Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor
At first glance, the 2012 Toyota Prius V Wagon strikes us as being indistinguishable from its sibling, the ubiquitous Prius sedan. Both share the same squinty gaze, the same unapologetically functional doorstop silhouette.
As we poke around the cabin, though, one significant difference becomes readily apparent: cargo room. The Prius V offers 60 percent more cargo capacity than the Prius sedan, a car that isn't exactly a slouch in this area to begin with. With 34.3 cubic feet, the V also has more cargo capacity than many of the gas-only wagons and crossovers that it will likely be cross-shopped against.
In most other respects, the Prius V marches in lockstep with the Prius sedan, for better and for worse. Both offer class-leading fuel economy, which is, of course, the attribute that has single-handedly made the sedan a major hit. Both also feature spacious cabins that score well in terms of comfort, but fall short when it comes to design and materials quality.
The Prius has always been the automotive equivalent of that pair of sensible shoes that's plain in character but supremely suited for long days spent on your feet. The V takes that formula and tacks on even more practicality. Alternatives like the Honda CR-V and Volkswagen Jetta diesel wagon offer a more engaging driving experience, but the 2012 Toyota Prius V is miles ahead of the pack when it comes to treading lightly at the pump.
Toyota's Prius V comes with a gas-electric hybrid powertrain good for a combined 134 horsepower and 153 pound-feet of torque, wedded to a CVT (continuously variable transmission). This powertrain/transmission marriage isn't always a placid one, occasionally resulting in the kind of jerky, non-linear power delivery that distinguishes certain hybrids from their gas-only counterparts.
The wagon shares its powertrain with the sedan, and like the sedan, it delivers acceleration that's adequate but far from brisk. On the track, we clocked it at a very modest 10.3 seconds on the 0-60-mph sprint, a time well behind that of rivals like the Volkswagen Jetta diesel wagon (8.8 seconds).
Around town and on the freeway, the Prius V gets up to speed in an acceptable manner, provided it's in "Power" or "Normal" mode. Engaging "Eco" mode ups the wagon's fuel efficiency by making it less responsive to throttle inputs. This setting is fine for city travel, but on the freeway, it easily turns lane-changing maneuvers into white-knuckle events. As with most hybrids, steering feels a bit overboosted, but on the plus side, this makes the wagon easy to handle when squeezing into that tight space in a crowded parking lot.
As you'd expect, the one area in which the 2012 Toyota Prius V truly shines is fuel economy. The wagon hasn't yet been EPA rated, but Toyota estimates 44 city/40 highway mpg and 42 mpg combined. This places the V well ahead of rivals like the Jetta diesel wagon (29/39/33), Honda CR-V (21/28/24) and Ford Escape Hybrid (34/31/32). During our time with the Prius V, the wagon logged a very impressive 40 mpg combined.
Relative to the Prius, the V is a bit on the chunky side, with an additional 300 pounds or so of curb weight. This added heft gives it a more stable feel on the road than you get with the standard Prius; the wagon's ride quality is consistently smooth, with none of the occasional busyness that you can experience when piloting the sedan.
Toyota has a history of providing wide, flat seats that graciously welcome even drivers of hefty girth, and the 2012 Toyota Prius V follows this tradition. The front row is comfortable and spacious throughout, with the V's tall greenhouse providing ample headroom. There's a center armrest, but its padding is about half as thick as it should be.
A fair amount of tire and road noise pervades the Prius V's cabin. Additionally, heavy throttle inputs flood the cabin with the engine's reedy whine.
Finding your way around the Prius V's controls is a cinch. The shifter is placed within easy reach, high on the center stack near the steering wheel, and most of the controls are large and clearly labeled. If arthritis or some other mobility challenge makes smaller buttons and knobs difficult, you'll find the V tailor-made for your needs.
As you'd expect from a vehicle this purpose-built for functionality, there are lots of storage opportunities within the cabin. The huge, two-tiered glovebox can accommodate much more than just an owner's manual, and there's a respectably sized bin in the center console. There's also an open, felt-lined storage nook just beneath the center stack.
The V's backseat is also quite accommodating. Wide and flat, it offers lots of legroom and the fact that the floor back there is level throughout means that three passengers can sit in comfort. The rear seats slide fore and aft, allowing you to trade legroom for cargo capacity, and they recline far enough to facilitate comfortable backseat naps. These seats' one shortcoming is their relatively thin padding — they're not exactly bastions of plush supportiveness.
Past the seats lies a cavernous cargo area, featuring a mostly flat load floor. With 34.3 cubic feet of luggage room, the Prius V's cargo area is more spacious than that of the Jetta wagon (32.8) and Ford Escape Hybrid (27.8), and only slightly smaller than the Honda CR-V's (35.7). A big rear window, a wide windshield, thin A-pillars and porthole windows up front all serve to give the Prius V superb outward visibility from most angles.
Design/Fit and Finish
The V doesn't blaze any new paths from a design perspective — it's basically just a bigger Prius. It's no pageant winner, but in the end, it's inoffensive enough.
Inside, the Prius V is draped in velourlike upholstery that, while soft to the touch, looks dated and down-market, straight out of the '90s. The dash features some nicely grained plastics but the center stack looks plain and low-rent.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2012 Toyota Prius V is a perfect fit for those with small families who want a vehicle that's big enough to accommodate passengers in comfort, but frugal enough to do minimum damage at the pump. It's also a solid pick for those fuel-conscious drivers whose cargo needs call for a roomy wagon or crossover.
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