A few years ago Toyota launched a smaller version and a bigger version of their top-selling hybrid Prius. It seemed like a great idea, but here in the flyover part of America, the Prius is less popular than on the West Coast. However, having a compact version (Prius C) and a station wagon version (V) is proving to be a good idea, even here in the Midwest.

My tester this week is the Prius V, the hybrid station wagon that is longer, higher and wider than the standard Prius. It’s that increase size that broadens the appeal of the Prius V. Far too many people are close-minded about owning hybrids, despite the fact that most people complain about the rising fuel prices. Test driving the Prius V could win over cynics as it has many admirable traits that have appeal to families.

Exterior

2015_Toyota_Prius_v_002On looks the Prius V blends in nicely with the crossover crowd. With part minivan looks along with a small SUV shell, and the driving capabilities of a car, the Prius V is every bit a crossover. The simplistic shell of the Prius V helps give the hybrid an unassuming appearance. The grille (with the hybrid blue Toyota emblem) is modern, but lacking in style. The side panels have the most flare and help elongate the overall appearance of the Prius V. The stubby back end, much like the front, is simple in its design although a rear spoiler adds some styling to the otherwise dull back side.

Engine / Powerplant

Even though the Prius V is bigger than the standard Prius, it does not have any more power. That’s always been one of the knocks on the Prius family is the puny power of the Prius (that’s a tongue twister). But, if fuel economy is a driving force to your buying decision, then the Prius V has to be a top contender. A 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with two electric drive motors powers the Prius V. The total horsepower (with the gasoline and electric engines combined) is 134 horsepower. So, the Prius V is definitely the slowest crossover on the market.

Make no mistake, all of the Prius vehicles (I refuse to say Prii here) are underpowered. Almost frustratingly so, especially off the line. However, on the highway, the V can get up to speed and then stay out of its own way. You can travel safely and at normal, regular speeds in the V. Just make sure to allow extra time for merging and pulling out into traffic.

Unfortunately, the Prius also has a continuously variable transmission to go along with it. As someone who is not a fan of CVTs in general, it seems like a good match for something that lacks power like the Prius V. The CVT handles shifting smoothly enough and because there’s no need (or expectation of) for rapid, immediate shifts, the transmission is adequate. And that’s the most positive thing I’ve ever said about a CVT.

Interior

2015_Toyota_Prius_v_003Inside, the Prius V has some noticeable updates and improvements. The overall upgrades in material are necessary and nice. My tester was the new Four trim which brings with it leather upholstery and heated front seats. Both features were unexpected surprises for a vehicle that is usually sparsely appointed.

Additionally, a new, bigger 6.1-inch color touchscreen is an added feature to this model year. The previous infotainment system for the Prius seemed dated and like an afterthought, but now this one is intuitive and the touchscreen works well. Toyota’s Entune system works well with smart phones and devices, and pairing is easy. There’s a neat Bing search engine option too that shows the modern upgrade to this model. You can run Pandora radio, or use your own playlist to run through the system, and it’s a breeze.

Rear headroom and legroom is ample and while the overall interior design is sparse, passengers will be comfortable. Cargo room is exceptional. Behind the rear seats is 34.3 cubic feet of space. The rear seats actually can fold nearly flat and when in that position there’s an amazing 67.3 cubic feet of space.

It’s hard to find a fuel efficient vehicle with so much cargo space and versatility and indeed that’s part of the major charm of the Prius V.

Pricing/Trims

2015_Toyota_Prius_v_004There are four trim options this year for the Prius V numbered two, three, four and five (don’t ask me why they started at two). For some reason, last year’s Prius V didn’t have trim four (and yes it went three to five), and my tester was the new Four trim. With that comes amenities like heated leather seats and a power-dimming rearview mirror.

Pricing for the Prius V starts around $27,000 for the basic two trim. My tester’s MSRP was $30,745. While the price may be a little high for bare-boned station wagon, keep in mind the fuel economy is at the top of the segment.

Fuel Economy

The 2015 Prius V has an EPA rating of 44 city and 40 highway. In a week’s worth of driving (mostly through the suburbs) I averaged 42 mpg. You can’t name another SUV with that kind of fuel economy.

That’s why the V in Prius V stands for versatility. Accept it for what it is and not for what it isn’t, and you’ll embrace it as a station wagon with a purpose.

Specs

2015 Prius V Four

Price/As tested price…………………….. $30,745/$30,745

Mileage…………………………………… 44 mpg/city; 40 mpg/hwy

Engine……………………………………. 1.8-liter

Horsepower…………………………….. 134 hp/132 lbs./ft.

Transmission…………………………… CVT

Drive Wheels…………………………….. Front-wheel drive

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Jimmy Dinsmore

For several years Jimmy Dinsmore has reviewed new vehicles, offering up a unique look and an interesting voice in his weekly column. Jimmy looks at vehicles from the consumer’s point of view. Light on the technical jargon, and lacking the cynicism that pervades many other auto reviews, Driver’s Side treats each vehicle fairly, offering a light-hearted take. Email him at - [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @driversside.

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