Toyota’s wagon version of the popular Prius hybrid, called the Prius V, was introduced for the 2012 model year -- with more cargo space than most small SUVs and plenty of room for the young family.Prius V (for versatile) is an inch wider, six inches longer and three inches taller than the regular Prius hatchback, and can handle 60 percent more cargo.The rear seating area is very roomy, with seats that slide, recline and fold down in a 60/40 configuration. The front passenger seat also folds flat to accommodate extra-long cargo — Christmas tree, lumber or a ladder, for example. Rear cargo capacity is 34.3 cubic feet, expanding to 67.3 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded.The additional length and height also improve rear visibility, though the extra weight and less-aerodynamic shape do give it slightly lower fuel economy than the hatchback Prius. Even so, it has decent EPA ratings of 44 mpg city/40 highway/42 combined.For 2014, there are three trim levels — the V Two ($26,750), V Three ($27,515) and V Five ($30,395). Freight for all three models is an additional $860.My test vehicle was a Barcelona Red V Five model. With a majority of highway driving (in adverse weather conditions), I achieved 39 mpg overall.With the V, each higher level adds features not available on the previous one, and offers various options. They include a Preferred Accessory Package with a first aid kit, carpeted floor and cargo mats, and cargo net for $303, mud guards for $155, or a Preferred Accessory Package with carpeted floor and cargo mats, rear bumper appliqué and bumper protector, and cargo net for $343, for the Five model.For 2014, all models come with daytime running lights. Also, the Panoramic View moon roof, which previously was available only as part of the Advanced Technology Package on the Five, will now be offered as a stand-alone option on the Three model.There is also now a SofTex-trimmed steering wheel on the V Five model and a new Seaglass Pearl exterior color.Using the same drivetrain as the hatchback, the Prius V is powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine along with two electric motors, producing a combined 134 horsepower, distributed by a specialized continuously variable transmission (CVT).The larger Prius V feels more stable than the hatchback, thanks to its larger size and weight. The ride is smooth and comfortable, with a little bit of road noise — mostly when driving on wet roads. Pitch and Bounce Control, new last year, helps suppress bounce and toss motions to improve ride comfort and control, while also improving handling.The V has three driving modes, including Power mode to provide a little energy boost for merging or ascending steep grades. The frugal Eco mode cuts power to conserve energy, especially in stop-and-go city traffic. EV mode allows the vehicle to run on battery power alone at lower speeds up to one mile — on parking lots or neighborhood streets, for instance.In Eco model, acceleration from a dead stop was hesitant and disconcerting, though, especially when entering traffic from a side street. That’s not a problem in the Power mode. My Prius V Five had the Advanced Technology Package ($5,650) with lots of nice features: Advanced Parking Guidance, which guides the vehicle into a parking spot with little input from the driver using images on a screen and control buttons; Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, which adds an additional layer of speed control using radar technology located behind the grille to detect the speed and distance of the vehicle ahead; Panoramic View moon roof; and the Pre-Collision System, which helps to avoid or mitigate damage from a collision, with a warning buzzer, brake assist to increase braking force or full-on pre-crash braking.It also brought Safety Connect, which offers emergency assistance, stolen-vehicle locator, roadside assistance and automatic collision notification; tilt/telescopic steering wheel with audio controls; premium hard-disc-drive navigation with Entune and JBL audio, including a seven-inch touch/split screen with integrated backup-camera display, AM/FM CD player, MP3/WMA capability, eight JBL GreenEdge speakers, satellite radio and data services with traffic/weather/fuel/sports/stocks, HD radio with iTunes tagging/auxiliary audio jack/USB port, and hands-free phone. Entune includes Bing, iHeartRadio, MovieTickets.com, OpenTable and Pandora apps, with a three-year complimentary subscription, and is standard on V Three and V Five models. Bluetooth music streaming is standard on all three models.My Prius V came with 17-inch alloy wheels; Toyota’s Star Safety System with electronic stability control and traction control, antilock disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, and Smart Stop technology; front seat-mounted side air bags; side-curtain air bags for both rows, and a driver knee air bag; whiplash-injury lessening front seats; LATCH hookups for child seats (rear outboard seats); engine immobilizer; and tire-pressure monitoring.The resin moon roof with power sun shades provided an open feel, while reducing the weight of the roof by 40 percent compared with conventional glass roofs. The resin also provides excellent heat insulation, allowing the engine to run less to maintain comfortable interior temperatures.The hood and windshield slope up and back to the moon roof, giving the front of the vehicle an aerodynamic wedge shape, which then slopes down toward the integrated rear spoiler with center-mounted stop light.Prius V’s cabin is very user friendly, with large, clearly labeled controls and a conveniently located, if unconventional, shift lever on the center stack at steering-wheel level. "Park" is a separate button located above the shifter. There is a brake "gear" setting on the shifter to apply moderate engine braking while driving downhill.The climate controls consist of one dial on the lower center stack for all functions, with a digital display to indicate the desired function, such as temperature, fan speed and mode. The screen also displays the outside air temperature. Rear passengers have floor vents under the front seats.Control buttons for the navigation and audio systems are easy to use and intuitive. The touch/split screen displays navigation on one side and a choice of audio information, fuel economy, turn-by-turn directions and more on the other side.There is plenty of storage in the form of a large, two-tiered glove box for much more than the owner’s manual. The top compartment has a level bottom, ideal for drive-thru food or electronic toys. Additional storage is found under the center console/armrest with a lift-out shelf and a deep, open lined tray with a narrow integrated pocket below the center stack. Above the pocket are the controls for the heated front seats, a 12-volt outlet and a USB/auxiliary port. There is one cupholder on the armrest, one under the armrest that pops out into the deep tray, two on the rear of the console, and one pop-out cupholder to the right of the dash. All four doors have bottle holders and speakers.My tester had a few other extras, such as a rear bumper protector for $89, factory wheel locks for $49, a cargo net for $69 and carpeted floor mats and trunk mat for $399. A cargo cover was stored under the cargo floor, out of the way but ready when needed.The cabin was plain but comfortable for all passengers, with plenty of head-and legroom, although the rear bench seat didn’t offer much side or back support.On my vehicle, the interior was dark gray, with the SofTex seats. SofTex is Toyota’s eco-friendly substitute for leather.Total delivered price for my Prius V Five, including freight and options, was $37,511.
The automotive columns of Emma Jayne Williams appear weekly in the Star-Telegram. Contact her at email@example.com.