2012 Toyota Prius v Introduction

The v in Prius v stands for versatility. The new Toyota Prius v uses the same powertrain as in the Prius sedan, with some 2012 improvements and upgrades, but what it's all about is the new wagon body that provides a 58 percent increase in cargo space.

Because it's 230 pounds heavier than the sedan, the Prius v loses 8 miles per gallon, as the EPA rating drops down to 44/40 mpg City/Highway from 51/48, on 91 octane fuel. It also loses some acceleration performance, again because of the weight. The v goes from 0 to 60 mph in 10.4 seconds, the sedan in 9.8 seconds. Those are not impressive numbers.

So the new Prius v is slower and more thirsty than the sedan, and is expected to cost about $4000 more. What you gain is family functionality. Prius v is 6 inches longer than the Prius sedan, 3.3 inches higher, and 1.1 inches wider, on the same track.

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. The nose sweeps sharply up to the A pillars and roof, about as wind-slicing as they come. The coefficient of drag is 0.29, very sleek for a an SUV-like vehicle. Toyota engineers paid careful aerodynamic attention to the bumpers, corners and roofline, as well as rocker panels, mirrors, wheels and wheelcovers, and it shows.

There are a number of battery cooling improvements to the Synergy Drive system for 2012 in the v. Some of these upgrades weren't even in the Lexus CT200h introduced for 2011, which might be considered the upscale Prius v.

With 34.3 cubic feet, the Prius v offers more cargo space than 80 percent of the compact SUVs and mid-size wagons on the market. The rear seats slide back for legroom, or forward to increase cargo space; they also recline, and there's an optional panoramic roof for sky-watching. The front seat folds flat, like the Honda Fit or Jeep Patriot. 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 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, the fully loaded model. The standard Prius v seats are fabric, and not very sporty or rugged.

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. On the console, there's one simple HVAC dial, plus climate controls on the steering wheel. There are two gloveboxes, one of which rattled. 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.

In addition to Normal mode, there are three selectable modes: EV, or all-electric, with a very limited distance at 25 mph or less (if there's enough juice in the battery), most useful for underground parking garages; ECO, which minimizes fuel consumption by reducing the throttle opening and restricting the air conditioning; and Power for full acceleration. It automatically switches from ECO to Power when you step on the gas enough to need it. It needs it a lot.

The v uses the same CVT transaxle as the sedan. It's functional but boring. Around town you're not aware the CVT is there, which is how they're supposed to work.

The v handles and corners well, much like the Lexus CT200h. The Prius v is easier to drive around town than the sedan, with this nimbleness and especially its good visibility. Unfortunately the ride doesn't match the handling. The damping feels quite firm, so you feel every bump, and it's soon irritating. We found the same flaws in the Prius sedan: road noise and rough ride. It seems to be a Prius thing. Fuel economy good. Noise, vibration and harshness not so good.

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