As a former 2006 and current 2010 Prius owner, I've come to appreciate and depend upon the versatility that the Prius' hatchback design provides. But recent road trips with our new baby daughter, our dog, and all of the extra space-taking items had me looking at options outside of the Prius. Then in January, Toyota revealed the 2012 Prius v (pronounced vee), the first addition to the growing Prius family. More cargo space? Check. More passenger space? Check check. 44 City / 40 Highway MPG? Checkmate. The Prius v specs show a lot of promise and is a potential game-changer for families who had been previously forced to move to an SUV. But does the Prius v deliver on that promise? Is it able to live up to or improve upon the Prius experience? Find out by reading the full review below. Exterior One of the first things you notice about the Prius v is that it looks a lot like the "liftback" 3rd Generation Prius that was introduced as a 2010 model. In a respectful nod to the v's predecessors, from the front the v actually looks like a mash-up between the 2nd Generation Prius and the 3rd Generation Prius. I wouldn't be surprised if we see a similar front end when the Prius gets a mid-cycle refresh in a year or two. The roofline is also very similar in shape to the Prius liftback, but is obviously taller and longer to create the larger passenger and cargo areas. With similar side panels to the Prius, for the most part the Prius v really looks like someone stretched the 3rd Gen Prius and then refreshed the exterior. Aerodynamics Chief Engineer Hiroshi Kayukawa said, "In order to accomplish the outstanding fuel economy that these buyers felt was missing in their current small SUVs and midsize wagons, I knew I must focus on two key areas: aerodynamics and weight reduction." A 0.29 coefficient of drag (Cd) was achieved by enhancing the Aero Corners introduced on the Gen 3 Prius, slightly changing the contour of the hood, and adding a large rear spoiler with a special aerodynamic cut-in at the center of the spoiler to direct airflow. The Prius v also features the extensive underbody covers found in the G3 Prius in order to reduce under-floor Cd. The headlamps even have "fins" to direct airflow around the rearview mirrors. All of these features allow the Prius v to only have a Cd 0.04 greater than that of the Prius, which at 0.25 is one of the lowest of any production car in the world. The real story on the Prius v is the increase in physical size and footprint over the 3rd Generation Prius. The Prius v increases its wheelbase 3 inches over the 3G Prius to 109.4 inches in total, adds a total of 6 inches to the overall length (181.7 total), 1.1 inches in width (69.9 total), and 3.3 inches in height (62 total). At first glance, these numbers may not seem like a significant change, since, from the exterior the Prius v is not an imposing vehicle by any means and barely looks larger than the Prius. But, the numbers make a huge difference in the interior of the vehicle, and in the ride quality of the Prius v, which you can read more about below. Wheels The Prius v comes with 16-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels with wheel covers in two of the equipment levels, and 17-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels with the third (and highest) equipment level. I drove both sets of wheels and didn't notice a huge difference in ride quality between them. Lighting The headlamps in the 2012 Prius v are very similar to the ones found in the Gen 3 Prius, and buyers will have the ability to get LED headlights in the top-end Prius v Five package. The pre-production models I drove at the media preview all had Daytime Running Lights as an option on the headlight stalk, but I have not received confirmation that DRLs will be a standard feature in the Prius v. For those who aren't fans of DRLs, there was a software setting in the Prius v's MFD to disable the them. Edit: Just found out from a Toyota rep that the DRLs are not bound for the US. So... I hope you aren't a fan of DRLs. Colors If you like the color options currently available for the 3rd Generation Prius, then you'll most likely enjoy the exterior color options available for the Prius v. Here is the list: Blizzard Pearl (070) Classic Silver Metallic (1F7) Magnetic Gray Metallic (1G3) - color from the 2006-2009 Prius, but not currently available on the 3rd Generation Prius Black (202) Barcelona Red Metallic (3R3) Clear Sky Metallic (787) - Brand new color. Like a light blue/silver mix Blue Ribbon Metallic (8T5) Interior The Cockpit The waterfall center console introduced in the 3rd Generation Prius is a polarizing feature - people either love it or absolutely hate it. I personally like it, but as soon as I sat down in the Prius v I didn't miss it at all and could instantly understand why it was not carried over. The Prius v's center console, like many other features on the v, looks like a perfect compromise between the 2nd and 3rd Gen Prius' console. The shifter, Park button, and "Power" button have moved back up to the dash area, and the Mode buttons (EV, ECO, and PWR) have been moved to the center armrest. The gear shifter is skinnier on the Prius v, the Power button has been colored blue like we've seen on the Prius Plug-In prototypes, and the Park button is now a silver color to fade into the background with the rest of that part of the console. Like the 3rd Generation Prius, the climate controls have been separated from the