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 2012

2012 Toyota Prius V hybrid wagon, test drive in Catskill Mountains, Jan 2012

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 2011

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

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:

  • Combining cruise control with "Eco" mode is dangerous on hills: The Prius V slows down notably, as much as 10 to 15 mph, utterly failing to maintain a steady speed.
  • The radar-based adaptive cruise control slows the car abruptly as it registers a vehicle ahead; other makers' systems are far smoother.
  • The Prius V is notably sensitive to sidewinds, though as a tall, slab-sided car, we're not all that surprised.
  • The foot-pedal parking brake is not only 1970s technology but whacked us on the shins a couple of times as we shifted position; oh, for an electric brake with a small console switch.
  • The seat-heater switches are almost impossible to find, located invisibly at the front of the flat console tray.

2012 Toyota Prius V hybrid wagon, test drive in Catskill Mountains, Jan 2012

2012 Toyota Prius V hybrid wagon, test drive in Catskill Mountains, Jan 2012

On the other hand, the 2012 Prius V had a number of surprisingly good features and attributes:

  • Dual glove boxes, a deep center console, and multiple cupholders, trays, and cubbies provided lots of space for the oddments a family carries.
  • There's a quite a bit of hard plastic inside, but wave-pattern texturing and brushed silver accent trim work together to make it the right look for a Prius wagon
  • The front seats are comfortable and well-padded, and the driving position is higher than a sedan, for a better view of the road ahead.
  • The Bluetooth link worked with a brand-new Blackberry mobile device, which hasn't always been the case in test cars.

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

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

While it "looks like a Prius" and certainly drives like one, the Prius V wagon actually doesn't share a single body panel with the existing Prius hatchback. It's taller, wider, and has a longer wheelbase for better rear-seat room.

Its cargo volume with the rear seat up and pushed fully back is 34.3 cubic feet, or 40.2 cubic feet if you slide the rear seat as far forward as it will go. Folding down the seat back boosts cargo space to 67.3 cubic feet, according to the EPA.

Moving on up

In the end, the 2012 Toyota Prius V is likely to appeal to the growing number of Prius hatchback owners who like their cars, love their gas mileage, but need to move up to a larger and more capacious vehicle.

It's just one of several new models in the Prius line, including the 2012 Toyota Prius C compact hatchback and the Prius Plug-In Hybrid.

But given the frequency with which we're asked, "Why aren't there any  hybrid minivans or wagons?" we think Toyota will likely sell every Prius V it can make.

We do wonder a bit about sticker shock, though. While a base 2012 Prius Two hatchback starts at $24,000, our Prius V test car had a steeper sticker price of $36,555, including a mandatory $760 delivery fee.

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

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

That reflected a base price of $29,990 plus a whopping $5,580 for the Advanced Technology Package and a more reasonable $225 for a package of carpeted floor and trunk mats.

The Advanced Technology Package includes a panoramic moonroof, which we liked a lot, and an eight-speaker JBL AM-FM-XM-CD stereo system with HD Radio, a USB port, and advanced voice control via Bluetooth.

Its navigation system uses a 7-inch display screen and includes real-time traffic, weather, fuel prices, sports, and stock quotes, along with a 90-day SiriusXM satellite radio trial, and Toyota's Entune informatics service.

On the safety front, it packages a suite of electronic aids, including radar-based adaptive cruise control, an Advanced Parking Guidance system, a pre-collision system, and a backup camera that displays on the dash screen.

Three years of free Entune service are included free with the car. The package also includes Safety Connect, which packages roadside assistance, emergency and automatic collision notification, and stolen vehicle location, on a one-year trial basis.

But it seems likely that you won't be able to drive a Prius V wagon off the floor for much less than $32,000--perhaps $31,000 and change if you're lucky and find a low-spec model.

So we wonder: What cars exactly is the Prius V competing with, and how does its price stack up against those vehicles?


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