Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 7, 2013

Cargazing: Prius v is a bigger, family car

By Derek Price
CNHI News Service

---- — The American Automobile Association has a wonderfully useful website for calculating fuel cost for vacations.

As my family gets ready to load up our Ford minivan for an epic road-trip adventure this summer, FuelCostCalculator.com tells us we can expect to spend $704.76 on gasoline for the entire trip.

Ouch.

Out of curiosity, I plugged in the same numbers if I were driving this week’s test car, the Toyota Prius v, on the same trip. The cost? A much more palatable $272.30.

That’s the magic of the Prius v, a family-sized car that uses the same drivetrain as the regular ol’ Prius to achieve a remarkable 44-mpg rating in city driving and 40 mpg on the highway.

Granted, it’s definitely not minivan-sized. It has just two rows of seats like the Prius, but it has been stretched to allow for more cargo space and more leg room for long road trips.

It’s part of Toyota’s strategy of turning the famous Prius name into a whole family of ultra-efficient vehicles.

There’s the original Prius, of course, which is rated for 51 mpg in city driving. But there’s also the smaller Prius c that gets a 53-mpg city rating, and the electric plug-in Prius, which scores a 95 mpge rating.

The nice thing about the Prius v is that it’s the most practical member of the family. It’s the uncle who grows his own food, builds his own house and talks about work ethic all the time.

Cargo space is generous at 34.3 cubic feet, which is the most of any dedicated hybrid vehicle but not as much as some hybridized SUVs. It’s almost certainly the most of any vehicle that gets this kind of gas mileage.

The back seat is designed for comfort, with seats that recline to 45 degrees and slide for easy adjustment.

Like most Toyota products, it has a thoughtful design for many of the little things — like dual glove boxes, a huge center console with a utility tray, five cup holders, places to store bottles in the door and even a special place for storing umbrellas under the back seat.

Cargo space also has a smart layout. There are storage spaces built into the sides and underneath the cargo platform for keeping small items. The back seats easily fold flat for moving bulky items. And if you want to haul a piece of particularly long cargo, you can fold the front seat flat to make space for it.

From the driver’s seat, this car performs very much like the normal Prius. It doesn’t accelerate very quickly, and you can feel the car’s weight savings in a slightly choppy suspension. It’s obvious this is a car designed for saving fuel.

Inside, the Prius v has a predilection for sci-fi inspired gauges, a reminder of just how high-tech its drivetrain is. Gauges show you how power is being routed and when the battery is being charged with graphics that are nifty but visually busy. The whole look is more like Microsoft than Apple.

Pricing starts at $26,650 and ranges up to $30,295

Derek Price is an automotive columnist for CNHI News Service. Contact him at carcolumn@cnhi.com.