MFD screen, which helps in making quick changes to the A/C temperature and fan speed. The Prius v gets a new single dial climate system that controls temperature, fan speed, and mode all in one dial. In normal driving use I found it easy enough to change around the temperature and fan speeds after a minute of familiarizing myself with the system. The new, blue backlit climate display with white text is much easier to read than the 3rd Gen Prius' system. The Prius v also finally moves the AUX audio jack and USB port to a more accessible spot under the center console, and there's a nifty slot to hold your phone or iPod while you're on the move. The Driver's Seat The 3rd Generation Prius' seats are a great improvement over the 2nd Gen's, but they are still not the greatest in the world. The bottom seat portion of the Prius v was improved upon by adding more sidewall support, and that translates into a more comfortable ride in combination with the Prius v's suspension. The next-generation seat frame features a resigned shape that is supposed to reduce fatigue for those long road trips that Toyota anticipates Prius v families with be taking. Power lumbar support is now standard on all Prius v equipment levels. The front seating area felt roomy while I was driving the v around, but I didn't realize how roomy until I got home and drove my 2010 Prius. Toyota says there was only 1 inch added in Shoulder and Hip room in the Prius v over the Prius liftback, but the impact of that inch is significant. It made the seating area feel upgraded from midsize to full-size, though the v's Shoulder room is still almost 2 inches less than the Camry. It is also worth noting that the front passenger's seat folds back to create a continuously flat cargo space front to rear. Unfortunately, the driver's area also features two of my biggest gripes with the Prius v, though they are easily remedied if Toyota wants. When the Prius v comes as a model Five (more on the models below), it comes with a leather-like material called Softex. However, it still comes with the standard polyurethane-wrapped steering wheel instead of a Softex-wrapped one. Both my 2006 and 2010 Prii have had leather-wrapped steering wheels and the difference when sitting down in what will be the most costly Prius v is apparent. The polyurethane steering wheel feels cheap when the rest of the car features synthetic-leather appointments. The same is true with the Prius v's center armrest. It is covered with a black fabric even when you opt for the Prius v Five, and stands out sorely amongst the Softex's leather-like interior because it is literally the only thing covered in fabric. Hopefully those two elements can be changed for production. The steering wheel decision was one made by Toyota Motor Sales USA; Japan and Europe will be getting premium steering wheel wrappings. Instrument Cluster Another new Prius, another new instrument cluster. What Toyota calls the "Combination Meter" has been moved to the center of the dash, which elicits different responses. I personally like it, but my co-driver for the day, What Drives Us' Russell Frost couldn't stand it. Toyota says that the design helps keep the driver's eye on the road, though you could just as easily argue that the designer's wife wanted to be able to see how fast he was driving. There are many enhancements over the 3rd Gen Prius' instrument cluster. One of the first things you notice is all of the different colors. Dave Lee from University of Toyota pointed out during his technical presentation that the colors help the driver find important information quickly. The MID (Multi-Information Display) from the 3rd Gen Prius is basically gone and has been replaced by a more basic Hybrid System Indicator (HSI) to show feedback on how your driving is currently affecting your MPG. Making the HSI a basic meter didn't bother me much once I got behind the wheel and started using it. One thing I absolutely love about the new HSI is that it has a white "EV" light that shows up if the ICE has shut off, giving the driver an idea of how often the engine is shutting off during normal driving. It is a fantastic, simple addition and one that I can't believe wasn't added (or demanded) sooner. The trip information area provides an odometer, approximate cruising range, instant MPG (Finally!), and MPG for that trip. You also still get a SOC (State of Charge) battery indicator in the Combination Meter. So by now you're saying to yourself "What?!? Where is all of my Prius MPG information goodness?" Good news, the Fuel Economy information has moved back to the Multi-Function Display (MFD) since all Prius v models come with a large LCD screen. The Trip Information screen is back and comes with the standard timeline graph of your fuel economy over the last 15 minutes, along with the addition of displays showing Average Speed, Elapsed Time since you last reset, and Cruising Range. The little Prius leaf cars that previously showed how much energy you had regenerated have now been replaced by green "E"s. The MFD also has the Energy screen from the 2nd Generation Prius, but it has been updated to take advantage of the higher resolution of the screens in the Prius v. The Touch Tracer system that helped you see what button you were about to press on the steering wheel has been removed, but I didn't miss it too much during my time driving. The steering wheel button configuration is different, so any current Prius owners moving