2012 Toyota Prius V Road Test

What It Is/Who It's For
Hybrid hauler for new families or grown adults. Or both.
Best Thing
Crossover handling, cargo capacity and 40 mpg.
Worst Thing
Sluggish acceleration.
Snap Judgment
Full-sized fuel-sipping Toyota Prius comfortable for adults marred by stereotypically slow hybrid engine.


The Toyota Prius continues to be the segment leader for American shoppers prioritizing fuel economy on their car shopping list. Priorities are fluid, however, especially when little -- or big -- feet are involved either crying in their car seat or complaining in the back row about the boss.

The "v" in the all-new 2012 Toyota Prius v stands for "versatility." As large as a mid-sized sedan but nearly as tall as a compact crossover, the v is Toyota's answer to Prius fans and others seeking a vehicle with good fuel economy, but with the flexibility of larger vehicles such as compact SUVs and crossovers. While many automakers, including Toyota, offer vehicles that provide one or the other, the Prius v is, in many ways, establishing its own segment. The similarly designed Mazda5, for example, can hold up to six people in three rows (the Prius v can hold 5) while the Volkswagen Jetta SportsWagen gets an impressive 30 mpg city and 42 mpg highway. The 2012 Toyota Prius v effectively combined both functionality and fuel economy, making it a hybrid of another sort. We spent a week with the 2012 Toyota Prius v Two with these questions to see how it not only fulfilled both roles, but to see if it had its own unique approach to them as well.

Safety and Technology

Our pre-production 2012 base Toyota Prius v Two started at $27,160, which included delivery, processing, and handling fees. The prior generation Ford Escape Hybrid, which could be considered a close competitor, started at $30,475, and the diesel-powered 2012 Volkswagen Jetta SportsWagen TDI starts at around $26,030. Some of the more notable features included standard heated folding rearview side mirrors; power lumbar support on the driver's seat; Bluetooth; traction control; and, interestingly, a backup camera system, which is usually found in more expensive models. Toyota's Star safety system includes vehicle stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, brake assist, and smart stop technology, with other notable safety technologies include hill start assist and Toyota's Whiplash-injury lessening technology seats for the front row seats.

Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nor the non-profit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have rated the 2012 Toyota Prius v at the time of this review. The smaller standard Toyota Prius received a five star rating from the NHTSA while is a Top Safety pick by the IIHS.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

The Commute

On the street, freeway, highway and within the parking lot, we found the 2012 Toyota Prius v easy to handle. The higher driver position and the expansive front windshield make it easy to see above the cars ahead, and there are enough seat controls, including adjustable lumbar support, for most drivers to find a comfortable position. And if you think a bigger Prius means a less fuel efficient Prius, fear not: In our week with the vehicle, we never dropped below 38 mpg despite aggressive driving, and achieved 45 mpg in a round trip from Los Angles to San Diego and back.

Our big issue? We found the 2012 Toyota Prius v, like its smaller namesake, very sluggish, fearfully so when getting onto the freeway onramp or going up any incline. Drivers needed a lengthy plan to pass an eighteen wheeler or even a large SUV. The lack of power was especially noticeable when the Toyota Prius v is fully loaded with adults. One of us took the Prius v for a 200 mile round trip to San Diego and back and even he, sans cargo, found the power lacking. When you do floor the throttle to use enough power to get past someone, the four-cylinder gasoline engine was surprisingly noisy.

However, there is a workaround, albeit one that will impact your fuel economy. The 2012 Toyota Prius v comes with three driving modes: pure electric, economy, and power. The electric mode allows you to travel for up to a mile under the best of circumstances on electricity alone, provided the batteries have enough charge. Economy, as the word implies, maximizes the Prius v's fuel economy. But go into power mode and all the issues about pokey acceleration disappear, albeit noisily. Hills were no longer an issue, and we didn't worry (much) about merging in traffic.

Other issue was the interior. Note that we tested a pre-production model of the 2012 Toyota Prius v, which means it's really hard to comment on the fit and finish of the car, especially the interior. While we found no glaring exterior issues, we thought many of the interior panels sound thin, especially the egg carton roof lining. Several passengers also thought the velvet-like material covering the storage unit lid would easily tear and stain under children's fingers. We're going to ask Toyota for a production 2012 Prius v once they're available for review.

The Grocery Run

One of the biggest surprises of the all-new 2012 Toyota Prius v that greeted us is driving height. The driver's seat is set higher than a conventional mid-sized sedan, hatchback, or wagon, giving a commanding view of the road like many crossovers. We discovered you don't plop down into the Prius v like a regular car or even the standard Toyota Prius. Instead, you slide onto the flat cushion like you would a compact crossover.

The rear seat of the 2012 Toyota Prius v is wide enough and the hatchback hybrid is tall enough for two six-foot-plus adults to fit comfortably, or up to three if they still fit in skinny jeans. We easily fit one six-foot tall member behind a six-foot-plus driver during one luncheon trip. A unique feature of the 2012 Toyota Prius v is its reclining rear row seats, a first in this segment, and one that can add headroom when needed.

