By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Practical Prius wagon: Mainstream appeal
The Prius V is just six inches longer but three inches taller and an inch wider than its Liftback counterpart. But the size translates to a roomy little wagon and the first Prius fit for family duty. - photo by Photo Contributed

— Body style: compact, five-passenger hybrid wagon
— Engine: aluminum, 98-hp, DOHC, Atkinson-cycle 1.8-liter 4-cylinder
— Electric drive: 80-hp, permanent magnet synchronous motor with 27-kw nickel-metal-hydride battery pack
— Combined horsepower: 134
— Transmission: CVT
— 0-60 mph: 10.4 sec.
— EPA fuel economy estimates: 44 mpg city, 40 highway; 87 octane recommended
— Fuel tank: 11.9 gal.
— Cargo space: 34.3 cu. ft. behind back seat; 67.3 back seat folded
— Turning circle: 36.1 feet (38.1 w/17-inch wheels)
— Front head/leg/shoulder room: 39.6/41.3/55.9 in.
— Rear head/leg/shoulder room: 38.6/35.9/55.2 in.
— Length/height/wheelbase: 181.7/62/109.4 in.
— Curb weight: 3,274 lbs.
— Standard features include: UV-reduction-glass windshield; EV-Eco-Power modes; 16-inch alloy wheels; cruise control; tilt-telescopic steering wheel; halogen headlights; intermittent wipers; automatic climate control with pollen filter; smart key anti-theft system; power windows, mirrors and locks, six-speaker AM/FM radio and CD touch-screen audio system with Bluetooth, USB and iPod connectivity; dual glove box; illuminated (covered) mirrors; 60/40-split sliding reclining fold-down rear bench with center armrest and adjustable headrests
— Safety features include: seven air bags; 4-wheel disc ABS brakes with regenerative braking; hill-start assist control; stability and traction controls; electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist and brake override
— Base price: $27,160 including $760 freight charge
— Warranty: 3-year/36,000-mile- bumper-to-bumper; 8-year/100,000-mile on hybrid components
— Where assembled: Toyota City, Japan

Six inches may not seem like much at times, but that’s the difference between the Toyota Prius “Liftback” and the new Prius V, which is six inches longer, three inches taller and an inch wider.

It doesn’t look that much different, but the V becomes a viable family vehicle and not just a novelty of miserly mileage. V is for “versatile,” and this roomy little wagon has flip-fold-stash-expand capacity.

Sold in three trim levels, pricing starts at $27,160 for the V Two, $27,925 for the V Three and $30,750 for the V Five. It will be in dealerships any day now.

I’m no prognosticator, but the Prius V will appeal to a broader audience and could become a bigger sales success than the standard Prius. Toyota has made a hybridized gasoline-electric engine a mainstream choice.

The base V Two has a lot of good equipment, including a 6.1-inch display screen for audio and back-up camera; smart key and push-button ignition; Bluetooth phone hook-up and USB port; and 16-inch alloy wheels.

If you want satellite radio and a navigation system, go for the V Three. And if you want a more refined interior, the V Five adds leatherette-like SofTex upholstery, 17-inch wheels, fog lights, heated front seats and more.

I ran the wheels off a V Two for a week, used less than half of a tank of regular and averaged 43 mpg — and I wasn’t trying to conserve. I liked it because the V drove past the preachy image of Prius and went straight to practical.

Fuel economy of 44 mpg city and 40 highway will make Prius Liftback owners raise an eyebrow as they compare their car’s EPA-rated 51/48 city/hwy. But the wagon is 232 pounds heavier and has quicker gearing and a taller profile, all of which chip away at mileage. Still, a lot of people will be happy just knowing they have a wagon that gets 43 mpg.

The V uses the same hybrid powertrain as its Liftback partner, but it does have Power, EV and Eco modes, selected with buttons on the center console between the seats and near the cup holder. EV is for short-distance battery driving. Eco is frustratingly efficient — slow. And power is quite snappy. I was burning rubber at the front wheels without really trying.

Ride quality is better than most small hatchbacks. But it does tend to jump and jostle over rough road, which also is typical of the Liftback. (A set of luxury touring tires and Bilstein shocks may help.)

There is big-and-tall headroom at 39.6 inches, and it actually goes up to 40.4 inches with the optional panorama sunroof. All the gauges and readouts are digital and in the center position, which will seem odd to the uninitiated, but the head-up position becomes a non-issue.

Storage may be too plentiful: dual glove boxes; console trays; door panels with bottle holders and stash space; a basement to the cargo area; and more. The more junk — weight — you carry, the worse the fuel economy.

The back seat has a flat floor, generous legroom (almost three feet) and a broad, padded pull-down armrest. The raised back seats recline and have about seven inches of fore-aft slide adjustment. The 60/40-split seatback folds easily with a one-handed operation. And with those seats folded, there is almost six feet of length to carry a surfboard and other long things. The cargo opening is about three feet wide and about 29 inches deep, with wiggle room to wedge in a bike or whatever.

You don’t buy the Prius V because it’s cute or it makes you look cool or it’s sporty to drive. You buy it because it works so well at what it is. It’s like a half-price membership to Disneyland — not cheap, but peace-of-mind for frequent use.