New & Used Toyota Prius V: In Depth
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The Toyota Prius V is a spin-off of the Prius liftback—the most successful hybrid vehicle ever.
Along with the smaller Prius C hatch, the V is part of an expanded Prius lineup that also includes the standard Prius liftback and its Plug-in Hybrid edition.
The Prius V shares a badge and an economical powertrain with the Prius liftback, but packages everything in a wider, longer, taller, wagon-like body. It offers improved space for small families and their stuff while still returning respectable economy figures.
It has few rivals—the closest competitor is the Ford C-Max Hybrid, a similarly sized, hybrid-only model that also resembles a tall wagon. Efficient crossovers such as the Ford Escape and Mazda CX-5 are worth considering as well. Almost all of them are more fun to drive than the miserly Toyota, although those who like their Prius liftback but want a little more room will be pleased with the V.
MORE: Read our 2016 Toyota Prius V review
The Prius V is the largest Prius offered yet, providing the most space for people and gear inside. It's aimed at small families who have outgrown their Prius liftback but still want stellar fuel economy. The V is basically a wagon version of that model, although it is wider in addition to being taller and longer. While some markets get a three-row version of the V, it is only available with five seats in the U.S.
The Prius V delivers its biggest payoff in fuel efficiency. Even though it's heavier and less aerodynamic than the 50-mpg Prius liftback, it still manages 44 mpg city and 40 mpg highway for a combined rating of 42 mpg, according to the EPA. Only the Ford C-Max Hybrid comes close—it is rated at a lofty 42 mpg city, 37 mpg highway, but we've struggled to achieve those numbers. The Prius V stays much closer to its EPA ratings in everyday use.
The Prius V hangs onto the basic formula of its siblings—a dedicated body style and the company's signature Hybrid Synergy Drive system. Just like the standard Prius, the 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.
When compared 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" design used for the Toyota Prius liftback since 2004. While the shape of the latter is aerodynamically superior, its low roofline at the back interferes with cargo capability. The more spacious Toyota Prius V shares no body panels at all with its five-door sibling, even though the two look very similar. The V 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 can be reclined to optimize the balance between 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 re-balances 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 starters, the "V" is pronounced phonetically, as in Prius "Vee." Toyota Prius V Two, Prius V Three, and Prius V Five models were offered initially, with a Prius V Four added for 2015—no, there isn't a "One." 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, synthetic leather 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.
The Prius V received its first refresh for the 2015 model year, with new, more aggressive styling bringing the look closer to that of the most recently updated Toyota products. Some equipment was shuffled around, and the base price dropped slightly, while Toyota added the Four trim level between the Three and Five to provide an extra build and options combination. The 2015 model is mechanically identical and keeps up the original model's high fuel-economy marks. Changes for 2016 were minor.