The hatchdoor opens high enough for a six foot tall person to stand under it without bumping their head. The carpeted hatchback floor is low enough we dropped groceries on it. There's a special slot underneath the carpet to hide the hatchback covering under the floor when not in use. For bigger loads, the rear row seat folds flat, with a hard surface covering the seatbacks to provide a surface for cargo such as luggage, moving boxes, etc., including that baby stroller you're eyeing at Target or new desk from Ikea.

Amenities for comfort and storage are plentiful, though some of them are quirky. Side pockets inside each door can house a water bottle and magazines or pads of drawing paper. The main cupholders in the front row are split up, with one next to the storage container lid and the other hidden halfway down the front of the storage unit. Several passengers found the second one awkward to use, with one saying children or short-limbed adults would have to lean over to get their drink.

Other cupholders pop out on the passenger side dash and the back of the center console for rear seat passengers. Both looked too delicate for more than a soda can. The dual glove compartment boxes are big enough for extra baby bottles and spare flashlights as well as gloves, however neither of them can be locked, so you'll have to hide your cell phone elsewhere.

Getting in and out of parking lots was really easy in the 2012 Toyota Prius v. The electric steering, which saves on fuel, makes steering easy in all but the tightest spots in San Diego and Long Beach. Also helpful is the backup camera which we quickly became accustomed to. Rear visibility in the Toyota Prius v, unlike the smaller "standard" Prius, is actually decent (i.e., there is no annoying "bar" splitting the rear window.)

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

The Weekend Fun

We took the 2012 Toyota Prius v Two on a round trip from Los Angeles to San Diego and back. Toyota vehicles, we've learned from experience, seem most at home as cruisers, so we were more than happy to subject it (and ourselves) to the expansive Interstate 5 freeway its gentle undulating roads. Traffic even cooperated with us, allowing us to use cruise control during much of the drive.

Our impression? The 2012 Toyota Prius v is primarily a cruiser. When it wasn't working hard engine noise was virtually non-existent, road-noise was suppressed, and wind noise well controlled. On the highway, the ride of the Prius v felt solid and always planted to the road. At the same time, we barely felt road imperfections like potholes, cracks, and bumps, thunking over most of them either on the streets or, especially, while driving the freeways (and we all know how much freeway driving there is here in SoCal.) Again, we found we had to switch to the Prius v's power mode to bypass slower vehicles quickly especially when climbing up any hill or mountain road.

We found, for the most part, the 2012 Prius v's interior met Toyota's legendary standards of quiet. One exception: the transmission. The Prius v's continuously variable transmission allowed the engine to hang at high revs where it was noisiest under acceleration, surprising a few passengers who were unfamiliar with the way CVTs work. Otherwise, we enjoyed the base sound system and found it easy to converse in regular tones during the trip. Everyone liked the reclining second seat row. Same with the 2012 Toyota Prius v's the front and second row seating which, though wide and flat, were cushy enough not to result in aching backs after a two hour straight stint. Interestingly, no one asked us about the Prius v. At an outdoor mall, we even parked it next to a regular Toyota Prius to do a size comparison and none of the passerbys gave us or the Prius v a glance. Yes, Virginia, Toyota Prii are really that common here in California.


So what's our answer to the $26,170 question? Did our week give us the answers sought, i.e., does the 2012 Toyota Prius v balance crossover duties with high fuel economy.

We say yes but with a caveat. The 2012 Toyota Prius v an excellent people hauler for those who prize fuel economy. Yes, the size and increased weigh cuts mileage, but then you have to switch to the VW Jetta diesel wagon for something comparable. The Prius v's then beats such a competitors with a crossover features like higher seating position gives great visibility without the increased height and length of many traditional crossovers. Our biggest complaint is 2012 Toyota Prius v's acceleration which, at over 10 seconds to reach freeway merging/passing speeds, is nearly a full second slower than the smaller, regular Toyota Prius hatchback. Toyota neatly answers that issue with Power mode which we strongly advocate potential Prius v owners play especially during dealership test drives.

And speaking of crossover, there are few competitors to the Prius v at this time. One, the all-new Ford Escape, recently made an appearance at the 2011 Los Angeles Auto Show and is scheduled to go on sale as a 2013 model. Ford has decided to drop the prior Escape hybrid model, instead relying on potent Ecoboost four-cylinder engines. A closer competitor to the 2012 Toyota Prius v, especially in terms of size and design, is the Ford C-Max which will be also going on sale in 2013. The all-hybrid Ford C-Max lineup literally matches Toyota's model by model with the Ford C-Max hybrid against the Toyota Prius v and the Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid competing against the Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid. But until the C-Max twins debut, the Prius v is the only vehicle of its kind.

Spec Box

Fuel Economy:
EPA City: 40 mpg
EPA Highway: 40 mpg
EPA Combined: 42 mpg
Observed: 38mpg to 45 mpg
Range: 820 miles
Price-as-tested: Pricing information was not available at the time of our review. 2012 Toyota Prius v Two starts at $27,160 which includes delivery, processing, and handling fees.
Cost of Ownership: (after five years) Excellent

Notebook Quotes

"As much as I'm trying to dip lower, I can't shake 38 mpg. Damn, the tech in this car is good." - Jacob Brown
"Fuel economy still King of EV class" - Trevor Dorchies
"Power mode is decent" - Matthew Askari
"Rear passenger space is amazingly ample. This, right here, is the real taxi of tomorrow." - Jacob Brown