2012 Toyota Prius V Station Wagon: First Drive Review

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2012 Toyota Prius V station wagon, Half Moon Bay, CA, May 2011

2012 Toyota Prius V station wagon, Half Moon Bay, CA, May 2011

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Toyota executives will go to extraordinary, absurd lengths to avoid defining the body style of the new 2012 Toyota Prius V.

Bob Carter, brand sales chief for Toyota Motors in the U.S., first responded with confusion over the question.

Presented with a list of alternatives--sedan, hatchback, minivan, station wagon, sport utility vehicle?--he said, hesitantly, "Well, the government would define it as a station wagon."

So let's get one thing straight: The 2012 Toyota Prius V is a station wagon. It's not a minivan (no sliding doors, no third row) and it's certainly not a sport utility vehicle or crossover (no all-wheel-drive, no jacked-up ride height).

As such, it's a smart addition to the Toyota Prius hybrid lineup, the first of several vehicles that will expand the iconic Prius label beyond the current five-door hatchback model into different body styles and sizes

Just like a Prius, but less weird

Every body panel on the 2012 Toyota Prius V is different from the hatchback, but there's absolutely no mistaking it for anything other than a Toyota Prius hybrid.

From most angles, it looks more like a tall hatchback than a station wagon, perhaps deliberately. It's only with the tailgate open, looking at it from the back or side, that the squared-up rear end and vertical cargo opening become apparent.

The general consensus at the media preview was that the 2012 Prius V looks "just like a regular Prius ... but a little less weird."

2012 Toyota Prius V launch press conference, 2011 Detroit Auto Show

2012 Toyota Prius V launch press conference, 2011 Detroit Auto Show

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Two prominent features highlight the difference: First, there's no secondary rear window below the main glass in the tailgate, as there is on the hatchback.

Then, inside, the hatchback's "flying buttress" interior console has thankfully been replaced with a more traditional separate elbow bin and dashboard center stack that allows easy access to the cupholders, tray, and so forth mounted on the tunnel.

The dashboard again resembles the standard Prius, with the high-level central display offering a somewhat confusing array of numbers, icons, diagrams, and symbols in a handful of colors.

Little difference in performance

There's no question that the 2012 Prius V drives and handles like the "regular" Prius hatchback. While it's considerably larger in wheelbase and length, as well as slightly taller and wider, it's not notably different to drive.

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Comments (20)
  1. At 44 MPG city, this will be instantly the 3rd most efficient city vehicle after the Prius and 2012 Honda Civic (EV's excepted). Not to shabby for a vehicle that large.

  2. I'm sorry but that's a huge impact on MPG (50 - 42) I'm really surprised...

  3. @JKD: I will probably sound like a broken record to Briggs (and a not particularly harmonious one), but that huge impact on MPG doesn't translate to a huge number of *gallons saved* -- it's 3.8 gallons every 1,000 miles. That's noticeable, certainly, and not to be sneezed at, but relatively minor in the grand scheme of things compared to the national average, which is somewhere around 20 mpg. That's less than half as efficient as a Prius.
    And, frankly, there will be (we think) a lot of buyers who prefer the extra cargo capacity of a Prius wagon over the hatchback. We'll see where the sales numbers are a year hence (if Toyota breaks them out, which they may not).

  4. @ John
    Interesting you point that out, when comparing the Prius to other vehicles a few MPG suddenly becomes a huge deal. Just saying.

  5. @Khadgars: Understood. But ... because two-thirds of the American public thinks you save more gas by going from 33 to 50 mpg than from 10 to 20 mpg, it's our policy to try to put the actual savings in terms of gallons of gasoline--which translates directly to dollars.
    Because MPG is a nonlinear scale, it's the law of diminishing returns, where you save smaller and smaller volumes of gasoline as mileage makes what looks like quite impressive gains.
    We think it's a useful consumer service to provide that context for potential buyers. But reasonable may differ (and have). Hope that puts some context around the discussion?

  6. 42mpg is not bad at all for a family car. I can't think of any another crossover, minivan or SUV that gets even close. In addition, 42mpg in the US is better than most other hybrid sedans' rates except the Prius's and the hybrid Honda's. At gas prices near the $4.00/gal mark, 42mpg makes it possible to dream of hitting the road with the family again without having to expend an arm and a leg in gas. However 42mpg in this car sounds like an idealization or lab result if you are thinking of cruising @ 70mph with this Prius V same as you can do with a regular one...

  7. Does it still smell awful inside? I remember riding as a passenger in a Prius and the plastic or whatever just had a pungent odor. Guy said they all smell like that.

