to 100kW – about the same as the Corolla, which is 255kg lighter than the 1565kg people-mover.
Pressing the start button brings the Prius V silently to life, illuminating a band of digital displays but leaving the petrol engine dormant.
It can remain in pure EV mode for up to two kilometres in the right conditions, namely if the battery is fully charged, if you don’t exceed 50km/h, you’re gentle with the throttle and you stay away from inclines.
Defy any one of those and the engine will kick in seamlessly to provide the bulk of the accelerative force.
Here there are three drive mode choices: the default Normal; Eco, which dampens throttle response and makes the car generally feel laboured; and Power, which heightens accelerator reaction and provides the most responsive performance – good in the city for sharp manoeuvres and on the highway for overtaking. Performance is more than sufficient with one or two passengers on board, though the drivetrain is forced to work hard with more bums in the second and third rows.
Cycling between all four modes, though with a skew towards Power, we averaged an impressive 6.3L/100km in a week of city, suburban and freeway driving, with the driver the only occupant for the majority of the time.
The drivetrain’s decent torque makes life easier for the continuously variable automatic transmission, which isn’t forced to flare revs to get power down and isn’t too seriously afflicted by that dreaded CVT drone. The Prius V does, however, suffer from the familiar wooden brake pedal feel common among hybrids.
The Prius V’s ride lacks composure around town, jittering over coarse surfaces, sending vibrations through the cabin, and hitting hard and loudly into sharper bumps. It improves at speed, however, where it’s more soothing and settled, particularly over bigger bumps and undulations. Road and wind noise progressively become more intrusive, and worsen the closer you sit to the rear.
The light steering is lifeless around the straight-ahead position but predictable when pointed into a corner. Handling is uninspiring but adequate for a hybrid people-mover intended for weekend soccer runs rather than world rally stages.
A tidy fuel bill combined with cheap capped-price servicing ($780 for the first three years/60,000km) makes the Prius V easily the most affordable people-mover to own. Its three-year/100,000km warranty now trails that of many rivals, however.
The Toyota Prius V looks and feels its age compared with newer rivals and offers little for keen drivers. But its interior practicality and comfort, strong safety package, low running costs and still-benchmark economy offer plenty of appeal alongside competing people-movers and seven-seat SUVs.