The v in the Prius v could stand for versatility. Introduced as a 2012 model, the Toyota Prius v uses the same powertrain as in the Prius liftback, but with 58 percent more cargo space.
Prius v is 5.3 inches longer than the Prius liftback, 3.3 inches higher, and 1.2 inches wider, and it rides on widened and re-proptioned track. Like the original Prius liftback, the Prius v pairs a 1.8-liter four-cylinder gas engine to an electric motor, for a total combined power output of 134 horsepower. The battery pack, like other non-plug-in Prius models, is nickel-metal hydride. The continuously variable transmission (CVT) is the same one used in the original Prius. We found it functional, but boring.
For 2013, Prius v gained a SoftTex synthetic leather steering wheel on its top-of-the-line model. There have been no additional changes for 2014.
Like other Prius models, the most compelling reason to buy a V is fuel economy. But because it's 230 pounds heavier than the original liftback, the V isn't as efficient. It loses 8 miles per gallon to the tune of an EPA-estimated 44/40 mpg City/Highway and 42 mpg combined, compared with 51/48 mpg city/highway and 50 mpg combined on 87 octane regular gasoline.
The added weight means Prius v also loses performance: It takes 10.4 long seconds to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph, compared with Toyota's estimate of 9.8 seconds for the lethargic Prius liftback. Those are not impressive numbers. But although the Prius v is slower, thirstier and more expensive, it's is still a compelling choice for families looking for an efficient wagon/crossover with lots of functionality.
Prius v is a handsome vehicle, resembling a swoopy small minivan, not unlike the Mazda5, or maybe like a big Honda Fit without the sharp edges. The nose sweeps sharply up to the A pillars and roof. Toyota engineers paid careful aerodynamic attention to the bumpers, corners and roofline, as well as rocker panels, mirrors, wheels and wheelcovers, and it shows in the form of a drag coefficient of 0.29, which very sleek for a wagon or crossover.
With 34.3 cubic feet, Prius v offers more cargo space than 80 percent of the compact SUVs and mid-size wagons on the market. The rear seats slide back for legroom, or forward to increase cargo space; they also recline, and there's an optional panoramic roof for sky-watching. The front seat folds flat, like the Honda Fit or Jeep Patriot. With that extra 3.3 inches of height and long rear doors, it's very easy to climb in and out of the back.
Prius v handles and corners well, and we found it easier to drive around town than the liftback. Unfortunately, ride quality is quite firm. You feel every bump in this car, and it's soon irritating. Another major drawback, which we've found in all Prius models, is the noisy cabin. The V has added floor rigidity over the original Prius, which helps reduce interior noise, but it's still surprisingly buzzy. Sound deadening material adds weight, which reduces fuel efficiency.
While there aren't any direct competitors to the Toyota Prius v, the new Ford C-Max hybrid hatchback boasts better driving dynamics and a better interior with slightly better fuel economy. However, the C-Max doesn't offer as much cargo space as the Prius v does.
If the only reason you haven't bought a Prius is because it looks like a jellybean, you've lost your excuse. Now it looks like a real car.
Prius v's styling resembles a swoopy small minivan, not unlike the Mazda5, or maybe a big Honda Fit without the sharp edges. It's less distinctive than the Prius liftback, but then so is almost everything. It's 5.3 inches longer than the liftback, 3.3 inches higher, and 1.2 inches wider, on a slightly wider track.
The headlamps are sharp narrow triangles, flying away from the nose over thin vertical parking lamps, accenting an attractive front end. The nose sweeps sharply up to the A pillars and roof, about as wind-slicing as they come. At the rear, there's a standard spoiler that dips a bit at the exit of the roofline, and the wheels look great.
The coefficient of drag is 0.29, terrific for any SUV-like vehicle. Toyota engineers paid careful aerodynamic attention to the bumpers, corners, rocker panels, mirrors, wheels and wheelcovers, and especially the roofline, and it all shows. Its shape means it isn't as good as the stellar 0.25 Cd of the Prius liftback.
With 34.3 cubic feet, Toyota claims the Prius v offers more cargo space than 80 percent of the compact SUVs and mid-size wagons on the market. Even that can be expanded, to 40.2 cubic feet, by sliding the 60/40 rear seats forward another seven inches. Fold them flat and there's a relatively massive 67.3 cubic feet; plus, there are big cargo slots under the floor. That's 10 cubic feet more than a Honda Fit with its rear seats folded, the cargo champ among compact hatchbacks; but then the v is 20 inches longer than a Fit. Like the Fit, the v's front seat folds flat, for you kayakers, carpenters and pole-vaulters.
