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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Toyota Prius V

The Toyota Prius V is the wagon version of the long-running hatchback hybrid. Now a part of a family of Prius vehicles, the V joins the subcompact Prius C, the Prius Liftback and the Plug-In Hybrid model with no changes for the 2013 model year, having just been introduced for the 2012 model year.

With the Prius V, Toyota has the largest overall and by far the most capacious Prius ever offered. It looks like a wagon version of the standard Prius--but the two vehicles share no sheetmetal. Instead, the Prius V expands in length, height, and interior volume to meet the needs of families who want to maximize their mileage but need more space than is offered by the classic five-door Prius Liftback.

The Prius V deliver its biggest payoff in fuel efficiency. Even though it's heavier and less aerodynamically smooth than the 50-mpg Prius Liftback, it still manages 44 mpg city, 40 highway, for a combined EPA rating of 42 mpg. No other wagon or small minivan comes close, with the exception of the new Ford C-Max Hybrid--which is rated at a lofty 47 mpg, but seems to deliver 35 to 39 mpg in real-world usage.

Like all its siblings, the Prius V hangs onto the basic formula--a dedicated body style and the company signature Hybrid Synergy Drive system--that defines all Prius models. Just like the standard Prius, the Prius V comes with a 98-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and a pair of electric motor-generators, managed through a planetary gearset and sophisticated electronic controls. Ride quality is quite good, and previously Prius-driving parents will appreciate that the futuristic but impractical 'flying console' dash layout from the main Prius lineup has been replaced with a more straightforward one that offers a variety of bins, cubbies, and trays.

Side by side with a classic Prius liftback, the Prius V has a more classic wagon shape. The higher, squarer back end distinguishes it from the long-sloping 'kammback' hatchback design used for the Toyota Prius Liftback since 2004. While that shape is aerodynamically superior, its low roofline at the back interferes with cargo capability. The more spacious 2012 Toyota Prius V shares no body panels at all with its five-door sibling. It provides a higher (more minivan-like) seating position, along with lots more cargo space—67.3 cubic feet, with the rear seats folded. The rear seats also slide back and forth, and recline, to optimize passenger legroom and cargo space.

As with all but the smallest Prius C model, the driving experience is very low-involvement. The steering is light but precise, and powertrain response will rev or slow the engine note independent of road speed, as the hybrid system continuously rebalances the mix of gasoline and electric power for maximum efficiency. It will all feel familiar to Prius owners, but wagon buyers new to the Prius line may find it a little off-putting at first.

Overall, the Prius V drives much like the Prius Liftback, but it's more burdened by 300 pounds of additional weight. Prius drivers will feel the extra heft during acceleration from a standstill, and new drivers will note the Prius V straining mightily to labor up hills while heavily loaded with people and their goods.

The Prius V, much like the Prius Liftback, comes with a series of trim levels that can seem confusing. For 2012, Toyota Prius V Two, Prius V Three, and Prius V Five models are offered--no, there are no One or Four versions. The Two is the base model, while the Three adds Bluetooth, voice-activated navigation, and steering-wheel controls, plus navigation and a touch-screen system with Toyota's Entune infotainment interface.

With the Five you get the full spectrum of goodies: upgraded alloy wheels, heated front seats, SofTex upholstery, fog lamps, and LED headlamp. The Advanced Technology Package adds adaptive radar-based cruise control, a large panoramic sunroof, and an integrated garage-door opener. Note, though, that the high-end edition can move about $35,000, which may eat up some of those fuel savings.

As well as the Ford C-Max, other Prius V competitors include the Ford Escape with EcoBoost engine, the highly efficient Mazda CX-5, and perhaps the Volkswagen Jetta TDI Sportwagen. The latter two are considerably more rewarding to drive, but the Prius V provides a distinctive blend of shape, utility, and fuel efficiency. We got exactly 40 mpg in our mixed real-world testing, so the EPA numbers seem pretty close in this case--unlike those of the C-Max.

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