What it is: A hybrid wagon based on the familiar Prius chassis.
Base prices range from $26,400 to $29,990
Mileage ranges from 40 miles per gallon in the city to 44 miles per gallon on the highway.
What’s worth knowing: Toyota has capitalized on the popularity of its flagship hybrid by turning it into a “family” of vehicles. The Prius V (for versatility) is about six inches longer than the traditional Prius, with the added cargo space of a wagon and a bit more room for passengers to move around. The Prius lineup now includes the original liftback model, a plug-in variant that runs partly on electricity and will arrive early in 2012, the V wagon, and the forthcoming Prius c, an inexpensive subcompact.
Who it’s for: Eco-minded families willing to pay a bit extra for a vehicle, to reduce their carbon footprint.
What’s good: The Prius V feels a bit like a higher-riding crossover, with a deep storage bin in the center console and lots of other storage nooks. The rear seats recline and slide back and forth in two sections to allow for extra legroom or more cargo space behind the seats. With the rear seats folded down, the Prius V is roomy enough to haul small pieces of furniture or other bulky items—its main advantage over the traditional Prius liftback. The V also has a sleeker, more fetching design than its podlike progenitor.
What’s bad: Acceleration is weak, and handling uninspiring. Mileage is good, but the V’s combined rating of 42 MPG is 8 MPG lower than the traditional Prius, due mainly to the V’s largesr size and extra weight.
How it stacks up: There are no direct competitors to the Prius V, since it’s the only hybrid wagon on the market. The Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen is similar, though a bit smaller, and it comes in a turbodiesel model that gets combined mileage of 34 MPG, for a slightly lower starting price. There’s also a hybrid version of the Ford Escape SUV, but that’s an aging model due to be replaced soon. Conventional crossovers such as the Chevy Equinox, Toyota RAV4 or Kia Sportage may offer more for the money.
What to do if you want one: Since the Prius V is more expensive than similarly equipped gas-powered wagons and crossovers, do the math and figure out whether the higher mileage is worth the added up-front cost. When test-driving the V, be sure to hit a couple of highway on-ramps—and make sure you’re comfortable with the restrained acceleration.
Rick Newman is the Chief Business Correspondent for U.S. News & World Report and a longtime car buff. He covers corporate and consumer trends from the magazine's New York bureau. Rick is also the magazine's car reviewer and will be writing what he calls "micro-reviews" here on a regular basis, as well as writing about all things vehicular.
Follow Rick on Twitter, @rickjnewman.