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Toyota expands utility of hybrid

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Toyota has expanded its stable of hybrids with a bigger, more spacious Prius V, a wagonesque version of the popular four-door hatchback on which it’s based.

The “V,” Toyota says, stands for versatility, something the new Prius V handily delivers. The versatility comes mainly in the whopping 60 percent improvement in cargo capacity, making the V much more family-friendly than the standard Prius hatchback. Much of the newfound expanse is the result of incremental increases in all dimensions, adding welcome additional space for passengers front and back.

Toyota is touting the V as an alternative to compact sport-utilities for eco-conscious families attracted to the Prius but in need of greater room. The V’s utilitarian nature is enhanced by rear seats that slide fore and aft, recline and fold flat for optimum usability; even the front passenger’s seat folds flat to make room for lengthier cargo.

2011 Toyota Prius V Five
VEHICLE TYPE: Four-door, five-passenger, station wagon
BASE PRICE: $29,990
PRICE AS TESTED: $36,662 (incl. delivery fees)
POWERTRAIN: Hybrid drive system with 1.8-liter, DOHC four-cylinder gas engine paired with electric motor and nickel-metal hydride battery to produce a combined 134 horsepower and 153 lb.-ft. torque; continuously variable automatic transmission; front-wheel drive
WHEELBASE/LENGTH: 109.4″/181.7″
CURB WEIGHT: 3,274 pounds
EPA FUEL RATING: 44 mpg city/40 highway (regular grade)

The new V drives much like the Prius hatch, which means fairly pokey acceleration but balanced by excellent fuel economy: 44 mpg city and 40 highway.

Handling is somewhat sluggish, reinforced by numb electronic steering; but to be fair, no one buys a Prius for its sporty nature. On the plus side the car delivers a mostly quiet and comfortable highway ride.

The stark but comfortable cabin is trimmed with plenty of hard plastic featuring a variety of contrasting textures. A center-mounted info-pod digitally displays a confusing array of data too difficult to decipher at a glance.

While the basic drivetrain carries a five-year, 60,000-mile warranty, there’s eight-year, 100,000-mile coverage on the hybrid components, including battery, electric drive motor and ancillary bits and pieces.

Standard on the Five model are such upgrades as larger, 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, heated front seats, automatic headlights, auto-dimming rear-view mirror and upgraded, eco-friendly upholstery.

Our tester came equipped with the optional (for a hefty $5,580!) Advanced Technology package. In addition to more mundane add-ons such as a panoramic sunroof and a premium eight-speaker audio system, the technology aspect includes adaptive cruise control; an automated parallel-parking system; a hard drive-based navigation system with a larger touchscreen; and a pre-collision safety system.