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Car reviews - Toyota - Avensis - GLX wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Sensible layout, Toyota solidity and refinement
Room for improvement
Lap-belt in centre middle seat, under-powered engine

30 Mar 2003

PEOPLE movers are not a big deal in Australia. Where Holden and Ford sell about 12,000 Commodores and Falcon between them in a month, all the load luggers combined can only manage that in a full year.

The temptation of cheap Aussie wagons and - if you've got a bit more budget - high, wide and handsome four-wheels drives consign the people-movers unceremoniously to the shady part of the sales tree.

Which is a pity in some ways, because there are some excellent devices out there for transporting your nearest and dearest in comfort - if not style.

Take Toyota's Avensis Verso as an example.

Based on the front-wheel drive platform that underpins Toyota's European family car called Avensis, the Verso is solidly built, thoroughly thought-out and eminently practical.

It's a seven-seater laid out in a 2-3-2 pattern, with car-style door openings rather than sliding doors, and a single-piece vertically opening tailgate.

It's not perfect, of course, but it is simply eons ahead of the commercial van-based Spacia it replaces.

But you pay for it and that's perhaps the biggest bugbear.

Avensis comes as the base model GXL we've tested here and an up-spec Ultima.

Both are quite well equipped but they also quite expensive. The GXL will cost about $45,000 by the time you get it on the road, the Ultima won't leave much change out of $50,000.

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 foglights, roof rails and a subtle rear spoiler.

Toyota's excellent touch-screen DVD-based satellite navigation system is available as a dealer-fit option on both models.

Safety equipment - appropriately enough for a family car - makes a strong story. Dual airbags are standard in the GLX, while the Ultima also has side-impact bags and curtain shield bags - a rarity in this segment.

Then there's anti-lock braking acting on four wheel discs with the assistance of electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist. The latter uses a sensor to detect emergency braking situations and subsequently applies maximum braking force to minimize stopping distance.

So that's all good stuff. As is much of the interior design.

The seat design is a five-plus-two, meaning row three is really devoted to the kids. Cleverly, the third row folds up out of the floor, creating a 132-litre hole which can fit anything from a few grocery bags to golf clubs.

The third row also split-folds, which adds to the versatility. Access is quite easy via the tilt\slide mechanism on row two, which also allows you to tailor the amount of leg space required for occupants of that middle row. Row two also split-folds as well.

All clever thinking. But the bad news is in row two, where the middle seat misses out on a lap-sash seat belt and a headrest, when everybody else gets both. The middle of the middle row is hardly the most comfortable place to sit either.

The front pews adjust manually and you sit nice and high up from the driver's seat with a commanding view through a big glass area - perhaps only the right-shoulder glance is compromised by the B-pillar.

But those seats, like the rest of the interior in our test car, were covered by a light coloured cloth trim. And anyone with a family knows what that means.

Muddy footprints from kids clambering all over the place. Go darker Toyota, we urge you.

There's plenty of storage points scattered around the interior though, like a nice big glovebox, bottle holders accompanying the pockets in all the doors, a lidded bin at the top of the centre console and a storage bucket at the bottom.

The dash and console design are suitably Toyota conservative and sensible, although the hardness of the instrument pod surrounds was disappointing when we know Toyota does "slushy" better than anyone. With the automatic gear lever mounted in the steering column - albeit on the left where it can still get in the way - there is walk-through capability to the second row.

So inside it mostly makes pretty good sense and it appears well built as well.

But it's obvious from driving the Verso that performance has not had the same level of attention paid to it.

It's not bad, but it's not inspiring either. The best part is the ride.

Cushioned, soft and supple, it's very well suited to the pick-up and drop-off chores, negotiating the railway crossings, gutters, speed bumps and pot holes that make up an urban driving life.

The downside of that is plenty of rocking and rolling if you are negotiating winding roads at a reasonable speed - not helped by the high seating position and flat seats.

The steering is as dead as a doornail but also appropriately light for negotiating driveways, supermarket carparks and the like. The 11.0-metre turning circle helps in that regard too.

But this car is under-powered. The 2.0-litre four-cylinder struggles against nearly 1500kg of kerb weight. The engine also has the wrong characteristics, getting noisy as it revs out beyond 6000rpm - where peak power of 110kW is produced. Peak torque of 192Nm kicks in at a still quite high 4000rpm.

A 0-100km/h claimed time of 11.4 seconds tells you the Verso is no rocket - although it does offer smooth progress thanks to the impressive automatic transmission. There also seems to be some recompense in the claimed fuel consumption figures of 9.0 litres per 100km around town and 6.4L/100km on the highway.

We reckon the acceleration figures are about right if you're one-up, but get a family onboard with their luggage and Verso won't get close too that. Fuel consumption will also start climbing too.

And that's a pity. So much thought has gone into this car that the lack of more powerful engine is conspicuous by its absence. As it is, that 2.0-litre mill and the ambitious pricing mean this car does well to sell in the numbers it does.

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