The 2012 Toyota Prius is a great car for smaller families. It easily handles kids and a good amount of cargo, and it gets amazing gas mileage.
This wasn't my first time test-driving the Prius. During test drives, I'm always fascinated that no matter what I do — short of taking a road trip — I can't get the gas gauge below half a tank over the course of a week. For me, a typical week is filled with tons of mom-specific driving: to school, to work meetings, to gymnastics, to hockey and home again almost every day. Weekends might involve a journey downtown or across town to friends' houses.
This gas-electric hybrid has surprisingly good pickup with its four-cylinder engine that's paired with an electric motor for 134 horsepower. It gets up to speed without any hesitation and is easy to manage in stop-and-go traffic.
The 2012 Prius has a starting price of $24,760, including a $760 destination charge. My test car, a top-of-the-line Prius Five, cost $34,885.
The Prius still looks like a Prius. Its distinctive wedge shape helped define what an alternative-fuel vehicle looks like. The rear hatch has a lower window that seems weird when you look at it from the exterior, but adds rear visibility when looking in the rearview mirror. The taillights are massive on the 2012 Prius, but this hybrid is funky enough to pull them off. As for the rest of the Prius, one gets the feeling Toyota said, "It ain't broke, so …"
What's a benefit to families is the low step-in height that's a snap for toddlers to manage. The Prius has taller rear doors, making life easier for moms and dads who are helping kids get into their child-safety seats in the backseat. The nice thing about the Prius being so lightweight for fuel-economy reasons is it makes for easy door opening and closing for the kids.
In the trunk, the load floor is a little high, though it's not like an SUV. The cargo floor is flat, so there's no lip to get over when pulling things out of the trunk. Under the floor is a shallow bin that's nice for dirty, wet things to ride home in. There's also a deep bin in the cargo area that can fit a gallon of milk. I like it because it keeps the milk from squishing my bread; I always seem to put those two items next to each other in the trunk. If you need extra room, the rear seats split 60/40 and fold flat.
The Prius still wows with its fuel-economy numbers: 51/48 mpg city/highway. It uses a 98-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and an electric motor to make 134 hp. It's a good amount of power and can get peppy for when you're not driving so eco-consciously.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times
The 2012 Prius' interior looks much less futuristic than expected. The center stack has a ton of buttons in addition to the Entune multimedia system, and the instrument cluster is centered on the dash, which always takes some getting used to.
When the steering-wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls are used, their usage is displayed in the instrument cluster. It's called Touch Tracer and is supposed to help drivers keep their eyes on the road; it's cool-looking, if a bit distracting despite intentions toward the opposite.
My test car included the Advanced Technology Package ($4,320); it allows you to use popular smartphone applications such as Bing, iHeartRadio, OpenTable and Pandora through the Entune system. However, the system uses your smartphone's data plan, which could get pricey. I couldn't even get my smartphone to connect to the system.
There are tons of cubbies, bins and shelves in the Prius' front row, including a shelf under the center stack that has plenty of room for a cellphone, keys and wallet. There's also a charger located at the front of the shelf. In addition, there are two cupholders (one that doubles as storage), a dual glove box and deep bins in the doors that can hold water bottles.
In the backseat, space and storage are a little tighter but not by much. Each seatback has a pocket, and there are cupholders in the fold-down armrest. Legroom is plentiful.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair-Ample
The 2012 Prius has been named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It earned a top score of Good in front, side, rear and roof-strength crash tests. In crash tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, it earned an overall score of five stars out of five. It also received five stars in side crash tests and four stars of five in front and rollover crash tests.
There are two sets of lower Latch anchors in the Prius' outboard seats. It was difficult to get at the anchors because there's not a lot of clearance around them. Backseat space isn't an issue for forward-facing child-safety seats, but it is for rear-facing car seats. To fit a rear-facing car seat, the front passenger seat had to be moved far enough forward that the passenger was no longer comfortable; the seatback also had to be tilted forward more than preferred in our case.
The 2012 Prius has standard front-wheel drive, all-disc antilock brakes, an electronic stability system with traction control, active front head restraints and seven airbags, including a driver's knee airbag.
Optional equipment includes adaptive cruise control, lane departure assist and a pre-collision system. All are included in the Advanced Technology Package ($4,320).
2012 Toyota Prius Review by Sara Lacey