I’ll be honest, back when we got a 2012 Toyota Prius V tester earlier this year, I wasn’t smitten. But like Cool Hand Luke, I think my recent experience in a 2013 model helped me “get my mind right, boss.”
I think a couple of things were working against my opinion of the Prius V the first time I drove it: First, I had never driven a hybrid car for more than a quick spin around a parking lot up until that review. Second, I was wholly wrongheaded about the best way to get good fuel economy for the first half of my week with that car, trying my best to baby the throttle in hopes I could crush the EPA’s 42 MPG combined fuel economy score.
As I covered back then, I did an about-face on that strategy about halfway through my test week and saw an improvement in the fuel economy reported by the Prius V’s trip computer as a result, topping out at just shy of 43 MPG by the end of the test.
My strategy this time around was a mixture of the two disciplines. I made a conscious effort to keep the car in EV mode as long as possible whenever it decided to kick in, while at all other times, when the gasoline engine was whirring under the hood, I drove it like I would any other car. My driving style is pretty relaxed most of the time, and I’m okay with stoplight hot-shots leaving me in the dust. That said, if I ever felt the Prius V was an impediment to traffic because attempting to keep it in EV mode around town causes the acceleration up hills to be tortoiselike, I wasn’t afraid to dig into the throttle.
The result: I finished my test week well into the 42 MPG range once again, though not quite at the 42.9 mark I set in the 2012 Prius V. I attribute those few tenths’ difference to a couple of drives I took in Power Mode just to see how beastly the Prius V could be, at the suggestion of the press car delivery guy.
For the record, I was glad I listened to the press car guy on that one. Power Mode makes the throttle tip-in much more aggressive — moderately quick, even — and improves by leaps and bounds the drivability of the car along mountainous routes. Punching the center console-mounted PWR button is the only way to truly gauge for yourself the capabilities of the Hybrid Synergy Drive system at full roar, in my opinion. Granted, the 134 total system horsepower and 10.4-second 0-60 time delivered by the Prius V’s 1.8-liter Atkinson cycle gasoline engine and lithium ion battery pack aren’t barn-burning numbers, but the car can get out of its own way when called upon to do so.
So-called “real” autojournos just chuckled at that last line, but remember, I spent the week getting my mind right. How much horsepower do you really need? How fast do you think your car needs to accelerate? Suppose I told you that for most of the 80s and 90s, the majority of mass-market cars accelerated from 0 to 60 MPH in a similar time while getting half the fuel mileage or less? Did that Buick Skylark Somerset still get you to work and the grocery store every week back in ’87? Then let me remind you the widely used Tech IV version of the legendary GM Iron Duke four-cylinder engine used in that car made just 90 horsepower.
Listen, I get to drive all manner of cool cars for In-Car Tech Tell. If the experience has taught me one thing, it’s that any car is full of trade-offs. You can have a 470-horsepower HEMI under the hood, but you’ll pay for it with a high fuel bill. You can have a sporty Japanese coupe, but you’ll pay for it with cramped interior and a hard ride. In the case of the Prius V, you can have a 40+ MPG family hauler that has as much room inside as most midsize SUVs, but you’ll pay for it with a slight performance penalty compared to your neighbor’s 300-horsepower gas-guzzler.
Will that trade-off make you late to work? Of course not. It speaks a lot to the absurdity of our society that we feel we actually need to daily drive the veritable cornucopia of high-horsepower cars available to us today. We live in a golden age of cheap horsepower when even small SUVs routinely touch the 300-horse milestone.But I’ve often said if we weren’t so obsessed with power, imagine what today’s engine and drivetrain technologies could achieve in terms of fuel efficiency. Apparently, Toyota has been showing us all along in its Prius family of vehicles. Problem is most people — like me during my first test of a Prius V — fail to appreciate that aspect of the Prius philosophy. Rather than utilizing the latest engine power development technologies to produce an ever-faster, ever-thirstier family hauler, Toyota has used that technology to give its Prius V just enough power to cruise at extralegal speeds while still remaining capable of most any day-to-day driving task you can throw at it and returning excellent-for-its-size fuel economy.
Disclosure: Toyota provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.