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First Oz drive: Toyota's pricey seven-seater

Ultimate Verso: Toyota's Avensis Verso Ultima is offered in auto only with a pricetag of $46,900.

Toyota's van-based Spacia makes way for the more car-like Avensis Verso seven-seater

13 Dec 2001

TOYOTA has weighed into the growing compact people-mover market with its new Avensis Verso, which offers seven seats in a vehicle smaller than the Camry.

The newcomer is offered in two spec levels - the $39,900 GLX and the $46,900 Ultima, which is offered only as an auto. A self-shifter adds $2000 to the cost of the base model.

The GLX is expected to account for 85 per cent of Avensis Verso sales - tipped to number about 100 a month next year.

Its pricing puts it well above the likes of the Holden Zafira and Honda CR-V (both from $31,990) but Toyota is adamant its contender is not pitched against these vehicles nor the even cheaper Kia Carens (from $23,990) and Daewoo Tacuma (from $24,990).

"We are very focused on the segment we are trying to capture," Toyota Australia senior executive vice-president John Conomos said.

Toyota refers to its vehicle as a "premium MPV".

The name Avensis is derived from Avens, which means commonality - a reference to the fact the vehicle shares some of its components with other Toyota vehicles - and Verso is just short for versatility.

While the outgoing Spacia derived the lion's share of its sales from fleets and government departments, the Avensis Verso is aimed more at young, affluent families.

Toyota makes no bones about the fact the Avensis Verso is a part-time seven-seater - with the third-row seats intended for occasional use.

"It is a family wagon with additional seating for two," Toyota Australia marketing manager Peter McGregor said. "There are times when five seats are not enough." Four designs were submitted for the Avensis Verso and the one chosen was penned by Toyota's European Design Centre - based in the French Riviera and known as ED2.

Unlike some rival mini-people movers which share their platforms with mainstream models, the Avensis Verso is built on a unique chassis midway in size between the Corolla and Camry.

Although 125mm shorter than a Camry, its wheelbase is 155mm longer to maximise interior space. Its compact dimensions are said to endow the vehicle with a high degree of manoeuvrability and Toyota quotes a respectable turning circle of 11.0m.

Although its platform is unique, the newcomer derives its motivation from the same 2.0-litre VVTi engine that powers the RAV4. This unit generates 110kW at 6000rpm and 192Nm at 4000rpm.

Toyota claims the Avensis Verso has the best power-to-weight ratio of any four-cylinder MPV on the market and says the car can accelerate from standstill to 100km/h in a respectable 11.4 seconds.

Fuel consumption is quoted at 9.0 litres/100km around town and 6.2 litres/100km on the highway - that's 45.9 miles per gallon for non-metric folk.

Power is relayed to the front wheels by a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic that is optional in the base model. Toyota says the majority of buyers will plump for the self-shifter.

Stopping power comes from four-wheel disc brakes equipped with an anti-lock system with Electronic Brake-force Distribution and Brake Assist. No other vehicle in its class is so equipped.

Brake Assist uses a sensor to detect emergency braking situations and subsequently applies maximum braking force to minimize stopping distance.

Dual airbags are standard in the GLX while the Ultima also has side-impact bags and curtain shield bags - a rarity in this segment.

Other standard features across the range include dual air-conditioning, keyless entry, power windows and mirrors, and a six-speaker stereo with CD player.

The base model rides on 15-inch steel rims while the Ultima gains 16-inch alloys. The range-topper also comes with fog lights, roof rails and a subtle rear spoiler.

A touch screen DVD-based satellite navigation system is available as a $3800 option in the Ultima and automatic GLX models. It is offered as a dealer-fit option in the GLX manual.

Toyota Avensis Verso GLX $39,990
Toyota Avensis Verso (a) $41,990
Toyota Avensis Verso Ultima (a) $46,990


TO quote soulful songstress Sade, the Avensis Verso is a smooth operator. It is quiet, refined and goes about its business in an unobtrusive manner.

Toyota's newcomer replaces the slab-sided Spacia in a segment becoming increasingly congested with car-derived people-haulers in lieu of commercial vehicles with seats thrown in.

First impressions are that Avensis Verso in not a bad looking car - not quite as frumpy as some vehicles that wear the "people-mover" tag.

In keeping with Toyota's recent styling direction, the face is characterised by large, angular headlights and a steeply sloping bonnet. The cab-forward design means the driver is situated not far behind the front axle.

The elevated driving position gives you a commanding view of the road and the large glasshouse means lateral and rear vision is also good.

In typical Toyota fashion, the dash is neat and uncluttered - with all instruments and switchgear easily accessible.

An assortment of useful storage compartments are scattered throughout the interior - including a 6.6-litre glovebox, centre console box and a concealed cubby in the centre console.

There is also a storage box displacing 132 litres under the rear luggage floor - it's big enough to swallow a golf bag.

Luggage space measures 301 litres with the rear seats in place, but this can be made to grow dramatically if there are less than six occupants on board. Incidentally, the rear seats are best suited to children as there is minimal legroom and getting in and out requires some gymnastic ability.

On the road the Avensis Verso is a poised performer, exhibiting compliant ride quality and good stability. Bodyroll is also well controlled given the height of the vehicle.

Although Toyota makes a big song and dance about the Avensis Verso's class-leading power-to-weight ratio, there is no doubt the 2.0-litre engine has its work cut out hauling the near-1500kg vehicle around.

It must be said the Holden Zafira feels more sprightly even though it has 2kW less. The key ingredient is torque - Zafira has 203Nm while Avensis Verso has 192Nm.

Overall, the Avensis is a well-engineered package - as we have come to expect from Toyota.

But it is hard to justify it as a value-for-money proposition when the highly competent and equally versatile Zafira can be had for a significantly smaller outlay.

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