DOWN at the more generally affordable light car sector of the marketplace, there are a number of vehicles that currently wear the budget label capably. But one of the compromises that most of these vehicles has to make is in the actual usable space and practicality they offer. We’re talking here of the kind of practicality that a young family might require to transport little ones and all their accompanying paraphernalia.
Toyota South Africa has found what it believes is the answer to the requirements of more then a few South African new car buyers, then, in the form of the Avanza mini-MPV. Manufactured in Indonesia and sold with huge success under the Daihatsu badge in that country as well as on the Malaysian market, the Avanza has been launched in this country with a view to further expansion into the emerging African market. Available with a choice of two engine sizes and four specification levels, our introduction to the new model was in the form of the topof- the-range 1,5 TX model, which naturally carries the highest price tag – R139 700. (The entry level 1,3 S version retails for a fraction below the R100 000 mark…)
The designers’ brief was to create as much usable space as possible while maintaining the small dimensions of a car, so the four wheels are positioned as far towards the corners as possible, creating a long wheelbase. A front engine/rear-wheel drive configuration was also adopted, with the engine positioned as far forward as possible to free up interior space. The result is that this new Toyota people mover comes standard with three rows of seats. So it can either seat six passengers in addition to the driver, or be adapted to transport fewer passengers and more luggage.
The Avanza won’t be winning any beauty contests anytime soon but, as form following function goes, its looks are pleasant enough not to feel out of place among other more upmarket vehicles, or in the supermarket car park. One of the additional features that the fully-specced topline Avanza gains is window tinting from the B-pillar backwards, and this goes some way to creating a more stylish profile.
Seven people being transported comfortably by a modest 1 495 cm3 engine may seem a tad optimistic but, thanks to Toyota’s VVT-i technology and electronic fuel injection, our test model’s 16-valve d-o-h-c engine felt perky and willing – at sea level. The power-unit has 80 kW on offer at 6 000 r/min, with 141 N.m of torque available at 4 400 r/min. Curiously, even with VVT-i, the engine required a good few revs to keep up momentum, but a simple adjustment in driving style, making optimal use of the five-speed gearbox, provided respectable go-forward.
A top speed of 167 km/h should prove more than adequate for the average buyer of this type of vehicle… in fact, the figure is extremely impressive considering the less-than-aerodynamic lines. Of more significance, however, is the respectable 0-100 km/h time of 12,65 seconds. And there’s plenty of stopping power, too. ABS is fitted standard to all but the base model Avanza, and an average braking time of 2,95 seconds from 100 km/h to standstill falls into our good rating.
Power steering is fitted as standard throughout the Avanza range and, while we wonder how light the steering might be sans assistance (this fully kitted-out TX weighs only 1 144 kg), this makes the vehicle very easy to manoeuvre at low speeds. The steering remains light at higher speeds, too, a characteristic that is not ideal, as strong winds or sudden movements by passengers tend to disturb the balance of such a light car.
Avanza is available only with the light interior featured in our test unit and, while it helps create a sense of space and airiness in the cabin, the cloth upholstery could prove difficult to keep clean, especially for the young families at which Toyota is aiming this vehicle.
The second row of seats features a 50:50 split, and each half has a fold-and- tumble action allowing very easy access to the third bench seat. This last row also has the same fold-tumble feature, creating a 352 dm3 luggage area when extra seating is not required. With all three rows in place, luggage space is tight (a mere 104 dm³), so some planning may be required if the journey is a long one.
A slightly raised driving position allows good visibility all round. The front chairs are comfortable enough, even if there a slight lack of side and lumbar support. Instrumentation is basic and easy to read, and what controls there are for the TX’s standard air-conditioning (with rear vents on this model) are simple to use without being a distraction from the road ahead. Power windows are fitted in all models. Audio systems for the Avanza range are dealer options, but the vehicles are prewired for installation.
On the road, Toyota’s new MPV benefits from having a long wheelbase and handles well (for what it is) despite the body being taller than it is wide. An Avanza racing series is unlikely to ever emerge, but the chassis felt more than capable of handling what our evaluation imposed. A fuel index of 9,82 litres/100 km further backs Toyota’s thinking in introducing the Avanza into the South African market.
Toyota has a happy knack of hitting the “sweet spot” in the market, and we believe the company has got it right again this time. The Avanza is not an enthusiast’s car. But it’s a likeable, useful vehicle for Everyman, a small car-sized seven-seater MPV that offers honest motoring in an affordable package, with an engine that is willing, able and economical.