Clarence Barnes: Question, Tracy: When is a Prius more than a Prius?

Tracy Metro: I have a feeling you're going to answer that for me, Clarence.

Clarence: When it's a 2012 Toyota Prius V. It is longer, wider and taller than Toyota's gas-electric hybrids.

Tracy: And the V stands for versatility. Basically what we're talking about, Clarence, is a Prius wagon. Simply, it comes in three trims: Two, Three or Five.

Clarence: Thanks to its larger size, the five-passenger Prius makes more room for everyone and everything, and with the rear seats down, Toyota claims there's more cargo space than in 80 percent of all small SUVs.

Tracy: And for an economy car, it's got impressive standard features, including a rear parking camera that can be seen right here on our test Prius V Five.

Clarence: The interior is a cut above the regular Prius. The surfaces are finer, though still not luxurious, and even the base V Two includes features like a color touchscreen for the audio system, Bluetooth and an iPod connection.

Tracy: The Prius V Five, like this one that we're driving here, comes standard with front heated seats and an upgraded interior upholstery throughout the entire car. Toyota calls it their SofTex material, which is an eco-friendly alternative to leather.

Clarence: And if high tech is your thing, we recommend the Advanced Technology package. It's loaded with everything from an auto parking feature to an eight-speaker JBL audio system to the new Entune system that allows access to the smartphone apps such as Pandora and iHeart Radio via the touchscreen.

Tracy: And you know what I like? Just how roomy the car feels. And for rear passengers, their seats actually slide and recline, making long trips a lot more comfortable.

Clarence: Toyota definitely got the dimensions right, but if there's any complaint, it's the steering wheel is a little hard to reach, especially for taller drivers.

Tracy: On the road is where the front-wheel-drive Prius V feels, well, kind of like a Prius, and I know because I actually drive a Prius. The combination of 134 horsepower from its 1.8-liter gas engine working in conjunction with the electric motor and nickel-metal-hydride battery provides adequate acceleration through a continuously variable transmission, or CVT.

Clarence: Unfortunately, the engine can be a little bit noisy when the gasoline part of the engine starts working really hard. For example, climbing steep hills or merging with highway traffic. It's much quieter on the straightaways, and there's very little wind noise.

Tracy: Now, a Power mode is available if you want to boost acceleration. However, if you want a car in general, Clarence, that actually just has more power, and you don't mind giving up some fuel economy, you'll do better with one of the diesel-powered Volkswagen TDIs. Plus, you'll have better handling.

On the other hand, the Jetta TDI and other competitors, like the Honda CR-V, they just can't beat Prius V's fuel economy.

Clarence: No. They can't. With EPA mile-per-gallon ratings of 44 city, 40 highway, the Prius V is at the top of its class even if those numbers fall a little short of the regular Prius. You'll also save the most fuel driving in Eco mode. But it's useful only for city driving.

Tracy: Optional safety equipment above and beyond the many safety features that come standard on the car is a pre-collision safety system that reduces the rate of speed of the car, thus any damage that would happen to the front end of the car in a frontal collision.

Clarence: The base Prius V Two starts at just $26,400, while a V Five with optional Advanced Technology package will cost closer to $36,000.

Tracy: With plenty of room for growing families and all of their stuff, and for a comfortable ride, the 2012 Toyota Prius V is definitely worth strong consideration.

Clarence: Especially if good fuel economy fuels your buying decision.

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