What does the extra letter stand for in the Prius V? This is a question I'm wrestling with as I drive Toyota's new hybrid model down south for the weekend.

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Prius V: Andrew Baillie takes the family to Yallingup. Picture: Leyanne Baillie

What does the extra letter stand for in the Prius V? This is a question I'm wrestling with as I drive Toyota's new hybrid model down south for the weekend.

Have the Japanese gone all Roman numerals on us? Nope. V meant five among the ancient temples and this bigger Prius has seven seats.

Does someone at Toyota have a love of the cult 80s TV series V, where aliens invaded Earth and started eating hamsters? But surely the company wants to preach the green message with this car and not invoke images of worldwide rodent destruction.

No, I think V stands for Value.

The big selling point of the original five-seater Prius, apart from the fact that Hollywood actors like to drive them, was its fuel economy. Now there's two new variants: the smaller C, which looks a bit like a Yaris; and the V, which boasts an extra row of seats.

The V uses an electric battery to get going and the petrol engine kicks in at about 20km/h. This cuts out when it's not needed, such as when you stop at traffic lights, go down a hill or brake. Those last two recharge the battery, meaning no need to plug into an electric power source.

The result is a combined fuel- use figure of 4.4L/100km, which is impressive for a seven-seater. Especially when you consider the car it most closely resembles, the Honda Odyssey, does 8.9L/100km.

I recorded 4.8L/100km for the drive back from Dunsborough to Perth and much of this was at 110km/h using cruise control. That was on the standard automatic driving mode, but press the "ECO" button on a panel where an old-fashioned gearstick would be (the Prius uses a funny little blue knob just below the keyless engine start button) and the car will use even less fuel. The engine response isn't as good but it's fine for cruising to the shops or school, and on one 2km trip I recorded a miserly 3.5L/100km.

The only problem is that it's impossible not to get obsessive about fuel economy in this car.

You can leave the figure showing on the dashboard but a separate 6.1-inch touch screen - which displays the hi-fi and Bluetooth systems, reverse parking camera and sat-nav - also has an option that monitors your petrol use. It records how well you've done in five-minute chunks and you end up with a skyscraper effect on the screen, the higher the block the more you've used.

It's so addictive that there were times when I had to remind myself to look at the road.

So value at the pump, and value in the price, too. You can get a V for $39,990 on the road - a whopping $20,000 cheaper than Holden's new Volt hybrid, which has two seats less.

And V for Versatility. The rows of seats are arranged in a 2-3-2 formation, all with cup holders, some with isofix child-seat fittings which are finally being allowed in Australia. There are also seven airbags, making this car perfect for a family with children who need the occasional extra seating. That still gives you some space in the boot for schoolbags and there's a storage area under the boot floor.

The back row is only for kids (my head jammed to the ceiling) but with the push of a lever they fold down easily and suddenly you have a station wagon.

And all this in a car that's only 91cm longer than my wife's little Yaris. She was so impressed she's already eyeing a V as her next car.

But hang on, it's also V for Visuals. I think it looks better than the original Prius (it's not so triangular) and I noticed more than a few people checking it out.

Visuals, too, in a neat trick where a speedometer is projected on to the windscreen in front of the driver. At least it stops you looking at the skyscrapers.

And finally V for . . . Vroom.

It does struggle on hills in regular or ECO. But tap another button - PWR - and you get some zip. Yes, those skyscrapers grow bigger (on that 2km journey that gave me 3.5L/100km on ECO I recorded 5.3L/100km on PWR) but it's handy when you do need to get a move on.

Add to that the light steering, nimble ride, keyless entry and the oh-so-comfy seats and it's a rather pleasant driving experience.

Of course, no car is perfect and the V has an annoying reversing beep, the handbrake is down where you'd find a manual clutch pedal, the rear view is poor when the car is full and it's a green car that uses premium unleaded.

But if you want a true family car that offers Value, Versatility, Visuals and Vroom, then go for the V. I can Vouch for it.