For those who want to combine the low-emissions, high-fuel-economy attributes of the Toyota Prius with the cargo-carrying capabilities of a crossover utility vehicle, the Prius V might be the answer.This variation of the Prius, which arrived last year, is a larger, more family-friendly version of Toyota’s groundbreaking gasoline-electric hybrid.For 2014, prices begin at $26,750 (plus $860 freight) for the base V Two model; $27,515 for the midlevel V Three; and $30,395 for the top-of-the-line V Five, which we tested for this report.The V is one of four models that now carry the Prius name. Besides the regular Prius hatchback, the others are the compact Prius C and the plug-in version of the regular hatchback, which can be recharged by an external power source and can operate exclusively on battery power.Toyota added these new models to create a family of vehicles under the Prius name, making it a sub-brand of hybrid-only models. These variations share many of the attributes of the regular Prius, which is now in its third generation.The “V” in the name of the crossover Prius stands for “versatility,” not the Roman numeral “5,” contrary to what some dealers have been telling customers. It can get confusing because the top-end model is the Prius V Five.Just like its regular Prius hatchback sibling, the Prius V seats up to five people comfortably. But it has 58 percent more cargo space, for a total of 34.3 cubic feet. That’s more cargo area than you’ll find in most of the other small SUVs on the market.The EPA classification is “midsize station wagon,” and it looks quite similar to the Prius hatchback except that the rear end is squared off like that of an SUV. It’s 6.1 inches longer than the regular Prius, and weighs 232 pounds more.Toyota has a midsize hybrid crossover, the Highlander, but it’s a bit larger and can be outfitted with a third row, giving it a capacity of up to seven passengers. The Prius V competes in the compact crossover class, where the only other hybrid is the Ford C-Max, which starts at just over $25,000.The V has the same drive system as the regular Prius, but because it’s heavier and boxier, it isn’t as fuel-efficient. EPA ratings are 44 mpg city/40 highway/42 combined, compared with 51/48/50 for the Prius hatchback. Ford recently revised the EPA ratings of the C-Max, which are now published as 45 mpg city/40 highway.Under the hood of the V is a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder, 98-horsepower Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine, connected to a continuously variable automatic transmission. The car has two high-output electric motors, including an 80-horsepower unit that helps drive the car, and a separate, smaller one that starts the engine and also serves as a generator to recharge the nickel-metal-hydride battery pack.With the gasoline engine and larger motor working together, the car has a total of 134 horsepower (not all of the engine and motor horsepower is available at the same time). Top speed is 103 mph, and the V can go from zero-60 mph in 10.4 seconds.The V can run on either the engine or the electric motor alone (for very short distances), or a mix of the two. A computer controller manages the drive system, and it uses both automatic engine start/stop and regenerative braking to conserve fuel. Regenerative braking converts the car’s rolling inertia into electric power to recharge the battery when the vehicle is decelerating.Drivers can choose among four driving modes – standard, Eco, EV and Power. In the EV mode, the V can go up to a mile on battery power alone, at speeds up to about 25 mph. This is good for stop-and-go, low-speed driving in downtown city traffic. Power mode uses more gasoline, but can more-easily handle hills and make faster starts.In our test, we found the V’s power to be quite sufficient, even for uphill freeway ramps. It easily cruises at 75 mph (or more, if you dare) on the highway, and has plenty of zip while moving through traffic.You can push it, but I left it in the Eco mode to save fuel. The whole idea of these hybrids is to boost fuel economy, and driving the car aggressively would no doubt lower its gas mileage significantly. During my test, I averaged just under 40 mpg, but the bulk of my driving was on the highway.In the Eco mode, fuel economy is maximized, allowing the car’s onboard computer to take care of “hypermiling” chores automatically, as long as the driver lets it. This mode also limits air-conditioner output, so it might not be the best choice on the hottest Texas summer days.The standard rear roof spoiler is intended to improve airflow, which reduces drag and helps save fuel. The car has a 0.29 coefficient of drag, which is on par with many sports cars.Standard on all three V models is an audio system with a 6.1-inch display screen and backup-camera system; Bluetooth phone connection and audio streaming; USB port for connecting external audio players; 16-inch alloy wheels with wheel covers; single-dial automatic climate control; a driver’s door Smart Key system; 60/40 split sliding/reclining back seat; and power lumbar support for the driver’s seat.I kept an iPhone hooked up to the audio system to provide my own music, and I was able to select songs and playlists from the dash screen.Other amenities include electric air conditioning, keyless pushbutton start, an electronic transmission shift lever, and power windows/mirrors/door locks with remote.For the extra money, the V Three model adds navigation and the Entune multimedia system with satellite and HD radio, along with iTunes tagging. Entune includes Bing and Pandora, as well as real-time traffic, weather, fuel prices, sports and stocks. It also has text-to-speech capabilities.Our V Five had most of the V Three features, along with heated front seats, premium SofTex upholstery, a three-door Smart Key system, 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, and fog lights.SofTex, a new plastic material that weighs half as much as leather, is designed to resist stains and spills, and to take the kind of abuse that comes from having kids in the car. It’s also easier to clean.The V’s cargo area expands substantially by folding down the rear seatback, and the front seatback can be leaned forward to accommodate longer items, such as skis.Rear passengers have a higher seating position than in the Prius hatchback, making the cabin more like that of an SUV.Up front there are bucket seats; there is a three-person bench in the rear, but the middle position is tight for adults or bigger kids. The rear seat slides back and forth, and the back reclines up to 45 degrees.A plastic panoramic moon roof came on our car as part of the Advanced Technology Package ($5,650), which also added lots of other stuff, including adaptive cruise control. The moon roof covers the front and rear seats, and has power-retractable sunshades. The plastic makes it 40 percent lighter than a comparably sized glass roof, Toyota says.Other extras in the tech package included an advanced parking-guidance system that can parallel-park the car on its own, a very cool feature that first appeared on a Lexus model a few years ago.Also in the tech package were such items as a premium JBL audio/navigation system with a seven-inch color touch screen, eight speakers, a backup camera system, HD radio, and more. It comes with Toyota’s new Entune connectivity system that brings Internet apps such as Bing and iHeart Radio to the vehicle by subscription.Standard safety features for the V include front seat-mounted side air bags, roof-mounted side-curtain bags for both rows, four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, and an energy-absorbing body structure with impact beams and leg-absorption pads.The car also comes with a front seat designed to help reduce whiplash injuries; electronic stability control with traction control; and Toyota’s new Smart Stop brake-override system.Several storage areas are provided throughout the cabin, including dual glove boxes, a center console with a utility tray, and five cupholders. There are bottle holders in the front and rear door pockets, and most versions have an overhead storage bin, suitable for sunglasses or other small items.There are storage bins built into the sides of the cargo area and under the cargo floor. There is even a space for umbrellas under the second row of seats.To load the cargo area, the rear hatch rises in one piece. It isn’t powered, but it’s fairly light and easy to handle.Our tester also had a carpet and trunk mat set ($399), rear bumper connector ($89), cargo net ($69), and factory wheel locks ($49).Total sticker price of our Prius V Five model was $36,905, including freight and options.
The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.