Toyota calls the Prius v wagon its "big Prius" because the car is built for carrying sizable loads while saving significant coin on fuel.

The lower-case "v" (for versatility, apparently) is the largest of Toyota's Prius fleet that includes the regular Prius and the subcompact Prius c hatchbacks. Together they form a hybrid juggernaut that, in marketing terms, is a "category killer" in that they crush all other competitors in the compact gasoline-electric segment.

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The Prius v first arrived for the 2012 model year and approximates the regular-size Prius hatch from the rear doors forward. But the v is 5.3 inches longer and two inches wider overall, three inches taller and is also stretched three inches between the front and rear wheels. 

With a squared-off rear end, the v can swallow 60-percent more of what-have-you with the split-folding back seat in place and 70 percent more when its folded flat. Putting it into perspective, that's nearly as much cargo volume as the Subaru Outback wagon and it's the primary reason why the Prius v gets tagged as mid-size, at least from a spatial standpoint.

Rear-seat passengers can also increase available legroom a few inches by adjusting the optional sliding and reclining function.

The rest of the interior is standard Prius, with all pertinent gauges centered atop the control panel. That positioning might take some getting used to, but at least the dials and the 6.1-inch touch-screen display are easy to read.

In support of its carryall mission, there are a myriad of small compartments throughout the v, including dual glove boxes, cargo-area storage spots and even an area beneath the rear seats for stashing umbrellas.

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The 2015 Prius v can be differentiated from 2012-'14 models primarily by a more prominent snout and bumper combo that extend well ahead of the upper grille. It's arguably not the wagon's most attractive feature, but it definitely makes it easier to spot in a crowd.

Getting away from the crowd is handled by the same hybrid powertrain that's found in the smaller hatchback. It consists of a 98-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and an electric motor that contributes 80-horsepower to the mix. The combined system output is 134 horses.

The motor is fed from a 650-volt nickel-metal-hydride battery located beneath the rear seat and torque is directed to the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

On initial startup, only the electric motor is at the ready, but the gas engine kicks in once the car begins to accelerate. The EV setting, which is one of four available driving modes, allows the Prius v to run for up to a mile using only the electric motor, as long as the battery pack is fully charged and the road is flat. 

Selecting the POWER setting provides extra mid-range oomph for passing or when heading uphill. In the NORMAL position, the Prius v is rated at 44 mpg in the city and 40 on the highway. That's less efficient than the hatchback's 51/48 numbers, however the v weighs about 270 pounds more (which means its slower) and isn't as aerodynamic as a regular Prius. 

At a $27,600 base price with destination charges, the base Prius v Two comes with climate control, fold-flat passenger seat and a backup camera along with the usual power accessories. Along with the sliding/reclining back seat, the v Three adds a navigation system, while the v Four and Five include heated front seats with power-adjustable driver's seat (the Five alone gets fog lights and 17-inch wheels, while other trims run with 16-inchers).

An optional Technology Package gets you a fixed panoramic moonroof, premium JBL audio package plus lane-departure warning and active cruise control that maintains a safe distance from the vehicle in front.

Ultimately, selecting the Prius v over the regular depends on whether you value cargo space over fuel economy. Given that both wagon and hatchback are plenty frugal, we know which Prius would get our vote.


What you should know: 2015 Toyota Prius v

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Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive mid-size wagon

Engines (hp): 1.8-liter DOHC I4 with electric motor (134, combined) 

Transmission: Continuously variable (CVT)

Market position: Toyota wasn't the first automaker to introduce hybrid technology to the masses, but it has been far and away the most successful with the Prius brand leading the way. 

Points: Wagon format combines practicality with fuel-efficiency; Hybrid performance is on the pokey side, but that's not why people get it; CVT is outdated compared with newer units that are better at mimicking conventional automatic transmissions; Cargo-carrying capacity is impressive; All-new Prius models are expected to roll out for 2017 model year.

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Safety Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; driver's knee airbag; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.

MPG (city/hwy)                                                                                                                              


By comparison

Ford C-Max

Base price: $25,000

Slightly smaller, but less costly and gutsier than Prius v. Plug-in available.

Nissan Leaf

Base price: $29,900

All-electric hatchback has plenty of pep and space for people and cargo.

Buick Encore

Base price: $25,000

Thrifty turbo engine plus luxury features make this small wagon appealing.