Driver's Seat: Versatility a highlight of Toyota’s Prius V

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Fuel-sipper showdown: 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid vs. 2014 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE vs. 2014 Toyota Prius V

This week: 2014 Toyota Prius V Three.

Price: $28,668 (including $343 preferred accessory package).

Marketer’s pitch: “Space savvy. Family friendly.”

Conventional wisdom: liked the “Outstanding fuel economy; roomy interior with lots of storage; generous cargo capacity; quiet and comfy ride” but not the “awkward seating position for tall drivers; disappointing interior materials; Entune system's cumbersome setup process.”

Reality: It’s bigger – and better – than you think.

Family: The whole Prius family concept may be lost on the average person who’s not really following along. First there was the Prius. It’s the round spaceship that started it all among Toyota hybrids. Then Toyota decided to add the Prius C for an entry-level smaller car and the Prius V for a little more space — and more spacious it sure is.

Centered: The first thing a passenger notices inside the Prius V is how much driver information they get to share. The Prius V has centralized gauges that might take a bit of time to get used to. But Mrs. Passenger Seat said she likes the centralized digital speedometer and info readout.

I started to become a believer as well, and not just to be an agreeable husband. (She’ll happily tell anyone that’s usually the furthest thing from my mind.) The central location gives drivers the option of setting the steering wheel tilt and telescope without any thought of viewing the speedometer inside the holes. This is a good thing, as the last two cars I’ve tested have had an issue with that very thing.

But it’s not perfect: As for the pod with the gearshift and the heater control between the seats? That I didn’t like so much. I actually couldn’t really figure out how to adjust fan or temperature control intuitively. On the bright side, a button on the steering wheel also controls temperature.

Driver’s Seat: The seats are quite comfortable. The upright driving position and low floor make for a nice entry and exit. People who need space but find SUVs and crossovers difficult to climb in and out of should try out the Prius V.

Friends and stuff: The rear seat is spacious. Cargo volume — 34 cubic feet with the seats up and 67 with them down — is on par with the Acura TSX wagon and slightly less than the 2014 Subaru Outback. The young Sturgis Kid 4.0 thought the legroom was generous, and he stands 5 feet 8 inches now. One glance at the tall Prius V and you know headroom will be great.

Just one cupholder in the console? How un-American. But there’s one in each door. And plenty of room for storage is hidden in the armrest, and down near the floor as well.

Shifty: The electronic arcade-style shifter can be intimidating at first — arrows on a joystick for R N and D, and then a button for P. The lever doesn’t stay locked in any position; check the readout for what gear you’re in. B also offers engine braking.

On the turns: Handling is precise, if not exactly fun. It’s much better than the Corolla or Camry, sort of Kia Soul-like. We’re definitely not entering the fun zone — Mazda or VW territory.

Take-off: The accelerator can take some getting used to. The Prius will move quickly but requires a high amount of pedal pressure to do so.

Playing tunes: The touchscreen radio is not terrible but not perfect. Switching sources takes a lot of looking at the screen. The station adjuster is on a dial that’s a long stretch away. And what happened to putting a little visor over the screens? Don’t engineers know that we can’t see them in the sun?

On the lookout: Visibility all around is excellent, although the short hood and angular front pillars can be a bit of a challenge for city cornering. Take extra care for pedestrians.

Night shift: A dearth of interior lighting keeps things on the dim inside all Priuses I’ve tested; don’t drop your pen on the floor if you need it back before morning. Or be sure to pack a flashlight. Stylized headlights — which are becoming an issue on some vehicles I’ve tested — are very clear except for cornering.

Fuel economy: I observed 41 mpg in a mix of highway and country driving.

Where it’s built: Tsutsumi Plant, Toyota City, Japan.

How it’s built: Consumer Reports gives it a predicted reliability rating of above average.

In the end: I had an acquaintance scowl recently when I mentioned how much I like the Prius, and all of the better hybrids in general. “There’s just too much of this green,” he said, leaving me feeling puzzled.

And so it goes for the hybrids of the world. They’re saving gas and doing it comfortably and with some performance as well. But some people still aren’t going to like them and definitely are going to poke fun at a so-called car guy who does. But, there you have it: I like the Toyotas.

Comparing the three tested, I guess it’s not really fair for a sedan and a wagon to battle on the Driver’s Seat proving grounds.

The versatility of the Prius V is hard to beat, but it holds its own in most categories as well. If a sedan is a must for your next purchase, I’d lean strongly toward the Camry.

Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at “Wheels,” a special advertising supplement, appears inside today’s Post-Gazette.

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