When you drive a wagon, you usually need the space.
And so it was with the 2012 Toyota Prius V, in which we hauled holiday gifts, heavy sagging boxes of old car magazines, furniture, and other life impedimentia over a 10-day, 650-mile test drive that spanned late December and early January.
It's a good hauler, with a more spacious rear seat and much larger load bay than the standard Prius five-door hatchback.
Rock-solid 40 mpg
And, to get the inevitable question out of the way, we averaged precisely 40.0 miles per gallon over the test period.
That's slightly lower than the EPA test figures, which are 44 mpg city, 40 mpg highway, for a combined rating of 42 mpg.
While that may appear notably lower than the 50-mpg combined rating for the hatchback Prius, assuming $4-per-gallon gasoline, the difference between the two cars would be only $15.25 every 1,000 miles. Moral of the story: It won't be a huge penalty to upsize to the Prius V wagon.
2012 Toyota Prius V hybrid wagon, test drive in Catskill Mountains, Jan 2012Enlarge Photo
Also, our route included quite a lot of hills and valleys throughout the rural parts of New York state, and more high-speed travel than around-town errand-running.
So we expected our mileage to be closer to the highway number than the combined figure--and it was.
Big loads, small power
We also loaded up the car with enough stuff over part of our run that it was noticeably slower in acceleration.
And that points out what's probably our major drawback with the Prius V hybrid wagon: Because it has the same powertrain as the hatchback, but is bigger and 300 pounds heavier, it feels slower and even less fun to drive.
MORE: 2012 Toyota Prius V Wagon: First Drive Review (May 2011)
The Prius V uses the same 98-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and Toyota Hybrid Synergy drive system as the hatchback, along with a very slightly reshaped nickel-metal-hydride battery pack mounted under the front of the load-deck floor.
That plus a pair of electric motor-generators creates an electronic continuously variable transmission that independently controls engine speed, engine and motor power delivery to the wheels, and regeneration to recharge the nickel-metal-hydride battery pack under the rear load deck.
2012 Toyota Prius V station wagon, Half Moon Bay, CA, May 2011Enlarge Photo
That means the 2012 Prius V gets around town fine, but offers little extra margin of acceleration when, say, it's heading up 2 or 3 miles of steep, rural two-lane road with two adults and hundreds of pounds of cargo in the rear.
The Prius wagon maintained its speed, but even with accelerator pedal flat on the floor, there just wasn't anything more there. Not a single additional mile per hour.
So with a growing line of pickup trucks and other vehicles behind us, we wound up the hill at a steady 58 mph until the road leveled out and we could return to the speed-limit-plus-10-mph customs of the area.
As long as we're grumbling, let's get some other complaints out of the way: