2012 Toyota Prius v

Photo Courtesy of Toyota

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As a 2008 Toyota Prius owner, I've been on the hybrid-loving bandwagon for a while now. My husband has a lengthy commute five days a week, so a hybrid makes the most financial sense for us. However, with two little girls in child-safety seats, the walls of our beloved Prius are starting to close in on us. While I love my Prius' awesome fuel economy, I long for a few more inches between me and the second row filled of whining kids. Enter the all-new 2012 Toyota Prius v with more cargo space than the Prius and it gets 42 mpg city/highway combined.

For our family of four, the 2012 Prius v was a perfect fit; it gave us just enough space to stretch out, but not so much that we were left crying at the gas pump.

The v has three driving modes that are available with the push of a button: Power, Eco and EV. During my test drive, I kept it mostly in the Eco mode. When it came time to climb a hill or pass a slower car on the freeway, I would engage the Power mode. The availability of the different modes was convenient and an example of this wagon's versatility.

One of the most confusing aspects of this car is its name. The v stands for versatility, not the Roman numeral five. As if that wasn't convoluted enough, the trim levels are numbered. The Prius v Two is the base trim level and priced at $26,400. Take a step up to the Prius v Three and navigation and Toyota's new Entune multimedia system are added for the price of $27,165. The third and top trim level is the Prius v Five, which starts $29,990 and includes SofTex upholstery, also known as leatherette. My test car, a Prius v Five, cost $29,990.

EXTERIOR

While the 2012 Prius v looks a lot like its smaller sibling, the Prius, the body shape reminds me of the Mazda5, a mini-minivan. However, the v still retains its "I'm a hybrid" aerodynamic look.

The Prius v was designed with families in mind. Case in point: the small steps leading to the second-row seats. These three small steps are perfectly placed for the smaller, car-seat-riding crew. My 3-year-old daughter was thrilled when she opened the rear door to find her own personal staircase. Yes, the Prius v's step-in height is a tad higher than the regular Prius, but that made loading the littlest ones into their child-safety seats easier on my back.

The Prius v's shining star is the enormous cargo area. It has 58 percent more cargo space than the Prius. On our road trip in the Prius v, we were able to fit three suitcases, three backpacks, a diaper bag, a portable crib and a double jog stroller in the cargo area. In our 2008 Prius, our jog stroller takes up the entire cargo area.

The Prius V utilizes the same hybrid technology as the regular Prius. It's powered by a 98-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that's paired with an electric motor, making 80 hp. While it doesn't hit the Prius' EPA-estimated 51/48 mpg city/highway, the v does get 44/40 mpg, which is nothing to sneeze at.

SENSE AND STYLE

Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Excellent

Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times

INTERIOR

The Prius v's interior was exceptionally comfortable and super functional. Toyota got it right when naming the v for versatility. This mom was happy with its multitude of handy storage compartments and five easily accessible cupholders. Where this five-seater really shined was in the second row. The 60/40-split seats can recline or slide back and forth.

With the v's increased space, my biggest complaint was the lack of vents for the second row. While there were vents routed under the first-row seats, the cooled air hardly reached my two little girls stuck (and sweating) in their child-safety seats.

Another irritant was the multitude of information available on the power gauge screen. Included with the speedometer were the fuel level, battery level, miles driven, miles left, time, power mode, power level and gear. It was poorly designed, convoluted and too difficult to find the information that I needed with just a glance.

On the other hand, Toyota's Entune multimedia system is sure to be a favorite among new Toyota owners. Using your smartphone's data plan and available Entune application, the touch-screen has access to useful apps such as Bing, Pandora and MovieTickets.com. Alongside these features is the usual navigation with real-time traffic and Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming.

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT

Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample

Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore

SAFETY

With two sets of lower Latch anchors in the outboard seats, the Prius v accommodated both of my children's car seats nicely. The anchors were easy to access after unzipping their enclosures. My husband was able to fit comfortably in the front passenger seat with a forward-facing car seat behind him. Unfortunately, he had to compromise on legroom when my younger daughter's rear-facing convertible was behind him. Older children in booster seats should be able to buckle themselves independently since the seat belt buckles are on stable bases.

The 2012 Prius v hasn't been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

The Prius v's standard safety features include front-wheel drive, an electronic stability system, traction control, antilock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution, a brake override system, a backup camera and seven airbags, including a driver's knee airbag and side curtains for both rows.

Snapshot:

Starting MSRP $26,400–$29,990

MPG

City: 44

Highway: 40

Available Engines

98-hp, 1.8-liter I-4 (gas hybrid)

Transmissions

2-speed CVT w/OD

New or Notable

• New for 2012

• "Wagonized" Prius

• 40 mpg combined rating

• Separate model from regular Prius

• Lightweight panoramic roof

What We Like

• Backseat headroom/legroom

• Low cargo load-in height

• 40 mpg combined rating

What We Don't

• Center dashboard layout

• Outdated-looking dash graphics

 
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