New & Used Toyota Prius V: In Depth
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The Toyota Prius V is a spin-off of the most successful hybrid vehicle in history, the Prius liftback. Sharing its badge and miserly powertrain with that car, but putting it all in a longer, wider, wagon-like body, the Prius V offers improved space for small families and their cargo.
Added along with the smaller Prius C hatch for 2012, 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 has few rivals—the closest competitor is the Ford C-Max Hybrid, a similarly sized, hybrid-only model that also resembles a tall wagon.
MORE: Read our 2014 Toyota Prius V review for more on pricing, gas-mileage ratings, and specifications
The Prius V is the largest Prius offered yet with the most space for people and gear inside. It's aimed at small families who have perhaps grown out of their Prius liftback but still want the stellar fuel economy the brand is known for. 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 here.
The Prius V delivers 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 42/37 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.
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 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. 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 is no One version. 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.
The Prius V got 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.
The Prius V's most direct competitor is the hybrid Ford C-Max, while efficient crossovers such as the Ford Escape and Mazda CX-5 are worth considering as well, as is the forthcoming Volkswagen Golf TDI SportWagen (which was formerly sold as the Jetta SportWagen). 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. In a real-world test, we hit precisely 40 mpg in mixed driving, so the Toyota proves more efficient in practice than the Ford, whose EPA ratings had to be adjusted after it went on sale.