Having been the proud owner of the first 2012 Toyota Prius V in Austin for less than 24 hours, I thought I might write about my initial impressions. 

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The last time I bought a new car was eleven years ago when the Acura MDX first came out.  Since I had kept my previous vehicles for about 3-4 years maximum, the fact that I still had the MDX until about two months ago when my son totaled it is probably the best indicator of how much I liked that MDX and how well it worked for me.  When Acura came out with a new body style for the MDX about two years ago I had a look, but was quickly disappointed because:

  • The storage space was smaller with a smaller rear opening.
  • The interior was incredibly “bling-y” and button crazy (I counted more than 50 buttons and dials on the center console alone!)
  • Most alarmingly, the fuel economy had not improved at all over a decade. The official ratings are actually worse for the new models.

As an event photographer, I often need to haul gear around with me.  Sometimes it is a modest amount, but several times a month I need to carry a ton of gear and would pretty much pack the MDX to the gills with its rear seats down.

Now that our kids are off at college, what I wanted in a new vehicle seemed like kind of a paradox:

  1. Lots of flexible storage space, typically found in medium sized SUVs and larger station wagons.
  2. Significantly greener – much improved fuel economy and lower emissions.
  3. Up to date comfort, safety, and amenities (like Bluetooth phone and audio support).

My search was incredibly disappointing as vehicles that had enough storage had lousy fuel economy.  Anything with decent fuel economy wasn’t large enough to take all the gear I need. For more on the other vehicles I seriously considered, see the end of this post.

Then I read about the forthcoming Prius V and it looked like it might work for me.   I did some research and ultimately put a refundable deposit down some weeks ago, which is how I ended up, much to my surprise, with the first one in Austin.

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We already own a 2010 Prius hatchback and really like it.  Confusingly, the “V” in the Prius V does not mean 5th generation, but versatile (i.e. wagon).  At first glance, the Prius hatchback and Prius V wagon look pretty similar from the front, but once you see them from the side you quickly notice that the rear end is larger and squarer.  What is perhaps not so immediately obvious is that the wagon is quite a bit taller.

Since I have not looked at a 2012 Prius hatchback I can’t tell whether some of the interior differences (beyond dimensions) are 2012 features on all Prius versions, or are specific to the Prius V, but here are the changes I’ve noticed so far:

  • Significantly more 2nd row legroom.  This is really where the extra length of the vehicle seems to come is as the flat area with the rear seats down measures the same as the Prius hatchback.  However, there is more volume in the wagon because of the squarer back end and because of the taller ceiling.  The space between the front and rear seats is large enough that I can actually fit some significant pieces of equipment there including a 4’ ladder and my lighting stands case and still have all the flat storage space available.

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  • Significantly more headroom for 2nd row passengers.
  • Redesign of console information area and LCD display.  Some information has been moved to the LCD display making the console much cleaner.  Also subtle use of color adds some visual interest to this display.
  • New Entune system that is far more than just typical navigation and audio controls.  The manual for this system is about as large as that for the rest of the vehicle, so I have a lot of learning to do before I understand the system entirely, but Entune integrates with my Android based smart phone to use it’s data connection capabilities to display certain information on the console using the car’s own apps.  Includes traffic info, weather, local points of interest, stock info, sports, etc.  Even includes Pandora internet radio.

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  • Entune system runs off a hard drive, so navigation system is much faster and more responsive (this runs off a DVD in the 2010 hatchback).  The screen appears to be smaller but higher resolution than our hatchback.
  • Whereas the hatchback has a 4 disk CD changer, the wagon has a single disk CD player, which is fine with me, since most music I will be playing will come off my smart phone or a USB drive.
  • Radio seems to include HD Radio (as well as analog and XM Satellite radio).  Also as previously noted, Pandora internet radio can be used with a Smart Phone.
  • Clearer rear view.  On the hatchback there is a spoiler in the middle of the rear window reducing rear visibility.  There is no such spoiler on the wagon, providing a clear view.
  • “Bridge” from the front console and the center console between arm rest/storage area gone.  Now the space is open, making the storage area more open and useful.  The buttons that used to be on this bridge have been moved to the top of the arm rest.

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  • Redesign of storage area between driver and front seat passenger.  This was a kind of odd design in the hatchback.  Now the armrest flips open towards the passenger side rather than sliding back, which is good because in the 2010 hatchback the lid could get stuck in the open position if you had the rear seats down. The storage area also looks larger. The cupholder design is different and more solid in this area too with one open cupholder in the center armrest and another pull out holder below.
  • 12v accessory and USB/AUX-in moved to below front console (as opposed to being inside the arm rest storage area in the hatchback).  This makes the USB/AUX ports much more accessible and there is even a nice pocket for phones and other devices right below the ports.  But it also means one less 12V socket in the car.

