The versatile Prius hatchback has proved that hybrids can appeal to a broad spectrum of buyers. Toyota wisely widens its scope even further with the Prius v variant. It's not much roomier--legroom has actually shrunk by 1.2 inches in front--but the v's tall rear hatch certifies it for Costco duty. It exhibits the same competent Prius driving dynamics, with good body control and decently weighted steering. A steep hill, though, will tax the 134-hp powertrain, which carries over unchanged from the hatchback. The v takes 10.4 seconds to accelerate to 60 mph, a good half-second longer than the regular Prius. Fuel economy also suffers in comparison, coming in at 42 mpg. We wouldn't think so much of that decrease if it weren't for the fact that the European version of this model, called the Prius+, gets mileage-improving lithium-ion batteries. Prius owners feeling outgreened by the Chevrolet Volt need not despair, however, because Toyota is rolling out a plug-in version of the Prius that does use lithium-ion batteries. Its promised fifteen miles of electric range isn't quite in the Volt's league, but it should return better mileage than the Chevy in hybrid mode. It'll be cheaper, too, starting at $32,760. We've yet to drive the Plug-in--Toyota is introducing the vehicle in only fourteen states this year--but expect it to drive almost identically to the hatchback with which it shares everything except batteries. That's a good thing, as the latest Prius, though hardly a sport sedan, has nicely weighted steering, a well-behaved powertrain, and a comfortable, confident ride.
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