With gas prices remaining cheap and all vehicles getting better fuel economy these days, utility vehicles are all the rage among U.S. buyers.
Whether smaller crossovers or bigger SUVs, utilities have not only ended the market for traditional wagons but are eating significantly into sales of passenger sedans and hatchbacks.
All of which means the aging Toyota Prius V hybrid wagon faces many hurdles.
SEE SPY SHOTS HERE! 2019 Toyota Prius V spy shots
The Toyota Prius Liftback was entirely redesigned for the 2016 model year, and the plug-in hybrid Prius Prime followed for 2017.
But the two other members of the Prius family, the subcompact Prius C and the larger Prius V wagon, have soldiered on as their sales dwindle.
Now, however, Motor Authority has the first spy shots of the 2019 Toyota Prius V, and it appears that what was formerly a wagon will become a crossover utility vehicle.
Sold under various names as the Prius+ and Prius Alpha in other markets, the next-generation Prius V now appears to have the larger wheels, taller ride height, and higher proportions of a crossover.
The differences in shape between wagon and crossover can be small, but increased ground clearance and available all-wheel drive are two of several characteristics used by the NHTSA to define a "light truck" versus a passenger car.
Those two characteristics work against fuel economy, however, as do larger wheels, so it remains unclear whether Toyota will turn the Prius V into an actual crossover utility or keep it a wagon with SUV-like looks.
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The world's first hybrid utility vehicle was the Ford Escape Hybrid, sold from 2004 through 2012.
Half of all Escape Hybrids sold had all-wheel drive, but its replacement the Ford C-Max was available only with front-wheel-drive.
That kept the C-Max Hybrid and Energi plug-in hybrid out of contention for some buyers in areas with winter weather.
Toyota has never sold an all-wheel-drive Prius in North America, though a version of the latest Prius Liftback offers optional AWD in Japan via an additional electric motor to power the rear wheels.
That's the same setup used in the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, the recent hybrid version of the company's hugely popular RAV4 compact crossover.
The RAV4 as well is due for replacement shortly, and like the new Prius V, it will switch to the Toyota New Generation Architecture that underpins the 2016 Prius, the 2017 C-HR, and the 2018 Camry, with more models to come.
CHECK OUT: Toyota Prius Family May Shrink As Low Gas Prices Dim Allure (Feb 2016)
Whether an all-wheel-drive Prius V would sit alongside the RAV4 Hybrid or supplant it in Toyota's U.S. lineup remains unclear.
The RAV4 Hybrid outsells the Prius V by a substantial margin. Through September, 36,352 hybrid RAV4s had been sold against just 7,647 Prius Vs.
That would seem to indicate an appetite among buyers for crossover utilities with better fuel economy than their conventional counterparts.
We'll bring you more news on the 2019 Toyota Prius V when we have it.
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