  8. "Broken record".
    So nothing is large or small except by comparison. In this case, the comparison obviously should be made to the Prius (regular). In this comparison, the Prius nearly 20% more efficient than the Prius V. This is a significant drop in efficiency against the most obvious benchmark.
    Using another benchmark, say a 10 mpg truck, or even a 20 mpg "average" vehicle represents "do as little as possible" mentality that is all to prevalent in the USA. As long as you are just a little bit greener than your previous car or your neighbors car, then you are OK, even if you could do much more.
    The last reference is the all might buck. As long as the dollar value is small compared to my income, then it is OK. We can do better.

  9. Hopefully this layout fixes the rear visibility which is dismal on the standard Prius. Fortunately, it has a backup camera.

  10. This Prius V had been my dream car until the disappointing mpg came out. Not only it is far inferior to Prius hatchback, it also loses the privilege of green pass qualification, which requires at least 45 mpg. With a green pass, you can drive without any passenger on New York's HOV lane. To me, it is 100 to 200 less hours of driving per year. My dream is broken. I am sticking with the hatchback.

  11. @John Briggs
    I actually love the "dismal" rear visibility. Yes, at first, it required some getting-used-to. However, the first time I drove the hatchback after sunset, I started to appreciate the fact that the spoiler blocked the headlights of the vehicle behind. I used to hate those annoying headlights from a tall vehicle of high beam. Now, it does not bother me anymore.

  12. I like this line from this review: "Just like a Prius, but less weird."

  13. 42 MPG is 9 MPG more than Jetta SportWagen TDI auto.

  14. To be fair, the Jetta SportWagen TDI has better highway MPG and the Prius V has better city MPG.

    As for other VW versus Toyota comparisons, my sister-in-law VW Jetta had constant problems from day one. A transmission that shifted so abruptly that I hurt my back, and was dead at 60,000 miles due to oil burning. A quick review of JD Power reveals, that she was not that only one.

  15. OH, but the Jetta had awesome handling, a beautiful interior, and a nice smooth ride. In short, a really nice car plaqued with reliability issues.

  16. @Dennis, yes, better mileage, sure, but at what cost? Are you going to account for the better acceleration, styling, interior, etc. of the VW? I lived in Japan for many years and respect the Prius, but for the mileage and great quality, you sacrifice with horrible styling (in my opinion), an inferior interior and possibly the worst electric power steering in the industry. Not just the Prius, either, Toyota just can't manage decent EPS, unlike Honda, VW and the other Germans, Ford and even GM lately.

  17. I do have to wonder why people complain about the mileage; at 16% worse than the Prius, that's not bad considering the added weight and worse aerodynamics. Anyone expecting 45 MPG for this is being unrealistic IMO. When Toyota announced this as a production vehicle, an engineer and I estimated 42 and 40 for the mileage. For the purpose, I think Toyota did well.

  18. @John B. I'd never claim that VW has equivalent quality to Toyota, for example, but I'm always amused at people who try to take more from the actual data than exists; JD Power's Initial Quality Study (IQS) is beyond a joke since it tracks quality for only three months. There's a three-year study of reliability that actually means something but is generally ignored. Of course, the data can't distinguish between a loose screw and an engine filled with sludge that creates a class-action issue like Toyota and the Camry. Add to that, the numbers have to multiplied by 100 just to make the numbers seem significant; with 1.42 defects per vehicle in a Prius versus 1.58 for car B (both numbers are examples only), the Prius is the winner, right?

  19. It's not that simple; the uselessness of JD Power's Initial Quality Study (IQS) is obvious, 90 days is meaningless. The 3-year study is much better, but is strangely ignored. Neither takes into account the degree of problem, either. A screw that may come loose in my A4 counts the same as the infamous Camry sludge problems 3-4 years ago, etc... Also, the statistical differences between OEMs has shrunk dramatically. Finally, the differences are so small that they need to be artifically multiplied by 100 to seem significant. Thus (made-up numbers, just examples) a Toyota with 1.43 defects per vehicles is better than Car B with 1.52. But, that's 9 more problems per 100 vehicles, so 91% see no difference at all. Repair costs don't count, either.

  20. What I really want to know is why Toyota won't build a Camry or Coralla wagon. Some makes still offer a wagon, but they are brands I would not buy. Bigger and less efficient vehicles make no sense, only more profit for the car companies. I had many compact sedan based wagons over the years and the Corolla wagons were teriffic. The Matrix and Pontiac Vibe were ugly and not space efficient. The new Prius wagon is OK, but too pricey and I do not want to deal with what to do when those batteries die.
    Toyota: Bring back the compact wagon!

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