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

Cons: Worse fuel economy; more expensive than a regular Prius; lethargic acceleration

What's New: The 2013 Prius v is largely unchanged, adding just "SofTex" steering wheel trim for the top-of-the-line Five model.

Introduction

It's hard to believe that the 2013 Toyota Prius v is still a relative newcomer to the hybrid scene. Now in just its second year of production, the supersized Prius v has already become a fixture in parking lots across the country. And it's not hard to see why. Toyota simply took what was already appealing about the regular Prius and stretched it into a taller, longer, family-friendlier package.

One of the Prius v's primary selling points is its higher seating position, and that's no small thing in this SUV-saturated era. When seemingly every other vehicle on the road is a jacked-up Jeep wannabe, ground-skimming hatchbacks like the regular Prius can feel a bit insubstantial, even if their crash test scores are great. That's why Toyota makes sure that you sit up high in the Prius v, giving you an extra measure of confidence on the road.

Naturally, the Prius v's more generous dimensions pay dividends elsewhere in the cabin as well. Rear passengers will notice a higher bench and more headroom than in the regular Prius, while Home Depot regulars will enjoy twice the trunk space, not to mention about two-thirds more space with the rear seatbacks folded down.

Drawbacks? Well, the Prius v employs the same hybrid power system as its lighter sibling, so it's both slower and less fuel efficient. But speed is largely a matter of personal preference, and while 42 miles per gallon isn't quite 50 mpg, it's not what we'd call shabby, either.

So if you like the idea of the Prius but need more space, the 2013 Prius v could be just the thing. Don't hesitate to give this versatile newcomer a chance.

Comfort & Utility

The 2013 Toyota Prius v 5-passenger wagon comes in a rather haphazard trio of trim levels: Two, Three and Five.

The entry-level Two delivers strong value with 16-in alloy wheels, a 6-speaker sound system with a 6.1-in touchscreen display, a rearview camera, iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity, automatic climate control, keyless entry with push-button start and a height-adjustable driver seat with power lumbar.

The Three adds a navigation system, conversational voice command recognition and the smartphone-based Entune mobile app interface (see Technology below).

The Five goes nuts with LED headlamps, fog lamps, 17-in alloy wheels, SofTex stain-resistant upholstery (including the steering wheel for 2013) and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The Five is also eligible for a number of exclusive upgrades, including adaptive cruise control, a panoramic sunroof with power sunshades and a hard-drive-based navigation system with a crisper Entune interface.

In our interior evaluation, the first thing we noticed was the Prius v's elevated, crossover-like driving position. The front seats are flat, but they provide decent support on longer trips, aided by the standard power lumbar support.

The Prius v's dashboard is a bit more conventional than the spaceship-like dash 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 hybrid system displays will be familiar to any Prius veteran, and none of the controls or readouts take much time to get used to. Also familiar is the Prius family's trademark joystick-style shift lever.

The back seat in the regular Prius is already quite accommodating, but the Prius v does it one better with sliding/reclining rear seat functionality and a significantly higher rear cushion, allowing long-legged passengers to ride with full under-thigh support.

Cargo space measures up to 40.2 cu-ft behind the backseat -- twice the regular Prius model's trunk size -- and 67.3 cu-ft with the rear seatbacks folded. That's crossover SUV territory, no doubt about it, and Toyota does a great job of integrating the Prius v's battery pack seamlessly beneath the floor.

Technology

The roster of standard tech features is robust even on the base Two model, but the star of this show is the Entune system, which uses your smartphone's data connection 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. 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 and an electric motor that's backed by a battery pack. Total output is 134 horsepower -- this in a vehicle that weighs as much (almost 3,300 pounds) 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 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fuel economy estimates of 44 mpg city/40 mpg hwy are impressive, edging out even the Camry Hybrid's estimates (43 mpg city/39 mpg hwy).

Like every Prius, incidentally, 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 more than a dash of throttle and the gas engine automatically rumbles to life.

Safety

The Prius v comes with standard stability control, seven airbags (including a driver knee airbag) and anti-lock brakes.

Surprisingly, the government still had not crash tested the Prius v at the time this article was written. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the Prius v its highest rating of Good in all crash tests except the new Small Overlap Front test, where the Prius v was rated Poor. Nevertheless, the IIHS selected the Prius v as a Top Safety Pick for 2013.

Driving Impressions

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

Other Cars to Consider

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

Ford C-Max Hybrid - Boasting a superior 47 mpg and more athletic handling, the new C-Max is a formidable foe for the Prius v. But its trunk is marred by a big battery-pack hump, and its narrow, European-sourced structure makes it feel a half-size smaller.

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 higher seats and extra room?

AutoTrader Recommends: We think the Three model is the sweet spot. It gives you all the technology you need, including Entune, without breaking the bank.

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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