The 2012 Toyota Prius V would appear to be what fuel-efficient drivers have been craving for many years: a Prius with more interior space for people and stuff, something like a station wagon or a minivan with a hybrid powertrain.
Finally, Toyota has delivered. While the company waffles continuously on what kind of a car it actually is, the EPA classifies it as a wagon, and so do we. It takes the basic Prius formula of a five-door liftback and extends the roof, lengthens the wheelbase, and turns it into a boxier--but still recognizably Prius--vehicle that is the first hybrid wagon.
And the all-important fuel economy ratings? The EPA says the 2012 Prius V gets 42 mpg on its combined cycle, meaning it's by far the most economical family vehicle on the market.
Though you may not realize it, the Prius V shares no sheetmetal with the Prius liftback. The square rear sets it apart, but from certain angles, you might still think it's a particularly vertical five-door hatchback. But the Prius wagon has just a single rear window in the tailgate, rather than the split two-piece window in the liftback.
Inside, Toyota has made the center console much more practical by replacing the "flying buttress" console with a traditional central bin-plus-elbow rest and a center stack that offers easy access to storage spaces on the tunnel. The dashboard resembles a standard Prius, with the Multi Information Display at the base of the windscreen offering icons, readings, symbols, and diagrams in a scattershot array across the width of its screen.
It's interior space that counts in a car like this, however. The Prius V has 34.3 cubic feet of cargo volume with the rear seat up--it slides, so that's in its rearmost position--and 40.2 cubic feet when it's slid all the way forward, according to the EPA. When the seats are folded, cargo space goes up to 67.3 cubic feet. To Toyota's credit, its rear seat not only folds down and splits 60/40, but also reclines from 15 to 40 degrees--a rarity in wagons--as well as sliding back and forth. The one oddity we found is that when it's folded down and slid forward, there's a well between the load-deck floor and the folded seat into which stuff falls easily.
On the road, the Prius V is just like the liftback but slightly larger and in some cases slightly slower. It uses the same 98-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, mated to the Hybrid Synergy Drive system that combines two motor-generators with a planetary gear set to make the car drive as though it had a continuously variable transmission or CVT. But because the Prius V is about 300 pounds heavier, it's a tad slower than the liftback, and consumes more fuel to push its larger self through space.
There are three trim levels for the 2012 Prius V, somewhat confusingly known as Two, Four, and Five. They match similar levels in the liftback, with a couple omitted. The base model is the Two, which includes fabric trimmed seats, automatic climate control, and a tilting and telescoping steering wheel as standard equipment
Moving up to the Four gets you a tilting-and-telescoping steering wheel with audio, climate controls in the steering wheel, Bluetooth pairing for mobile devices, and voice-activated navigation controls. It also includes navigation display and audio unit with a central 6.1-inch screen along with Toyota's Entune cloud-based infotainment system.
At the top of the trim-level pyramid, the Prius V Five provides power adjustable front seats--six ways with adjustable lumbar support for the driver, four ways for the passenger--that are heated and covered in SofTex fabric (lighter than leather). You also get a smart-key system, LED headlamps, 17-inch alloy 10-spoke wheels, and fog lamps. This is the only model the offers the option of the Advanced Technology Package, which bundles a panoramic moonroof with electric sunshades, an HDD navigation system, and radar-adaptive cruise control.
For more details, see the full review of the 2012 Toyota Prius V on our sister site, TheCarConnection.