The rear seats recline 45 degrees, so with the optional panoramic roof passengers can watch the clouds. Passenger volume is 3.5 cubic feet greater than the liftback, with shoulder and hip room both increased nicely. Rear door openings are wide and door panels concave, for more passenger room. With that extra 3.3 inches of height and long rear doors, it's very easy to climb in and out of the back.
Standard equipment will leave you wanting for very little in the cabin, but if you want the nice SofTex faux leather seats, which are heated in front, you have to jump all the way up to a Prius v Five, pushing the price over the $30k mark.
Standard seats are fabric, and aren't very sporty or rugged. They were gray and fuddy-duddy and not so comfortable, with pressure points that weren't right for us.
Prius v's digital display on the 6-inch screen adds color compared to the Prius liftback, although much of the information remains primarily for amusement; that is, you just don't need it. It's fun to watch for a while, but soon you forget about where the power is going and coming from at any given moment, and just drive. Besides, there's too much glare on the instrument panel, so you can't always see the color displays. But visibility is good out all the windows, front and back.
Toyota's optional Entune smartphone integration system allows for connectivity to many apps including Pandora and OpenTable. You can also do Internet searches, read your email, send text messages using the built-in voice-recognition. Although it's billed as a way to reduce driver distraction, we found that Entune, like many other infotainment interfaces, took our eyes and minds off driving more than we'd like.
The v leads the way in energy-efficient sound systems. The optional Green Edge system by JBL is 4 pounds lighter and uses 80 percent less power. You'll be seeing more of this. Any time you can throw out 4 pounds of wiring and use less juice it's good.
On the console, there's one simple climate control dial, plus redundant buttons on the steering wheel. There are two gloveboxes, one of which rattled during our test drive. The optional panoramic roof uses a new type of resin making it lighter, and it's thermal, reflecting light and keeping the interior warmer in winter. The navigation system worked fine, once we got used to its system of entering search words for the destination.
Performance is lacking in the Prius v, in part due to its weight. It's 230 pounds heavier than the original Prius liftback, which makes a big difference in a car with only 134 horsepower.
EPA mileage for Prius v is 44/40 mpg City/Highway for a Combined 42 mpg, or 8 mpg less than the Prius liftback. We got less than that during our five-hour drive, an average of 38.4 mpg, not doing any leadfooting, and keeping it in the Normal driving mode. In order to perk up the acceleration, the rear-end ratio was changed from 3.27 in the liftback to 3.71 in the v, and that doesn't help fuel mileage because the wheels and engine turn more revolutions. Curiously, when we tested the Prius liftback we got a few miles higher than the EPA estimate; with the v we got a few less. Same driver.
In addition to Normal mode, there are three selectable modes: EV, or all-electric, with a very limited distance of 25 mph or less (if there's enough juice in the battery), most useful for underground parking garages; ECO, which minimizes fuel consumption by reducing the throttle opening and restricting the air conditioning; and Power for full acceleration. It automatically switches from ECO to Power when you step on the gas enough to need it. It needs it a lot.
The v uses the same CVT transaxle as the liftback. It's functional enough, but sure is boring. When you accelerate hard and the engine kicks into Power mode, it can be abrupt, like a transmission kick-down, as the CVT also winds up. But driving more casually, you're not aware the CVT is there, which is how they're supposed to work.
The v handles and corners well, much like the Lexus CT200H. It's easier to drive around town than the liftback, with this nimbleness and especially its good visibility. The front suspension components have been upgraded, and there are different front strut mounts.
Unfortunately, the ride doesn't match the handling. The damping feels quite firm, so you can feel every bump, and it's soon irritating. We found the same flaws in the Prius liftback: road noise and rough ride. It seems to be a Prius thing.
There's also electronic Pitch and Bounce control, intending to prevent that up-and-down porpoising motion. We found a short stretch on the road that might cause a car to porpoise, and the Prius v porpoised, a little bit. Who knows, maybe it would have been more without the electronic pitch control.
We already mentioned the engine buzz, but we mention it again here because it's so prominent under full throttle. Our notes say the engine sounds unsophisticated. As original and needed as the Prius v might be, when you have a nearly $30,000 car that's slow and loud, you have to wonder if it's worth it.
The Toyota Prius v offers the functionality of a wagon with hybrid-worthy fuel economy and excellent cargo space. Still, sluggish acceleration, cabin noise and a rough ride make it less than stellar.
Sam Moses filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report from the Pacific Northwest, with Laura Burstein reporting from Los Angeles.