up to the Prius v will require a little re-education, but it is certainly not a big deal. The Rear Passenger Compartment When Toyota began designing a car that is supposed to keep young families from moving to an SUV or even a minivan, the rear passenger compartment became a point of emphasis. As I sat down in the backseat to get a feel for the space, Chief Engineer Kayukawa was quick to point out all of the design features for couples with young children. The rear seats slide forward like in a minivan, and one of the great benefits of this feature is that a parent can slide their child's baby seat or car seat up to be easily within arm's reach. The front center armrest was even redesigned to open to the driver's seat with hinges on the right instead of how the Prius' armrest opens toward the rear with the hinge on the backside. Not only that, the buttons to open the armrest are accessible from both the driver's seat and the seat behind the driver. This way a parent can have access to any child-related items stored in the center armrest (wipes, tissues, etc). The rear seating area increased Shoulder Room by 2.1 inches and Hip Room by 2.3 inches, so the space in the 2nd row has greatly increased. The extra room will lead to added comfort for rear passengers, but another source of comfort will be the recline feature. The rear seats recline between 17 and 45 degrees, a great attribute in a car designed for road trips. The head room in the Prius v has also been increased by an inch in both the front and rear passenger compartments. I'd like to come out and say that I am, in the end, happy that Toyota is not offering a 3rd row, 7-seat configuration for the US market as they are in Europe and Japan. Toyota's small SUV that offers a 3rd row, the RAV4, only sells 5% of those models with the optional 3rd row seat. Offering the 3rd row here in the US would have potentially hurt fuel economy numbers and added to the overall price of the Prius v. In America, if you need 3 rows of seats you most likely need cargo space in addition to those 7 seats. The Prius v would not have been able to provide both and I don't think it would have even reached the 5% sales rate of the RAV4 3rd row configuration. Cargo Area One of the things people adore about the Prius is the fact that you can fit lots of stuff in it thanks to the utility of the hatchback design. If you love the cargo space in the Prius, you're gonna ask the Prius v to marry you. The cargo area in the Prius v can be easily summed up by a few statistics. With 34.3 cubic feet of cargo volume, it is 58% larger than the 3rd Generation Prius. The Prius v has a larger cargo capacity than 80% of small SUVs, including the Chevy Equinox, Honda Element, Ford Escape, Nissan Rogue, and Hyundai Santa Fe. It's big. Huge. Then when you slide the rear seats forward you gain almost another 6 cubic feet of space. Need more than 40 cubic feet of space? Simply pull up the handle and the seats, complete with hard plastic backings, spring down flat. That brings your available cargo volume up to 67.3 cubic feet. Did I forget to mention that behind the seats there is a built-in umbrella tray that can hold a full-size golf umbrella? Yeah, the engineers had some extra room so they decided to design something to utilize that space. Toyota had tables full of props to load into the back of the Prius v - groceries, a cooler, a tray of flowers, a bag of soil, luggage, etc. With the rear seats upright, I decided to see how many of the items I could fit in the v. So with the help of many Toyota employees, including the Chief and Assistant Chief Engineer, I loaded every item they had available in the back of the v. Everything fit and I could have put down the rear seats to toss in the two golf club bags they had sitting around. One of the reasons many people have had to look over the Prius in the past is because of the need for additional cargo space. The Prius v opens up a whole new market of Prius buyers for Toyota. There are 2 small issues that I have with the Prius v cargo area. First, the lighting in the cargo area is completely inadequate. Instead of adding a dome light over the cargo area or at least adding a 2nd smaller light in the cut-in, Toyota decided to stick with the single map-sized light in the left cut-in. I have thought that this small light did not provide adequate lighting in the Prius since I bought my 2006, and it was not improved in the 3rd Generation Prius. With such a large cargo space, lighting can be important when loading or unloading at night, so I was disappointed to see that no lights had been added. An overhead hook to hang a flashlight or lantern would have even been useful. The 2nd issue has to do with the actual rear liftback door. My left-handed wife really appreciated Toyota adding to the 3rd Generation Prius a handle on the left in addition to the existing one on the right from the 2nd Gen Prius. Two handles really make the 3rd Gen Prius' hatch easy to close. Unfortunately, the design has gone back to a single handle on the right side. I am really nitpicking at this point, but these were the very first two things I wrote down on my notepad as initial impressions. Audio System I'll write-up a more in-depth piece on Toyota's new Entune system soon, but Toyota's new audio systems are definitely worth covering even without mentioning Entune. The Prius v will come base configured with what they call the Display Audio system. It is a 6.1" touch screen