Pros: Great fuel economy on its own merits; elevated seating; more space and nicer interior than a regular Prius

Cons: Lethargic acceleration; worse fuel economy pricier than a regular Prius

The new 2012 Toyota Prius V initially made us wonder if the top-selling regular Prius had gotten, well, too big for its britches. The regular Prius is a surprisingly roomy four-door hatchback with plenty of room for four people and their luggage?and the Prius V is a four-door hatchback with even more room for four people and their luggage. Did the world really need a bigger Prius? Is this what hybrid fans want?

Toyota answers these questions with a resounding "Yes." After extensive research, the company found that the regular Prius often wasn't big enough to satisfy family-minded buyers. Although the Prius is considered a family car in Europe and Japan, our roads are increasingly clogged with enormous SUVs that dwarf ordinary hatchbacks, making parents feel insecure behind the wheel. Even putting aside safety concerns, what growing family wouldn't want some extra interior space?

So that's how the world ended up with the 2012 Prius V, and we have to admit that we've warmed to the idea. It's truthfully not that much more expensive than the regular Prius, and it enjoys some real advantages. If you don't think you'll mind the slower acceleration and slightly less awesome fuel economy, we'd certainly recommend taking a Prius V for a spin.

Comfort & Utility

The 2012 Toyota Prius V comes in a wonderfully haphazard trio of trim levels: Two, Three and Five. The entry-level Two delivers strong value with 16-inch alloy wheels, a six-speaker sound system with a 6.1-inch touchscreen display, a rear-view camera, iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity, automatic climate control, keyless entry with push-button start and a height-adjustable driver's seat with power lumbar. The Three adds a navigation system, conversational voice-command recognition and the smartphone-based Entune mobile app interface. The Five goes nuts with LED headlamps, foglamps, 17-inch alloy wheels, SofTex stain-resistant upholstery and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror. The Five is also eligible for a number of exclusive upgrades, including adaptive cruise control, a panoramic sunroof with power sun shades and a hard-drive-based navigation system with a crisper Entune interface.

You sit up high in a Prius V, and that's a notable change from the rest of the Prius family. This is more of a crossover/SUV driving position. The front seats are flat, but they provide decent support on longer trips, aided no doubt by the standard power lumbar support. The Prius V's dashboard is more restrained than the sleek one in the regular Prius, but it's more upscale, too, in both appearance and construction. If you want the nicest Prius on the market, the Prius V is it. The digital gauges and the hybrid system displays will be familiar to any Prius Veteran, and none of the controls or readouts take much time to get used to. The back seat in the regular Prius is already quite accommodating, but the Prius V does it one better with sliding/reclining functionality and a significantly higher rear cushion, allowing long-legged passengers to ride with full thigh support.

Cargo space measures 40.2 cubic feet behind the back seat when you slide that seat all the way forward-nearly twice the regular Prius's trunk size-and 67.3 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded. That's crossover/SUV territory, no doubt about it.

Technology

The roster of standard tech features is robust even on the base Two model, but the centerpiece is the Entune system, which uses your smartphone's data connection (check with your Toyota dealer for a list of compatible phones) to send mobile apps straight to the Prius V's touchscreen interface. The app roster includes Pandora Internet radio and OpenTable dining services. It's a nifty service, if your smartphone's data plan can handle the extra usage. Also, note that the Five model's optional hard-drive-based navigation system gets a larger touchscreen and a crisper Entune interface. It doesn't come cheap, but we like that interface a lot more.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The front-wheel-drive Prius V features the same drivetrain as the regular Prius, so it employs a 1.8-liter gasoline inline-4 engine and an electric motor that's backed by a battery pack. Total output is 134 horsepower-this in a vehicle that weighs almost 3,300 pounds, about as much as a loaded Camry. In other words, acceleration is not the Prius V's forte. But considering that not-insignificant curb weight, the Prius V's EPA fuel economy estimates of 44 mpg city/40 mpg highway are impressive, edging out the Camry Hybrid, which gets 43/39 mpg.

Like every Prius, the Prius V is a dual-mode hybrid, which means it can operate solely on electric power when little or no throttle is required. The so-called EV mode is a disappointment, though, as it's barely distinguishable from driving the Prius V normally; give it a smidge too much throttle, and the gas engine automatically rumbles to life.

Safety

The Prius V comes with standard stability control, seven airbags (including a driver's-side knee airbag) and ABS. Crash test results have not yet been made available.

Driving Impressions

The Prius V shares the regular Prius's smooth, quiet ride, except that the extra weight makes it feel more substantial on the road. With its higher center of gravity, the Prius V is certainly no athlete, but it has an easygoing nature that commuters and parents will likely appreciate. There's no getting around that power shortage, though, as it's apparent every time you dip into the throttle. The regenerative brakes may feel odd if you're not familiar with the inconsistent feel of these systems, but we got used to it, and we're sure you will, too.

Other Cars to Consider

Toyota Highlander - It's certainly not in the Prius V's league efficiency-wise, and the Highlander Hybrid is too expensive. However, the Highlander offers a third row of seats and superior cargo space for roughly the same price.

Toyota Camry Hybrid - If you think you can get by without a hatchback trunk, consider the Camry Hybrid, which essentially matches the Prius V's fuel economy and costs the same but delivers far more power.

Toyota Prius - Remember, the regular Prius gets 50 mpg, it's cheaper, and it's a little quicker, too. How badly do you need the Prius V's extra room?

AutoTrader Recommends

We think the Three model hits the sweet spot. It gives you all the technology you need, including Entune.

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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