WHEN it comes to modes of family transportation, many South Africans opt for large four-door saloons or road-biased SUVs. The market for full-sized MPVs has taken a beating due to consumers “buying down” or delaying the replacement of their vehicles as a result of the economic climate. However, Toyota has not been deterred from launching another people mover. Sitting between the less refined Avanza and the more luxurious Verso is the new Innova.
Let’s be frank about the Innova’s appearance: it’s not pretty. With slab-like panels and small 15-inch wheels, the newcomer looks more van-like than most MPVs. The frontal styling bears a resemblance to that of the new Hilux and Fortuner, while in profile it looks like a lengthened Avanza. As a result, it will hardly turn heads, but potential owners should value its size, space, practicality and comfort far beyond its looks.
In terms of size, the Innova is 4 858 mm long, 1 775 mm wide and 1 750 mm high, and it has a 2+3+3 seat configuration. Testers noted, however, that although the rearmost row has safety belts for three people (two three-point belts with a lap belt in the middle), it can barely accommodate two average-sized adults and would be best suited to seating three small children.
By contrast, those sitting at the front benefit from fairly comfortable and supportive seats that have a wide range of adjustment. The second row offers commendable legroom and reclining seatbacks. Alternatively, the seatbacks can fold flat and the entire row slides forward to allow ease of access to the rearmost seats. Should the third row be surplus to requirements, its 50:50-split seatbacks can be folded down and flipped to the sides of the cabin, with the respective sections hooked onto the roof-mounted grab handles.
With a full complement of passengers on board, the Innova offers 184 dm3 of luggage space but when the rear chairs are folded away, the utility capacity can range between 896 and 1 008 dm3 depending on how far the seatbacks of the second row are reclined. If more space is needed, the second row folds flat to increase the volume to a cavernous 1 704 dm3.
Versatility aside, the standard beige-coloured interior isn’t very practical when you consider that the Innova is likely to transport grubby-pawed little ones. What’s more, the wood-look plastic inserts on the facia and doors appear kitsch and many testers were of the notion that they could do without this finish.
The Innova is based on the same IMV platform that is utilised by the Hilux, but its suspension setup is different, resulting in a better ride quality than that of its rugged bakkie cousin. All testers noted that the suspension (independent, double wishbones at the front and a four-link, coil-spring setup at the rear) works well and absorbs uneven surfaces with little fuss. Testers who drove it on gravel rearroads were more than impressed with the damping, while others stated that the Toyota’s suspension felt soft over speed bumps.
A well-weighted steering action makes for easy manoeuvrability in and around town, which is where, we suspect, the Innova will be in its element. At times, the test car felt top heavy and, as a result of its slabsidedness, crosswinds can be disconcerting. Having more people on board should aid on-road stability, however.
Under the bonnet lies a 2,7-litre VVT-i petrol engine that delivers 118 kW and 241 N.m of torque and is mated with a fivespeed manual gearbox. Performance was fairly impressive, with a zero-to-100 km/h sprint time of 10,6 seconds and a 80-to- 100 km/h time of 5,33 seconds in fourth gear.
Economy, however, is a different story. Our index figure of 13,44 litres/100 km gives the Innova a range of just over 480 km, which isn’t all that impressive. Maybe a more frugal diesel engine would be better suited to this application. In our real-world fuel test, the optimistic onboard trip computer gave a consumption readout of 9,6 litres/100 km but, when we calculated a tank-to-tank figure, we reached a figure of just under 12,0 litres/100 km with only one person in the car.
The Innova’s gearlever is reminiscent of that of the Hilux and some testers didn’t like the long-throw gear-change action. It does occasionally take a bit of a shove to get the lever into place but, once you’ve spent some time in the vehicle, it’s easy to get used to and becomes less of a hassle.
In terms of specification, there is a fairly extensive list, and rear seat passengers will be happy to know that the standard air-conditioning includes air vents for all three rows. Those Avanza owners who may want to move up to the Innova will discover that a USB-compatible radio/CD/ MP3 audio system is standard. It can be operated via the touchscreen monitor or steering wheel-mounted controls. There are various oddment boxes throughout the cabin, as well as drinks holders and convenient coat hooks.
More important on this vehicle, however, are the standard passive and active safety features. Parents will have to secure the child seats the conventional way as Isofix anchor points are not included on this model. The Innova does come fitted with dual airbags up front, central locking and ABS-equipped brakes, which managed an average 100-to-zero km/h stopping time of 3,1 seconds, earning it an excellent rating.
The Innova may not be particularly stylish, but it offers ample seating space, good ride quality, a fair amount of luggage capacity and sound safety speci. cation. Also, potential owners will not have to worry about the availability of parts or resale value and, in true Toyota fashion, it will probably soldier on for many years before any major hiccups occur. So, even though it’s thirsty, if you’re looking for reliable and comfortable transport without any frills, the Innova should be a consideration for your shopping list.