- Spacious, flexible interior
- EPA combined rating of 42 mpg
- Usable, practical console design
- Low-speed electric running
- Need more power under load
- Usual numb Toyota steering
- Feature-rich models push $40K
- One poor safety rating
The 2015 Toyota Prius V brings a fresh face and the same outstanding fuel economy that the Prius is known for, all in a more family-friendly shape.
Now in its fourth model year, the 2015 Toyota Prius V benefits this year from a handful of upgrades to styling, equipment, and--most important for a family vehicle--safety. It's still the biggest member of the four-car Prius family, and offers the most interior volume. Toyota shuns the word, but the Prius V is a classic tall wagon version of the more familiar Prius Liftback. Its roomier and more family-friendly shape uses the same powertrain as the hatchback Prius, however, sacrificing a little bit of efficiency and some performance as well.
This family Prius is not a crossover utility vehicle, though, since all-wheel drive isn't offered. Plus, it rides at the height of a conventional car--not the elevated truck height of an AWD SUV. So a wagon it is--Toyota says only that the "V" stands for "versatile"--and a very high-mileage hybrid wagon at that. It's rated at a combined 42 miles per gallon, impressive for a five-passenger vehicle that will hold their luggage as well.
While the Prius V looks similar to the classic Liftback, it actually shares no body panels with the hatchback. The V is taller, wider, and, as a result, heavier than its sibling. Its taller, more slab-sided shape of the Prius V, along with its vertical liftgate, sets it apart from the sloping roof and horizontal liftgate of the Liftback. Drivers familiar with the traditional Prius are likely to appreciate that the V's rear window is a single piece of continuous glass rather than the split panes of the Prius hatchback, one of them at an angle and the other upright.
The Prius V was freshened this year with a more aggressive frontal design and new head- and taillight units. The new front end follows the edgier design theme that has been applied to the Camry and Yaris, as well as this year's Prius C subcompact. The headlights have been reshaped into slimmer units that flow into the grille opening, and there are fang-like slits below them, which make the car look wider and lower.
The Prius V's seating position is upright and higher than in a conventional Prius. Toyota has dispensed with that car's "flying buttress" console and provided more accessible trays, 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 Ford C-Max's more conventional dashboard.
The real payoff comes in interior volume. A sliding rear seat allows expansion of the rear cargo bay 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 complimented for the wide, 39-inch distance between wheel-well cutouts, meaning large boxy items can be accommodated with ease on the flat load floor.
The standard Prius drivetrain carries over largely unchanged to the Prius wagon, despite a weight gain of a good 300 pounds. The 98-horsepower, 1.8-liter engine and pair of electric motor-generators consequently 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.
One thing the Prius V does share with all other Prius models is very high fuel efficiency. The EPA rates the 2015 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 from 47 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.
While safety was a strong point before 2014, 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. Toyota worked swiftly to remedy the problem and the Prius is now once again a Top Safety Pick+. 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. For 2015, the Prius V's Advanced Technology package adds automatic high-beams and lane-departure warning to its list, which already included a pre-collision system and adaptive radar cruise control.
The Prius V comes standard with fabric seats, a tilt/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 seatback when the rear seat is in its forward position, but we still managed to drop more than one item into the abyss.
Like the Prius liftback, the V is offered in numbered trim levels, although it skips the liftback's One level, leaving the Two, Three, Four, and Five. The base model starts at $27,500 with delivery—a slight decrease for 2015—and includes a rearview camera, keyless entry, and a new Entune multimedia system. 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 touchscreen. There's also Toyota's Entune cloud-based infotainment system, which has been updated for 2015. Also new for 2015 is a 4.2-inch in-gauge information screen, which is standard on the Three and above. The Three also adds a new lower rear bumper design.
Toyota added a Prius V Four for 2015, which includes SofTex upholstery, with heated front seats and an eight-way power driver's seat with adjustable lumbar, as well as an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
At the top of the range is the Prius V Five, at a bit more than $31,000. Upgrades include 10-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels; fog lamps; and new LED headlamps.
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, plus for 2015 adds auto high-beams and lane-departure warning. 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.