When I first drove the 2011 Toyota Prius last year, I was impressed. It was a light sipper at the pump and confident on the road. So, when the new 2012 Prius v arrived at my doorstep, I didn’t waste time reliving the feeling.

The 2012 Toyota Prius v parked to the left of Thai Orchid’s Kitchen in Southeast Washington. (Mike Tucker Jr./For The Washington Post)

I was skeptical to say the least, because finding a quality restaurant east of the Anacostia River, where I live, is difficult. But I used my Bluetooth connection in the Prius v to call Thai Orchid’s Kitchen. “Drunken spaghetti with beef and shrimp and curry puffs,” I barked back at the voice that asked for my order.

Entune, Toyota’s multi information system, navigated me to a restaurant I would have surely missed otherwise. The system, presented on a 6.1-inch touch screen, also gives access to movie tickets, table reservations, live weather, traffic and stocks, as well as 750-plus stations through iheartradio.

I parked the Prius v on the patchy dead grass resting beside the alley that separated my new find from a rundown Quik Mart gas station and went inside.

Sure, a sign above the awning mentions Thai food, but everything else screamed wings and mumbo sauce. As the saying goes, “Never judge a book by its cover.”

Indeed, the Prius’s outward appearance shrieks conservative tree-hugger with a little more stuff than your average eco-friendly extremist. But once you drive this battery/gas-propelled machine, you notice that it is not only super practical but is comfy and not so bad after all.

The Prius v has surprising handle and a quick enough response and surprising acceleration for its low horsepower. Most pleasing is its gas station-teasing 44 miles to the gallon in the city, making it a smart choice.

Great fuel consumption is maintained by the Hybrid Synergy Drive, which outside of NORMAL and POWER driving modes includes: EV, which runs on battery alone for short distances and lower speeds, and ECO, which manages the engine and air-conditioning output to conserve fuel on the road. The Prius v is also a Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle. If that wasn’t enough superlatives for you, let’s just say the Prius v is better to Mother Nature.

I had two concerns with the 201l model: It needed more space and better looks. When you have access to a car that is as fuel-efficient and comfortable to drive, your first thought is road trip. Until the Prius v, there was not enough room for a father of three and all we needed for travel in a Prius. Enter the elongated slightly better-looking Prius v, offering more space than any other full hybrid on the market.

More space and ample places to put stuff like dual glove boxes, a center console tray for large items, five cup holders, bottle holders designed into front and rear doors, a dedicated space for umbrellas under the rear seats and a storage bin in the floor of the trunk to hide items like small toys or wine.

All things are not what they seem.

Back at Thai Orchid’s Kitchen I would soon find heaven comes in Styrofoam containers. The curry puffs were flaky, fluffy pockets of sweetly spiced delight. The variation of drunken noodle with spaghetti had the right amount of fire delicately offset by the tanginess of the sauce. I was sold after one bite of each.

Call me superficial because I wasn’t as easily sold on the Prius v. Although, the combination of cool standard features, space and zero gas station stops had me singing a different tune by end of my week-long test.

It’s a confident ride and rightfully so, Toyota has 15 years perfecting the Prius and listening to Prius haters and lovers. The Prius v will appeal to just about anyone that will give it a chance. What makes a Prius instantly recognizable is also what turns off so many I’ve talked to, but it’s what inside that counts.

Just as I learned to never judge a carryout by its cover, I will never judge a Prius by its cover, either.

Let’s Get SOCIAL

Is all that the Prius offers to help the environmental and your wallet enough to get you past the Prius’ outward appearance and get you inside one?


Thai Orchid’s Kitchen

2314 Pennsylvania Avenue SE Washington, DC 20020

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