audio system with integrated backup camera, single CD player with MP3/WMA playback, AUX jack, USB port with iPod integration, Bluetooth audio and hands-free phone capabilities. No XM Radio option on the base audio system. The Prius v Three adds Navigation, Entune, XM Radio, and HD Radio. The Prius v Five upgrades the audio system to the Premium Navigation system with Entune and JBL. That includes a 7-inch higher-resolution screen, Denso's next generation navigation system (hard drive based), and JBL GreenEdge Technology. The GreenEdge Technology system from JBL includes a new amplifier that puts out 600 equivalent watts of power, but only uses 120 watts. It weighs one-third less than the current Prius system, and reduces power consumption by 50%. Overall, all of the audio systems sound pretty good, though I probably listened more to the Premium Navigation system in the Prius v Five. The JBL system on the Premium Navigation system sounded great. The screen on the Premium Navigation is definitely a resolution upgrade, and it includes a few nice features like a split-screen navigation screen. The current Prius navigation system can split the navigation screen between two map views, or one map view and one view showing upcoming interstate exits. This new system in the Prius v can split that navigation screen into half map view, half audio view… Or, half map view, half energy consumption view… on and on… It's a really nice feature; I'm sure once you play around with it enough to set it exactly how you want, it will prove to be handy. The LCD screens that come with the Display Audio systems are of a fairly low resolution, though, and that is disappointing. It almost makes the Navigation and Entune features not worth using. Text on the maps is hard to read, images look ugly, etc. When a company like Barnes & Noble can sell a 7-inch e-reader with a beautiful, high-res screen for $299, I don't see any reason why Toyota can't up their screen technology without breaking the bank. All that said, it is a step forward for Toyota and small things like on-screen album art are a welcome addition to a Toyota audio lineup that was quickly starting to fall behind the competition. As I said above, I'll write a full write-up on Toyota's new Entune system soon, but I will say that as it stands now I am ambivalent toward the service, but lean towards being disappointed in the quality of the audio offerings. Driving The most important thing you do in a car is, obviously, drive. Toyota tweaked the Prius v's HSD system and suspension, and even developed a new system to make the ride smoother. Read about them all below. Hybrid Synergy Drive Not too much has changed in the HSD system that was adapted directly from the 3rd Gen Prius. The Ni-MH Prius battery is basically bulletproof at this point, and the v's engineers found a way to make the battery a little more compact to increase cargo volume. The cool air intake has been moved beneath the rear seat where it would be next to impossible for anything to block it, keeping that precious cool air from going into the battery compartment. Both MG1 and MG2 are liquid-cooled in the Prius v's hybrid system, and the exhaust heat recirculation system introduced in the 2010 Prius, used to heat the engine coolant, has a newly designed heat exchanger. The new heat exchanger reduces the time for coolant to reach operating temperature by a full minute. What does that mean? The EHR system shortens the time between when the engine begins warming up until the gas engine can shut back down. That means that you can start getting better gas mileage sooner. There has been a lot of negative discussion regarding Toyota's decision to use a lithium-ion battery in Europe and Japan, but not here in the US. I'd like to thank Toyota for not putting the Li-ion battery pack in the US package. According to the top engineers on the Prius v project, the lithium battery was only used in the European and Japanese 7-seater configurations of the Prius v (Prius+ in Europe and Prius Alpha in Japan) because of the need for the space created by lithium's smaller footprint. The lithium pack does not provide any greater efficiency and the only thing it would add to the Prius v would be cost. Performance & Handling For a vehicle that is 300 lbs heavier than the Prius, the Prius v still performs admirably well. The Prius v is about a half second slower off the line than the 3rd Gen Prius, going 0-60 in 10.4 seconds compared to the 3G Prius' 9.8. The only time a driver will really notice a difference in performance is when accelerating from the 60-70 mph range. That is the range in which all of the changes the v's engineers made to make the car more efficient at highway speeds start to kick in. I still did not experience any feelings of worry over the v's performance and found it more than adequate in every situation I put it in. That was actually pretty surprising, since I was worried that the v would be a slowpoke on the open road. Not the case. The handling and suspension of the Prius v were the most surprising part of the entire drive for me. I like my 2010 Prius a lot, but I can acknowledge that it is not a vehicle built to ride in for extended periods of time. The Prius v is going to be competing against SUVs and minivans built for long drives, so the ride quality was obviously a focus during its engineering. The Prius v's increased wheel track and suspension performance certainly help, but the real star