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  • Extra pop out cupholder on the passenger’s side.
  • Power mirror controls grouped with window controls on driver’s door – easier to find and operate.

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  • Small storage hole for parking passes, credit cards, etc. on driver’s side.
  • Better soundproofing and thus quieter on the highway, not that the hatchback was very noisy.  The under floor storage compartments in the back of the car now seem to be made of heavy duty Styrofoam rather than solid plastic.  I have to assume this is a sound damping feature.
  • At 44/40 US MPG city/highway (48/54 imperial MPG or 5.89/5.23 L/100KM) it is about 15-20% less fuel economic than the hatchback.  However, this is far and away the most fuel efficient vehicle currently available for the cargo space.

My overall impression of the car is very positive.  Even with it fully loaded with all my gear on the test drive it drove like the Prius hatchback.  When I glanced down at the speedometer while on the highway, I was surprised to find that I was already doing 70 before I knew it.

The car is equally as comfortable as the Prius hatchback for the driver and front seat passenger and significantly more so for the rear passengers with the extended legroom and headroom.

The new Entune entertainment, communication, and information system looks like it will useful and fun (once I learn how to use it!)

At the end of the day this is a comfortable, highly efficient car with significantly more storage than most.  Storage space is equivalent (or at least for me, more useable) than most small – medium SUVs and other wagons. 

While nicely made and well trimmed, it is certainly not a luxury vehicle and while the driver (and perhaps front seat passenger) get lots of goodies to play with, the rear seat passengers will be taken to where they are going in comfort, if not in great style.

The cost of the vehicle is similar to the VW Sportswagen and heavily loaded Kia Sorrento, but is still a bit pricey for what it is.  The premium one pays for a hybrid really doesn’t make financial sense unless you drive a lot more miles than I will, or gas prices go through the roof, but for me having a vehicle that is much greener was important.   The Prius V should get more than twice the fuel economy of the MDX.  I drive to Houston fairly regularly and it has been nice to be able to make the round trip on one tank of gas and spend less than $20 on gas with the Prius hatchback.  So maybe that will now cost me $24 if I drive the Prius Wagon.

I remember seeing a joke ad for the Toyota “Pious” – essentially about hybrid owners having a “holier than thou” attitude towards other drivers.  In reality, the greenest thing most car drivers can do is probably keep their current cars for as long as possible (it takes tons of energy to make and deliver a new vehicle!) and be more efficient in using them – keeping them well maintained with proper tire inflation and cutting out unnecessary trips. But when it is time to replace a car there is no doubt that if you do care about the environment and want a greener vehicle, this is a great option.

Now that families such as ours own two of these Toyota hybrid vehicles, Toyota decided to get customer feedback on what the plural of Prius should be. Options included Priuses, Prius (i.e. a plural noun), Pria, and the winner, Prii.  

Which reminds me of a joke about two irish tailors having a chat about a tailor’s iron, also known as a goose:

Mick says to Paddy, “I need to buy two new irons, what do I ask the ironmonger for — two gooses?“

Paddy: “That doesn’t sound right”

Mick: “Maybe I should ask for two geese?”

Paddy: “No, that doesn’t sound right either”.

Next day Paddy sees Mick with two irons and asks him what he said to the ironmonger.  Mick said “ah sure it was simple, I told him ‘give me a goose, and while you are at it, given me a second one too!’”

So, now we own a Prius – and a second one too!


Vehicles seriously considered, including MPG (city/highway in US MPG):

  • VW Jetta Sportswagen Diesel TDi 30/42. Great fuel economy, clean diesel technology, drives beautifully, well liked by people I know that own the sedan. But, not enough storage space for my needs, very cramped driver’s space, not much amenities for the price, higher cost of diesel fuel. Audi A3 was similar.  What I would loved to have bought was a VW Passat Diesel wagon, but they don’t sell them in the US!http://www.edmunds.com/volkswagen/jetta-sportwagen/2012/?sub=diesel
  • Lexus RX 450h hybrid SUV 32/28.  Gorgeous car, tons of power, good space, very comfortable with all the amenities of a Lexus. But, very expensive, fuel economy better than other SUVs, but really not as much as I wanted. One issue is that although you can find specs on base models for about $45K, in reality they are only available fully loaded at about $60K+.  The dealers have never seen them other than fully loaded!  http://www.edmunds.com/lexus/rx-450h/2012/?sub=suv
  • Kia Sorrento 4 cylinder SUV 22/32.  The surprise vehicle for me – comfortable, tons of space, good amenities.  On the downside, the fit and finish wasn’t quite as good as other cars, the KIA dealership (at least our local one) is horrible to work with, the fuel economy isn’t a huge step forward, 4 cyl. version felt a bit underpowered. http://www.edmunds.com/kia/sorento/2012/?sub=suv
  • Toyota Prius V 44/40. My winner. http://www.edmunds.com/toyota/prius-v/2012/?sub=wagon

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