Reviews

2012 Toyota Prius v Walk Around

The Prius v is a handsome vehicle, resembling a swoopy small minivan, not unlike the Mazda5, or maybe like a big Honda Fit without the sharp edges. It's less distinctive than the Prius sedan, but then so is almost everything. It's 6 inches longer than the sedan, 3.3 inches higher, and 1.1 inches wider, on the same track.

The headlamps are sharp narrow triangles, flying away from the nose over thin vertical parking lamps, accenting an attractive front end. The nose sweeps sharply up to the A pillars and roof, about as wind-slicing as they come. At the rear, there's a standard spoiler that dips a bit at the exit of the roofline, and the wheels look great.

The coefficient of drag is 0.29, compared to the sedan's 0.25, but 0.29 is terrific for any SUV-like vehicle. Toyota engineers paid careful aerodynamic attention to the bumpers, corners, rocker panels, mirrors, wheels and wheelcovers, and especially the roofline, and it all shows.

If the only reason you haven't bought a Prius is because it looks like a jellybean, you've lost your excuse. Now it looks like a real car.

Interior

With 34.3 cubic feet, Toyota claims the Prius v offers more cargo space than 80 percent of the compact SUVs and mid-size wagons on the market. Even that can be expanded, to 40.2 cubic feet, by sliding the 60/40 rear seats forward another seven inches. Fold them flat and there's a relatively massive 67.3 cubic feet; plus, there are big cargo slots under the floor. That's 10 cubic feet more than a Honda Fit, the cargo champ among compact hatchbacks, but then the v is 20 inches longer than a Fit. Like the Fit, the v's front seat folds flat, for you kayakers, carpenters and pole-vaulters.

The rear seats recline 45 degrees, so with the optional panoramic roof passengers can watch the clouds. Passenger volume is 3.5 cubic feet greater than the sedan, with shoulder and hip room both increased nicely. Rear door openings are wide and door panels concave, for more passenger room. With that extra 3.3 inches of height and long rear doors, it's very easy to climb in and out of the back.

Standard equipment (see above) will leave you wanting for very little in the cabin, but if you want the nice SofTex leather-like seats, heated in front, you have to jump all the way up to a Prius v Five, which is a bunch more money. But those seats are lovely; real leather is going away and mostly won't be missed because the synthetics are so good (and SofTex weighs half as much as leather).

The standard seats are fabric, but not very sporty or rugged. They were gray and rather fuddy-duddy, also not so comfortable, with pressure points that weren't right for us.

Prius v's digital display on the 6-inch screen adds color compared to the Prius sedan, although much of the information remains primarily for amusement; that is, you just don't need it. It's fun to watch for a while, but soon you forget about where the power is going and coming from at any given moment, and just drive. Besides, there's too much glare on the instrument panel, so you can't always see the color displays. But visibility is good out all the windows, front and back.

This whole optional Entune connectivity thing is uncharted territory that the v is leading the way into. It will integrate everything your smart phone knows, download apps to entertain you, offer you enough music (700 radio stations for starters) to hear for the rest of your life, do internet searches, read your email and texts to you, and astral project you to the moon when you finally freak out and want peace and solitude.

We find it distracting, no matter what the manufacturers claim. For example, Toyota says with Entune, you'll be able to find what's playing on the movies, find a theater, and buy tickets while you're driving into the city (on a crowded freeway). Without being distracted from your driving. Please. If you just pull over, all features will be available.

The v leads the way in another area, that of energy-efficient sound systems. The optional Green Edge system by JBL is 4 pounds lighter and uses 80 percent less power. You'll be seeing more of this. Any time you can throw out 4 pounds of wiring and use less juice it's good.

On the console, there's one simple HVAC dial, plus climate controls on the steering wheel. There are two gloveboxes, one of which rattled on our car. The optional panoramic roof uses a new type of resin making it lighter, and it's thermal, reflecting light and keeping the interior warmer in winter. The navigation system didn't fail during our drive, after we got used to its system of entering search words for the destination, something different.

Floor rigidity has been added to the v, which helps reduce interior noise, but it's still surprisingly buzzy in the cabin, mostly engine noise but also road noise. The good news is the JBL sound system is great, so you just play it loud.

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