SAN FRANCISCO -- While "Prius" has become synonymous with "hybrid," many prospective buyers have decided against a purchase because the hatchback simply did not have enough cargo space. Enter the Toyota Prius V, a tall hybrid wagon that has more cargo capacity than most crossovers and compact SUVs.
The basics: The Prius V is 6 inches longer, 3 inches taller and an inch wider than the standard Prius. The wheelbase is 3 inches longer. The additional 230 pounds of weight, quicker final drive ratio, and taller aerodynamic silhouette cost the Prius V about 16 percent of the fuel economy of the Prius liftback.
The trade-off is lots of extra space. The Prius V's acceleration is the same as a standard Prius.
Notable features: Standard features include 16-inch wheels, cruise control, seven airbags, halogen headlamps, intermittent wipers, automatic climate control, SmartKey anti-theft system, power windows, mirrors and locks, and an AM/FM/CD audio system with Bluetooth, USB and iPod connectivity.
Passenger legroom is ample, thanks to second-row seats that slide about 7 inches and recline 45 degrees. An optional panoramic roof is made from polycarbonate resin, which saves 40 percent of the weight of glass and keeps out more sunlight heat than glass.
With the Prius V, Toyota also is launching an "anti-porpoise" technology that automatically modulates the throttle to keep the car from undulating over repetitive freeway expansion joints.
It also is the first Toyota vehicle to feature the optional EnTune telematics system, which connects to Bing, Pandora, OpenTable, as well as weather, traffic, sports and stock tickers.
The Prius V also generates a low whirring noise at around-town speeds to warn pedestrians of its presence.
What Toyota says: "Many customers have told us that while they love everything about the Prius, they need something with more space," Bob Carter, Toyota Division general manager, said at the introduction here. "That's why we gave Prius V 58 percent more cargo space than the liftback."
Compromises and shortcomings: Although the Japan-market model features a futuristic lithium ion battery, Toyota is sticking with nickel-metal hydride batteries for the United States to save cost. Models for Japan and Europe also have a third-row seat, but those for the United States have more cargo area instead. The torsion-beam rear suspension is great for packaging, but combine that with its long, narrow dimensions and 60-40 front weight bias, and you have a car that doesn't settle easily into a fast corner.
The market: Toyota expects the Prius V to represent a 15 to 20 percent incremental volume boost to Prius sales. That translates into a target of about 60,000 Prius Vs a year. Once the Prius C compact hybrid arrives next year, the Prius family will be within spitting distance of the Camry as America's best-selling car line.
The skinny: Although the Japanese and European variants of this vehicle have been delayed due to the March 11 earthquake in Japan, the Prius V is still on track for a fall launch in the United States.