AFTER relatively recently relinquishing its long-standing market leadership in the passenger-vehicle segment, Toyota is hell-bent on regaining the top spot by applying a trusted formula: know exactly what the motoring public needs and give it to them. This Japanese marque’s products aren’t always exciting, but certainly honest, everyday A-to-B vehicles. To say which of their products fit that description best is up for debate, but one candidate that will spend the majority of its service life doing the precise job it was designed for is unquestionably the Avanza. We have so many working- and middle-class citizens that need to get to work, schools, hotels and airports that you wonder what we would do without a vehicle such as this.

The styling has changed (some might say for the worse), but it’s different and, because the plucky Avanza is all about transporting passengers, prospective buyers are welcome to eyeball the various styling changes while the CAR test team focuses the rest of this evaluation on the more important aspect – the interior packaging.

Toyota has tweaked the spatial characteristics very cleverly by thinning down some of the upholstery padding and redesigning the door and body trim to provide even more space than on the previous model, which was admirably capacious already. The upholstery colour has switched to a classier and practical two-tone colour best described as anthracite and black. Radio/CD auxiliary ports are supplied in conjunction with the sound system and multifunction steering wheel.

The middle- and rear-seat backrests both split 50:50 (as opposed to just the middle before) and the centre row has fore and aft plus backrest adjustment to allow for customisable legroom and seating comfort. When the Avanza is in people-carrying configuration, the 2:3:2 seating arrangement offers six three-point seatbelts and a further lapbelt is fitted for use by an additional occupant in the middle row. However, the invariable problem with maximising passenger space is that you end up with a very small boot. With all the seats in place, the Avanza affords a meagre 128 dm3 of luggage space and, although there is no rear parcel shelf, there is minimal visibility into the boot area from the outside due to the rearward angle of the seat backrests. Should the Avanza convert to a load-lugging role, utility space with the seats collapsed is a generous 1 424 dm3.

Still on the subject of interior convenience, there are cupholders that are big enough for 750 ml water bottles for all seats. Even overhead fan controls with vents are supplied at the rear of the cabin. Although most would consider the Avanza a budget MPV, the spare wheel, mounted under the rear body, is a full-size alloy. Toyota also didn’t skimp on the rubber – the Avanza is fitted with Bridgestone B250s.

The Toyota’s engine is quite noisy and, although this can give a sporty note when accelerating, most would prefer more sound insulation for quieter open-road cruising. Of less importance is sprint acceleration and a number of changes come into play here. The new car, even in top TX-spec, was 70 kg lighter on our scales. On the other hand, the power output has decreased from 80 to 76 kW and maximum torque is down from 141 to 136 N.m. The sum of these variations result in sprint times from 0 to 100 km/h being slightly improved from 12,65 to 12,3 seconds.

Gearshifts are a pleasure, since the lever comes directly out of the gearbox with no linkages and so has a direct, mechanical action. It’s just a pity there isn’t an extra ratio to drop the revs at higher speeds, as the gearing is too low, with the engine spinning at over 4 000 r/min at 120 km/h. In fact, this car is much happier at 100 km/h than at 120 and will be tiring to drive over long distances at the national speed limit.

The steering (now electrically assisted) is light and nippy, and the turning circle is excellent. Our figures show that the lock-to-lock turns have been reduced from 4,3 to 3,8 turns, which is a step in the right direction but could be dropped even further. In case some readers might not realise this, the Avanza is rear-wheel driven, something that makes the interior packaging all the more impressive and will help when climbing hills (especially on poor surfaces such as gravel).

Meanwhile, the Avanza’s fuel consumption has improved from 8,9 to 8,6 litres/100 km. On our fuel route, the Toyota returned an even better 7,5 litres/100 km but, with passengers onboard, this figure can be expected to rise.
Test Summary

The Indonesia-sourced Avanza is one of the best-packaged compact MPVs available. In fact, the levels of legroom afforded to second- and third-row passengers is amazing given the vehicle’s compact exterior dimensions. Although it breaks the R200 000 level in TX-spec, it still offers commendable space and economy, as well as low maintenance costs. Whether you need the space for your children, hotel guests or as a commercial taxi venture (no pun intended), expect to see just as many of this as the previous-generation Avanza on our roads. It does have serious competition, however – the Nissan Grand Livina.