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

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

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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