MSRP: $26,400 (v Two) $29,990 (v Five); As Tested: $36,555
The main limitation of small, economy cars is, well, they're small. (I know — thank you, Captain Obvious). But, the fact remains that lots of people would happily buy a vehicle with big time mileage, if it was enough to fit their lifestyle. We are awash in small cars with big mileage. However, the market for midsize vehicles with supersized fuel economy is still pretty wide open.
Toyota has stepped up to the plate with a new model called the "v." The v is offered in three trim levels. The base model is the v Two (MSRP: $ 26,400). The mid-level offering is the v Three ($27,165). Finally, there's the top model, like our test car, which is known as the (Roman numerically redundant) v Five ($29,990).
The v takes the basic Prius premise and stretches the point. Compared to the standard Prius model, the v is 5.3 inches longer, 1.2 inches wider, 3.3 inches taller and rolls on a wheelbase that's 3.1 inches longer. On the inside, those numbers translate to a good sized bump-up in cargo capacity. While the standard model holds 21.6 cubic feet of gear, the v ranges from 34.3 cubic feet to 67.3 cubic feet. The rear seats have several inches of travel, which allows you to customize the amount of space apportioned to people or parcels. At full push back, there's enough room for six footers front and back.
Rear seatbacks fold to a flat load floor. The liftover height to access the cargo bay is comfortably low. If you're 6 feet tall or over, remember to duck under the liftgate.
I still remember how disorienting it was the first time I slid behind the wheel of a car whose gauges were centered on the dash, not straight ahead of the driver. This type dashboard design has since become, if not common, familiar enough so that its lost its shock factor. The v, like other Prius models, collects most of its controls and all of its instrument panel in the center stack. The main instrument panel sits in a hooded binnacle at the top. To the right of the digital speed readout, the driver can toggle through several different screens of auxiliary information, selecting the display of most interest. I'm still surprised that Toyota doesn't offer more in the way of dashboard graphics to visually engage the driver in the pursuit of max mileage. Gears are engaged by a joystick-like shifter jutting out of the center stack. "Park" is selected by pushing a nearby button. I don't know what the benefit is of separating the gear functions, other than having a different design. On models equipped with navigation, some of the controls for the sound system are absorbed into the nav controls. HVAC switchgear is one step lower on the stack.
Newly available is Entune: Toyota's multimedia system allows integration of your smartphone with the vehicles' navigation, information and entertainment services. The audio systems offered in concert with the Entune option allow voice control, to engage features and functions, using a relatively simple vocabulary of commands.
The v shares the same hybrid powertrain with the standard Prius model. That means a 1.8 liter, Atkinson-cycle, four-cylinder gas engine, in concert with an electric motor. The combined, net power output from the system is 134 horsepower. The driver can select from three driving modes, by hitting the appropriate button on the center console. "EV" will engage full electric power up to a maximum of about 25 mph. "Eco" gives you the most mileage minded combination, while "Power" offers increased performance. Since the v outweighs the standard Prius by 232 lb., logic would suggest the smaller car is a little quicker. That's true, though it's relative. Using Toyota's numbers, the basic Prius is half a second quicker from 0-60 than the v (9.8 vs. 10.4). Neither car will win you any drag races, and as with any mileage-minded car, you pick your spots when passing. But, 'round town driving is comfortable, and there's that little boost available by engaging the Power mode. I also found that the Prius v had enough oomph to hold your cruise control speed on long grades at highway speeds, with two aboard.
The compensating factor, of course is mileage. The Prius v is estimated to return 44 mpg's in town and 40 on the highway. In 1,000 miles of mostly highway driving, I got 46 mpg's; 47 1/2 on highway-only stretches, and that was at 60-75 mph. Hyper-milers, I am sure, could do better. These are impressive numbers, particularly when you consider that they're achieved by a midsize wagon, and not a micro-size runabout.
The v's size makes it easy to pack along a trip's worth of gear on onboard. You can also pack it full of options, if you wish. The available list includes the wallet-stretching ($5,580) Advanced Technology Package. Highlights include navigation, backup camera, Entune multimedia features, premium JBL sound, adjustable cruise control, parking guidance, and front/rear fixed skylights. A Prius so equipped is easy to enjoy if the budget allows. However, the real value leader is the base, v Two. With a delivered starting price of $27,160, the combination of practical size and miserly mileage make the 'big' v arguably the most practical Prius yet.
A regular contributor to the Times Union for the past 20 years, Dan Lyons is the award-winning author of six books, and photographer of 135 calendars. Read Dan's recent reviews on line anytime at New and Used Cars and Trucks from the Times Union - Albany - Saratoga - Schenectady - Troy NY
Read more: Stretching the Point: 2012 Toyota Prius v Five - Times Union