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Road Test: Big, versatile Prius V

The 2012 Prius V is 6 inches longer,

The 2012 Prius V is 6 inches longer, 3 inches taller and 1 inch wider than the original Prius hatchback. Credit: MCT

If you go and check out this elongated, minivan-like Prius -- the "V" -- please don't ask to see the Prius "Five" (as in the Roman numeral V). That was my first thought, too. It's "V" as in versatile, voluminous and very nice.

This all-new model for 2012 is for those who like the Prius, worry about our carbon footprint, but just need a bigger, more functional vehicle for the kids and all their stuff.

The V is based on the regular Prius hatchback, gets nearly the same mileage, but -- wait for it -- gets 60 percent more cargo space.

Toyota made this guy 6 inches longer, 3 inches taller and 1 inch wider. That translates to more head room and leg room for folks in the front and those in the rear seats, and 34 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats. Loading for a long weekend was a breeze with all that space.

Toyota's Entune system is also cool and functional -- connect your phone via Bluetooth and check out sports scores, movie tickets or traffic information.

Now let's talk mileage. The Environmental Protection Agency gives the Prius V a very generous 44 mpg around town, 40 on the highway. Remember, city driving derives some benefit from the battery. A combined figure of 42 doesn't quite match the regular Prius at 50, but it's good enough to lead the class.

The V is powered by a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder gas engine coupled with a 60 kw electric motor. Together they send 134 hp of power to the front wheels, all managed by a continuously variable transmission.

It's the same powerplant as the Prius, so due to the difference in size and weight the V is a little sluggish. Thinking of passing? Ah, better to wait till you have plenty of room. And don't do it on an upgrade.

Still, overall driving performance is pleasant and satisfactory. Once on the highway, it offers a smooth, stable and comfortable ride.

When it comes to safety, the V includes ABS, traction and stability control as standard. Same with front side air bags, side curtain and driver knee bags.

The Prius remains king of the road among hybrids. If you want sexy and more nimble handling, seek out some of the economical non-hybrids like Honda's CR-V or the Mazda5. But if you want bragging rights to the fuel-economy champion, V is for victory.






BASE PRICE: $27,160


EPA FUEL ECONOMY RATING: 44 mpg city/40 mpg highway

ENGINE: 1.8-liter 4-cylinder gas engine coupled with 60 kw electric motor

POWER: 134 horespower

LUGGAGE CAPACITY: 34 cubic feet; 68 cubic feet with seats folded

LENGTH: 176.4 inches

WIDTH: 68.7 inches

HEIGHT: 58.7 inches

BOTTOM LINE: For families who want to save on gas, it's "V" for victory.

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