Pushing Buttons Like the Jetsons – 2012 Prius Adds Revised Styling and Infotainment Features

Posted by John Dolan | Posted in Hybrids, News | Posted on 20-02-2012

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The Prius surpasses itself once again!  For the 2012 model year, the global hybrid sales champion features an advanced infotainment system with mild exterior and interior styling revisions.  The 2012 Prius Liftback (the new name for the original member of the new Prius extended family) is still the same fuel economy master it always has been but with expanded options and some added content that includes, of all things, car-generated spaceship sounds.

The best-selling hybrid in the world offers Toyota’s signature Entune infotainment systems for 2012, including a suite of connectivity features which are accessed via your smart phone.  The Toyota Entune system is a collection of popular mobile applications and data services that are offered with the standard audio systems with three years of complimentary access on the Prius Three, Four and Five models.  Once a smart phone is connected to the vehicle using Bluetooth wireless technology or a USB cable, Entune’s features are operated using the vehicle’s controls, or for some services by voice recognition.  Entune offers mobile apps for Bing that facilitate point of interest searches for destinations such as shopping or dining, Open Table for restaurant searches and reservations, MovieTickets.com, Pandora and iHeartRadio.  Entune data services include a fuel price guide, sports scores for your favorite teams, stocks, traffic and weather information.  Depending on the Prius model all of this is delivered through a 6.1 or 7-inch touch screen.

The 2012 Prius is unbeatable when it comes to its audio capabilities.  The standard AM/FM CD player unit offers MP3/WMA playback with six speakers, a USB port for iPod connectivity and Bluetooth for audio streaming and hands-free phone capability.  The display also provides vehicle hybrid system operation feedback and fuel economy data. On screen menus also allow the driver to customize specific vehicle settings such as door-locking operation, Smart Key features and auto headlamp shut-off settings.

The third-generation Prius has plenty of other changes for 2012 some subtle, others not.  Outside it gets a slightly re-styled front-end with new headlights and LED daytime running lights.  In the back, the Prius gets new tail lights and some models get new wheels for 2012.  Behind the wheel the styling changes include revised graphics on the multi-information display with a new Eco Savings display that shows fuel savings versus other vehicles.  The Prius Two comes with re-styled 15-inch black alloys with new wheel covers and standard display audio with an integrated back-up camera.  The Three model now gets navigation as a standard feature along with Entune, a back-up camera, Sirius XM satellite radio and a revised smart-key system that now opens three doors.

The Prius Four model includes that system plus eight JBL GreenEdge speakers and an eight-channel JBL amplifier.  GreenEdge audio technology is quite cool really and since it significantly reduces electric draw on the vehicle which in turn, enhances fuel economy, it is perfectly at home on the Prius.  It also does not hurt that JBL GreenEdge sound systems pump out the equivalent of 600 watts of sound while using only 120 watts of power either!  The Prius Four also provides the driver with a ‘first’ for the Prius — an eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat!  Then there is the ‘enhanced’ comfort of the new leather-imitating SofTex-trimmed seats! ‘Enhanced’ because no animals were injured in the making of these seats since they do not use real leather hides.

When the Solar Roof Package is ordered on the Prius Four, that system is further upgraded with a Head-up Display and a Premium HDD (Hard Disc Drive) Navigation System, which uses a seven-inch touch-screen with split-screen capability.  Other Prius models offer a navigation system with the 6.1 inch screen that is a little more ‘Garmin-like’ in its appearance and functionality.

The Solar roof package is the world’s first sliding glass moon roof equipped with solar panels located over the rear seating area that power an interior ventilation system.  The photo-voltaic system from Kyocera Solar powers a ventilation fan that helps reduce interior temperature when the vehicle is parked directly in the sun.  Cool down time is shorter when the driver returns to the Prius, thus reducing  air conditioner usage.

The top of the line Prius Five model’s Advanced Technology Package for 2012 includes an HDD Navigation System, the Head-up Display, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Pre-Collision System and Lane Keep Assist.  The Pre-Collision System retracts the front seat belts and pressurizes the brakes when the system detects that a crash is unavoidable. Lane Keep Assist alerts the driver when the Prius wanders out of it’s lane.

The new Head-up Display (HUD) is maybe the most interesting change in the Prius for 2012.   The feature projects information like speed, navi details and hybrid efficiency onto the windshield.  The system, which originated in the field of aviation, improves safety by keeping the driver’s eyes on the road instead of the complex dashboard display.  This is the first time HUD has been available on the US spec Prius and it is an option on Prius Four and Five models.

For those who want a sportier Prius, there is the PLUS Performance package which gives the world-class hybrid a more aggressive attitude as well as sharper handling. Toyota Racing Development (TRD) engineered the package to deliver a more aggressive and lower-profile stance.  It includes a custom body kit that was aerodynamically designed to further reduce the already remarkable coefficient of drag of the Prius while retaining its already great fuel efficiency.  Track width and rolling resistance is increased while unsprung weight is reduced with the addition of seventeen inch forged alloy wheels.  Lowering springs reduce the vehicle’s stance by 1.1 inches in the front and 1.3 inches in the rear to enhance steering response and cornering ability. A rear sway bar helps reduce body lean for flatter cornering.  The PLUS Package can be ordered from Toyota or dealer installed.

The Prius is an Eco Icon that is also known for its trend-setting design and features.  With all the updates and additional content available for 2012 the range of options for the Prius buyer has expanded with only a moderate uptick in price.  Still, many of us choose the world-class hybrid for its Hybrid Synergy Drive and its record of continuous improvement in fuel economy and low emissions.  For those of us who are fuel misers and not necessarily swayed by added content and additional option choices there will always be the time-honored Prius Two. The Prius base — all the legendary Prius MPGs without all the change-ups!

While the big news with the 2012 Prius improvements has to be the addition of the Entune multimedia system for those who live life through the connectivity of their smart phones, there is another, not so subtle change.  The Prius makes a new sound, a sound alert system to be more precise.  The 2012 Prius, the Prius v and the Prius Plug-in model and every hybrid and electric vehicle going forward will now have a sound- emitting Vehicle Proximity Notification System (VPNS) as standard equipment.  Toyota engineers designed the new audible alert system to be recognizable as a car yet be futuristic enough to represent the advanced state of Hybrid Synergy Drive.  Just like Nissan, Ford and every other manufacturer of hybrids and electric cars, Toyota engineers have come up with a sound that is a little like a cross between a Jetsons-like spaceship and well, an amplified electric motor.  The VPNS is only activated at low speeds when the internal combustion engine is off, such as in a parking lot.

The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010 has made all these new science-fiction sounds coming from our hybrids and EVs mandatory out of rising safety concerns for pedestrians, in particular the blind and the elderly and bikers.  An oft-silent-running hybrid or EV does present a clear danger to pedestrians.  Yet it is ironic that after decades of efforts by automakers to produce vehicles that are more quiet we finally get there and the cars are so quiet that we have to add a noisemaker, albeit a futuristic noisemaker.  It only activates at parking lot speeds and to be honest, it is barely noticeable to those inside the Prius.  So, it doesn’t look like the days of the silent running Prius are particularly over.  Who knows?  Soon drivers might download “vroomtones” for their cars, the way they download ringtones to their smart phones today!

Toyota Newsroom, AutoblogGreen, Scientific American, US Congress GovTrack, Energyboom.com, Engadget.com, Hybridcars.com

 

 

VPNS Demonstration

 

 

The Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive System

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