THEN NAAMSA releases sales figures every month, up to now sharp-eyed observers will have noticed the absence of the Toyota Verso from the list. This is because the outgoing model’s sales were included in the overall Corolla/ Auris sales tally. As a result, it was hard to judge the success of this model in South Africa…
Or is it? Just look around next time you’re on the road. They’re everywhere! Our sources tell us that Toyota has consistently moved up to 350 Versos on a monthly basis during the past few years. This makes it South Africa’s most popular compact MPV (ignoring more utilitarian/ cheaper offerings such as the Avanza) by a huge margin.
Now the second-generation Verso has reached South Africa, and Toyota looks set to increase market share even more because it has for the first time added a turbodiesel engine, a 2,0-litre common-rail, direct injection unit, as fitted to our test car featured on these pages.
But the latest Verso’s newness is apparent even before you fire it up. The previous model was a curiously quirky design considering Toyota’s traditionally conservative approach, and it has to be said that it aged well.
This new model retains some of its predecessor’s detailing – particularly around the rear lights – but overall is a more generic Toyota design, looking almost like a grown-up Yaris from some angles. Were it not for the interesting and sweeping “character” line on the flanks, it would be utterly dull.
The shape has been finetuned for aerodynamic efficiency, with the resultant Cd figure of 0,29 being the best of the compact MPVs as far as we can determine. Although overall it is no longer than its predecessor, wheelbase is up by 30 mm, front track by 23 mm and the rear by 48 mm. Toyota claims the entire structure is five per cent stiffer than before.
The bigger floorplan has resulted in an interior that should be more than spacious enough for most families. Also, Toyota has revised its clever Easy-Flat 7 seating system, making for easier operation and improving comfort levels, particularly in the second and third rows of seats.
And it has added a raft of storage/ convenience features, including Renault Scénic-aping underfoot storage boxes in the second row and flip-up trays affixed to the front seatbacks.
The second row consists of three seats that can be individually folded to create the type of space you may need to load larger objects. The rearmost two seats – still really only for small children – fold completely flat into the floor, in which case boot space measures a good 352 dm³.
With the seats in place there is only place for 120 dm³ of luggage, which is not very much but typical for this type of vehicle.
Fold both the second and third rows down and you have a large, well-shaped utility space measuring 1 488 dm³. For extra comfort, the second and third rows’ seatbacks can be adjusted for backrest angle.
Almost all the folding, sliding and tumbling functions of the seats can be orchestrated with only one hand – a real boon if you happen to have an energetic toddler on the other arm…
The best seats, however, are most certainly in front. All the testers commented positively on their support and comfort, with the driver’s position coming in for particular praise, courtesy of a height-adjustable driver’s seat and rake/reach adjustment for the steering wheel. Not as popular was the centrally mounted instrument binnacle.
Here at CAR we simply do not believe the marketing talk that the central placement of instruments results in the driver’s eyes being away from the road for shorter periods of time. And the small gearshift indicator display – supposedly to help you drive more economically – is so comically easy to glance over that you have to wonder about its need.
Unlike its predecessor, which used an odd lime-green hued plastic – similar to what you’ll find on some home theatre systems – for the trim of its hangdown section, the new Verso has a grained dark metallic plastic that does a better job of looking upmarket.
In fact, the overall ambience is a step in the right direction, with the initial quality impression enforced by soft-touch plastic for the upper facia.
However, some of the trim plastics lower down feel lightweight and look like they’ll scratch easily. Also, the design of the door panels doesn’t exactly “flow” into the facia. But we’re nit-picking here, the Verso’s interior is a comfortable, spacious and relaxing place to be.
But for its abundance of storage boxes (including a double cubby in front of the passenger), there is an odd lack of oddments storage space around the driver for items such as keys, cellular ‘phones etc.
There’s little reason for complaint in terms of standard specification, with items such as auto-on headlights and wipers, dual-zone climate control, roll-up rear window blinds, cruise control and a radio/CD/MP3 player with an auxiliary input socket amongst the standard items. In terms of safety the Verso is a full package, offering seven airbags and Isofix child seat mountings on the middle row of seats.
As is the case with most modern Toyotas, the Verso features push-button starting. Use this, and you’ll quite easily identify the engine under the bonnet as being a diesel, because at idle it sounds at its most agricultural.
It improves markedly at speed, however, remaining a flexible, punchy unit all the way to its 5 000 r/min red line. The engine delivers 93 kW at 3 600 r/min and 310 N.m of torque from 1 800 to 2 400 r/min. Make use of the slick six-speed manual transmission and overtaking punch is always on tap.
But it must be said that, for this type of engine, and in particular for this type of vehicle, an automatic transmission would be a better choice.
Getting back to the push-button starting procedure, a couple of testers struggled with the requirement of depressing the clutch all the way, and keeping it there, while pressing the button to fire up the engine. A slight delay appears to be the cause of the problem, because it results in the driver hesitating and lifting his/her foot from the pedal to restart the process.
Considering its performance potential (0-100 km/h in 11,58 seconds), we’re impressed with the engine’s fuel economy, with our calculated fuel index figure working out to a miserly 6,6 litres/100 km, or 15,15 km/litre. On a 55-litre tank this should equate to a range of over 800 km.
From behind the steering wheel the Verso does Toyota’s claim of family car-like dynamics proud. The ride is superbly compliant and although by virtue of its comfort-tuned suspension you’ll find some roll in the corners, grip levels are good and the steering surprisingly precise and consistent in feel at all speeds – not a given with an electrically-assisted unit.
The Verso features what Toyota calls Active Steering Force Compensation – if this system detects a steering input too aggressive for the required vehicle response, it will automatically reduce the level of power assistance to limit steering input and promote a smoother driving characteristic. It certainly works, because the Verso is such a stable and unfussed vehicle to drive.
With its long-legged sixthgear, ride refinement and impressive economy, this Toyota should be a superb long-distance family tourer.
There’s precious little to criticise about Toyota’s latest MPV offering.
It builds on the strengths of its predecessor with the improved Easy-Flat 7 system and generally comes across as a more refi ned, “soothing” vehicle to drive, even in turbodiesel form.
We say “even”, because although the turbodiesel engine fitted to this unit delivers the required performance and economy, the package would arguably become even more comfortable and relaxing if Toyota could pair it with an automatic transmission.
However, as it stands, the Verso 2,0D TX is a superb family vehicle, and looks set to continue the excellent sales performance of its predecessor.