of the Prius v's ride is the Pitch and Bounce Control system. The Pitch and Bounce Control modifies the torque of the hybrid motor in accordance with the harshness of the road surface to suppress vehicle pitching and bouncing, thus enhancing ride stability. Combine the suspension improvements with the front seat redesign and you have a vehicle that is very comfortable to drive for extended periods. The Prius v even performed quite well on the windy canyon roads around Half Moon Bay. The vehicle never slid out of my control, and the VSC (which many Prius enthusiasts hate) actually works really well in a car this size without overpowering what the driver is trying to accomplish. The VSC seems to work with, instead of against, the driver in the Prius v. A lot of people will be interested in hearing some MPG numbers. It is difficult to obtain any real-world MPG numbers at many of these media events for a couple of reasons: 1) you are putting the car through the paces, driving it at extremes to get a feel for the abilities of the vehicle, and 2) the terrain of the pre-set routes does not offer real-world driving experiences. When I was driving mostly on hilly terrain at speeds that varied from 35 to 70 mph, I averaged 38 MPG. Not bad for driving at full throttle most of the time. When I did spend some time on the interstate, I averaged over 42 MPG at 70 miles per hour. Hopefully I'll get some extended time in the Prius v in the near future here in my hometown of Charlotte so that I can more directly compare the Prius v to my 2010 Prius. Prius v Models The Prius v models are named (numbered?) to try and correspond with the 3rd Gen Prius model packaging. Prius v Two This is the standard build and comes with features like the Display Audio system, backup camera, Smart Key System on the driver's door only, and Push Button Start. Prius v Three The Three adds Navigation and Entune to the Display Audio system, XM Radio and HD Radio. No other differences between the Two and Three Prius v Five The Five swaps out the standard 16-inch wheels for 17-inch wheels, adds SofTex (a synthetic leather) to the seats, heated front seats, LED headlamps with auto-on/off feature, fog lamps, three door Smart Key System, auto-dimming rearview mirror with Homelink. You can also add the Advanced Technology Package to the Prius v Five as an option. That option package includes: Premium HDD Navigation with Entune* and JBL® includes: seven-inch touch/split-screen with integrated backup camera display, AM/FM CD player with MP3/WMA playback capability, eight JBL GreenEdgeTM speakers with amplifier, SiriusXM Satellite Radio (includes 90-day trial subscription) and SiriusXM Data Services (includes three-year trial subscription) with NavTraffic®, NavWeatherTM, Fuel and Sports and Stocks; HD Radio with iTunes Tagging, auxiliary audio jack, USB port with iPod connectivity and control, vehicle information, hands-free phone capability, phone book access, advanced voice recognition, text to voice with programmed and customizable text responses, and music streaming via Bluetooth wireless technology. (Prius v Five only) Entune* - includes Bing, iheartradio, MovieTickets.com, Open Table and Pandora. All Entune features are included in three years of access to Entune Services. Tilt/telescopic steering wheel with audio, climate, Bluetooth® hands-free phone, voice-activated navigation and Dynamic Radar Cruise (DRCC) controls Panoramic View Moonroof with Power Sunshades Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC), Pre-Collision System (PCS), Advanced Parking Guidance System (APGS) Safety ConnectTM includes Emergency Assistance, Stolen Vehicle Locator, Roadside Assistance and Automatic Collision Notification. Available by subscription. (Complimentary one-year trial subscription) Conclusions I couldn't walk away from the Prius v without thinking that Toyota had successfully taken what works well in the 3rd Generation Prius, taken out what doesn't work so well, tossed back in some features from the 2nd Gen Prius that are missed in the 3G Prius, and then thrown some hybrid growth hormone into the fuel tank to add a few inches here and there. The result is a vehicle that will consistently get at least 40 MPG on the highway and probably higher than the advertised 44 MPG in the city. The basic Prius v is outfitted better than the basic 3rd Gen Prius, and with an anticipated $3,000 premium over the "average Prius transaction price" (according to Toyota's Bob Carter), the Prius v will almost certainly be priced competitively with other comparable wagons and small SUVs. The high-end Prius v Five provides access to a great Advanced Technology option package that includes a beautiful resin Panoramic moon roof. While Toyota anticipates sales of the Prius v adding 15-20% to Prius sales, I think that outlook of 3,000 sales a month is underestimating it and I won't be surprised to see it add 25% sales to the Prius family by the end of the first full year on the market. Toyota figures the v will pull in new buyers to the Prius family, but existing Prius owners would do themselves a disservice to not look at the Prius v if they look to add or replace a larger vehicle in the future. I loved the idea of a Prius family, but wondered if lightning could strike twice for Toyota after the huge success of the Prius. Apparently Toyota has found lightning in a bottle, because the Prius v is everything it should be without leaving behind its Prius roots.