2012 Prius v road test: Toyota’s stretched hybrid adds practicality, subtracts a bit of fuel mileage

2012 Prius v

2012 Prius v

The 2012  Prius v, like all of the innovative hybrids from Japanese auto manufacturer Toyota, is a marvel of engineering expertise.

Getting gasoline engines and electric motors to work together while making sure that the battery pack retains sufficient charge is mind boggling to the layman, or at least it was when Toyota hybrids first hit the road about 15 years ago.

That the powertrains have proven to be fuel-efficient, reliable and durable is another big tribute to the Toyota engineers.

But, like the rest of  the Prius family, the v (It signifies versatility, not the Roman numeral for five) is also, shall we say, dull.

Don’t get me wrong here, For more than 2 million buyers since the first Prius hit the road back in 1997, dull is certainly no liability. These people are not looking for driving excitement.

Instead, they are looking to save fuel and, by extension, to help save the planet . Less fuel use means less pollutants spewed into the atmosphere.

Priuses, with their added cost, might not make sense in strictly economic terms, but they do make a statement about their owners priorities. And their distinctive and practical shape lets those priorities be known to everyone they encounter.

Prius v instrument panel

Prius v instrument panel

Aware that the Prius has attracted a substantial subset of the driving population, Toyota is expanding the lineup, having added the bigger and more expensive Prius v, subject of this report; a plug-in version of the standard Prius; and the Toyota Prius C, a smaller and less expensive hybrid.

Of course, these vehicles are also joined by various Toyota and Lexus hybrids, which employ the same  technology in traditionally styled models.

But, for now,  let’s take a closer look at the 2012 Prius v.

While at first glance the Prius v has a strong family resemblance to the standard Prius, it is significantly bigger, which moves it into the mid-size vehicle category and provides more cargo space than many small sport-utility and crossover vehicles.

It employs  the same Hybrid Synergy Drive powerplant that is used in the standard Prius. A 1.8-liter, 98-horsepower four-cylinder engine combines with a 36-horsepower electric motor for a combined output of 134 horsepower. Depending on power requirements, the Prius v can gets power from the gasoline engine alone, the electric motor working alone or a combination of the two power sources.

Console-mounted buttons allow the driver to select from three modes — Power, Eco and EV. Power mode extracts the most performance, Eco prioritizes fuel efficiency in normal driving situations, and EV powers the car with the electric motor only for short distances.