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2012 Prius v: Toyota’s big hybrid scores points for reliability and price

In the December, 2012, issue of Consumer Reports magazine, the results of its latest predicted reliability survey has Toyota in top spot for dependability. This includes the company's other marques: Scion and Lexus. "Toyota," says the study's authors, "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 powertrains would stand up over the long haul. Indeed, the magazine 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 things in perspective, the v has 1,905 litres of interior cargo room with the back seats folded, and the similarly sized Mazda5 is good for 857 litres. And the rear seats slide back and forth with the seat backs folding forward at the pull of a lever. Simple, and plenty of room back there.

Power is delivered via Toyota's 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, 134 horsepower is belted out. It's not exactly a powerhouse.

That said, you will get 4.3 litres/100 km 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, or Power modes, and the v will run on pure electric power up to about 25 km/h, depending upon how it's driven.

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

Chevrolet Volt General Motors General Motors

Coincidentally, I had a Chevrolet Volt the week before I picked up the Prius v and it's interesting to compare the two in terms of day-to-day driving.

The Volt, for those who don't already know, has a hybrid drivetrain, but 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 feed the electric motor when the batteries run out. With the Volt, you run on pure battery power for about 50-60 kilometres, at which point, the engine is activated – but not before. With the Prius, it's electric power/internal combustion from the get-go, and, the engine comes on as it's needed. Sometimes as soon as you start the vehicle.

In the hurly-burly of city traffic, this gives the Volt a slight edge when it comes to performance. It is faster off the line and powers up more readily than the Prius, which can be downright leisurely. 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 ergonomics to be 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. Just plugging into a regular wall socket and without a quick charger set-up, it takes up to 15 hours to get the batteries back up to a full charge. Yes, you can run it with discharged batteries with the engine powering the electric motor on the go, as it were, but that defeats the purpose.

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

Last but not least: reliability. The Prius has demonstrated conclusively that it is dependable, and is 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. The Volt is a GM product, and this 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 tester was also a 2012 model, but there won't be many differences between it and a 2013 edition.

Tech specs

2012 Toyota Prius v

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

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

Horsepower/torque: 134 hp net/153 lb-ft

Transmission: CVT

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 4.3 city.4.8 highway; regular gas

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

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