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Although it shares design cues, a hybrid-electric powertrain, and a model name with the familiar Toyota Prius liftback model, the 2014 Toyota Prius V wagon is actually an entirely different vehicle. It shares no sheetmetal with the Prius hatchback, and dimensionally, it's higher, longer, and has far more volume inside for people and their goods.
It's really the family Prius, and while Toyota resolutely refuses to use the word "wagon" in describing the Prius V--the company says the letter stands for "versatile"--it's clearly not a crossover utility vehicle, since all-wheel drive isn't offered (that applies to Ford's C-Max Hybrid too) and it rides at car height, not truck height. So a wagon it is, and a very high-mileage hybrid wagon at that. For 2014, the Prius V receives only minor upgrades. All models now have daytime running lights, and Toyota now offers the panoramic moonroof as a stand-alone option on the mid-range Prius V Three trim level.
The taller, more slab-sided shape of the Prius V, along with a vertical liftgate, sets it apart from the sloping roof and horizontal liftgate of the hatchback model. And drivers familiar with the traditional Prius are likely to appreciate that its rear window is now a single piece of glass rather than the split angled-and-vertical double panes of the Prius hatchback.
Inside, the seating position is upright and higher than a conventional Prius. Toyota has dispensed with the "flying buttress" console and provided more accessible rays, cup holders, and cubbies for family oddments, along with a center arm rest topping a storage bin between the seats. Just below the base of the windshield is a display similar to that of the Prius hatchback: a somewhat random array of icons, diagrams, readings, and symbols in full color that's easily outshone by the handsome graphics of the C-Max's more conventional dashboard.
What the Prius V does share with all other Prius models is very high fuel efficiency. The EPA rates the 2014 Prius V at 42 mpg combined (44 mpg city, 40 mpg highway). Now that Ford has been forced to cut the combined rating of its C-Max Hybrid combined rating from 77 to 43 mpg, the Prius V offers essentially the same gas mileage--or perhaps slightly better, if real-world averages are to be believed--and far more cargo volume for people and their possessions.
The standard Prius drivetrain carries over almost unchanged to the Prius wagon, which is a good 300 pounds heavier. But the 98-horsepower, 1.8-liter engine and pair of electric motor-generators seem more stressed in the bigger car, and the Prius V is both slower and more prone to engine howling when maximum power is demanded than the Liftback. We found it to struggle under heavy loads and on steep hills when filled with people and cargo.
Three drive modes can be selected instead of the default hybrid setting: Eco, for better fuel economy; Power, for those steep hills; and EV, for all-electric drive at low speeds. We found the Eco mode almost intolerably slow, and Power simply kept the hybrid wagon up with average traffic. The EV mode worked as promised, though, allowing all-but-silent travel for up to 1 mile.
But the payoff comes in interior volume. A sliding rear seat lets the rear cargo bay expand from 34.3 cubic feet to 40.2, and folding down the seat produces a substantial 67.3 cubic-foot load volume. Toyota is to be complemented for the wide 39-inch distance between wheel wells, meaning large boxy items can be accommodated with ease on the flat load floor.
While safety was a strong point before the current model year, the Toyota Prius V not only lost its Top Safety Pick designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) but received a Poor rating in the new small-overlap front crash test. That led the IIHS to say the Prius V "doesn't meet minimum criteria" for safety--a crushing disappointment for a family vehicle, and one we suspect Toyota will work swiftly to remedy. Otherwise, the IIHS gives the Prius wagon the top rating of Good for front, side, and roof-crush tests, as well as seats and head rests. The NHTSA gives it five stars overall, with five stars for side crash and four stars each for frontal crash and rollover safety. The Prius V has seven airbags as standard equipment.
The Prius V comes standard with fabric seats, a tilting/telescoping steering wheel, and automatic climate control. The standard rear seat slides fore and aft, reclines from 15 to 40 degrees, and has a 60/40 split folding back. Toyota has fitted a vinyl cover to shield the gap between the load floor and the folded seat back when the rear seat is in its forward position, but we still managed to drop more than one item into the abyss.
Toyota followed its Prius liftback system for trim levels, but left some out of the wagon--meaning that you can order Two, Three, or Five (but no One or Four). The base model starts below $29,000 (including delivery) and includes a rearview camera and keyless. Upgrade to the Three, and you get Bluetooth, audio, and climate controls on the steering wheel, plus a navigation system with voice control that displays on the 6.1-inch central touchscren. There's also Toyota's Entune cloud-based infotainment system
At the top of the range is the Prius V Five, at a bit more than $31,000. Inside, that adds a six-way adjustable driver's seat with adjustable lumbar support plus a four-way adjustable front passenger seat, both of them heated and trimmed in SofTex fabric. Other upgrades include 10-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels; fog lamps; LED headlamps; and a smart-key system.
Options are both individual and bundled into a few packages, including the Advanced Technology Package. That pulls together a panoramic view moonroof with electrically powered sunshades, a hard-disc-based navigation system, and dynamic radar cruise control. Toyota also includes one year of the Safety Connect system, which provides drivers with roadside and emergency assistance, stolen-vehicle location, and automatic notification of emergency services in the event of a collision.
The base price for a 2014 Toyota Prius V Two is $27,560, including the mandatory $810 destination fee. At the high end, the Prius V Five starts at $31,205, and a heavy hand on the options list can push the total up to around the $35,000 level.