I have been looking at potential replacements for my aging car and while I was initially determined to go for the Land Rover Discovery (a long time favourite), the starting price tag of R440 000 is a tad hefty for my humble budget (my current car cost less than R100 000 when I bought it four years ago). While I have briefly considered a BMW (aiming high here) I am not so sure that is worth the price tag.
I read a report a while ago about Toyota and how their cars are the second most sought after on the planet (or something like that) and how their quality (which has always been great) is really something, especially for what you are paying. Looking at the current range, I am really taken with the Corolla Verso. I saw the first one a year ago or so at a car thing at Sandton City and it really is a good looking car.
CarToday.com reviewed the car a little while ago and their review was very complementary:
A car that significantly advances the state of the compact people-mover.
Opel’s Zafira comes with two extra rear seats that fold into the floor. But a seven-seater with five chairs that fold away, leaving a long, flat load floor, is something really novel. Toyota’s Corolla Verso, with its Easy Flat 7 system, has advanced the art of the compact people-mover in a very practical way. No more need to lift out heavy seats and find somewhere to store them. Verso users simply have to flip each of the seatbacks forward, and the innovative folding system does the rest, slotting first the squab, then the backrest, into the under-floor space provided.
Fitting into the Toyota line-up above the Corolla saloons and RunX hatches, the Verso (offered in four models, all powered by the same 1,8-litre engine, but with a choice of trim levels and transmissions) has been positioned as a kind of flagship nameplate, providing a combination of sporty dynamics and luxurious practicality for families buying a car in the R200 000-plus category. Although there is a cheaper 1,6-litre version overseas, South Africans wanting more affordable seven-seater practicality will continue to be catered for by the Condor.
With its high, triangular headlights, twin-slot grille, slab sides, two-colour rear light units, and angled-down rear side-glass, the Verso’s styling has noticeable links to the latest Prius hybrid. It’s a dynamic look, in keeping with Toyota’s stated intention of producing a people-mover with sporty overtones. All models feature colour-matched bumpers and side mirrors, and all ride on 16-inch wheels shod with 205/55 R16 rubber. The lowest-priced versions have steel wheels, while SX and TX models come with alloy units.
Suspension is by MacPherson struts in front, with a space-saving torsion-beam set-up at the rear. All Versos have four-wheel disc brakes (ventilated units in front) with ABS and EBD. More expensive versions also get brake assist (BAS), vehicle stability control (VSC) and traction control (TRC).
The common power plant is a 1 794 cm3 twin-cam 16-valve four featuring Toyota’s VVT-i (variable valve-timing – intelligent) system. Peak outputs are 95 kW at 6 000 r/min and 170 N.m at 4 200. The engine is mated with a five-speed manual transmission or, in the case of SX and TX models, can be specified with M-MT (multi-mode manual transmission), Toyota’s microprocessor-controlled gearbox.
The R209 400 steel-wheeled five-speed manual test vehicle, simply labelled Corolla Verso 180, is the closest we get to an "entry" Verso. But the spec is comprehensive. Standard features in the comfort and convenience category include air-conditioning (with a clean air filter), heater ducts for rear-seat passengers, tinted windows with a sound-absorbing acoustic windscreen, electric windows up front, electrically-operated side mirrors, an illuminated entry system, map-reading lights, and an Optitron instrument cluster with a multifunction display you can scroll through using a button on the steering wheel boss. The wheel features adjustment for rake and reach.
Among the other standard items are front and rear cupholders, an auxiliary power point, an RDS radio cum front-loading CD player with satellite controls on the steering wheel, headlamp levelling control, a rear foglight, remote central locking (including the tailgate), a rectangular electronic key, a luggage compartment cover that stows away beneath the floor when not in use (missing from the test unit), five storage compartments, and height adjustable front seats.
Safety equipment includes dual stage airbags for driver and front passenger (with an on-off switch for the passenger unit, for use when carrying a baby-seat), side airbags for both front passengers, and an innovative knee airbag on the driver’s side. Front seatbelts feature pre-tensioners, and the rear compartment has Isofix child seat anchors with top tethers.
The interior is spacious, with a European feel. Facia and door-cappings are in hard plastic, but the subtle grain gives the material a classy look. There was some inconsistency in the fit of the facia panels on the test car, the lid on the centre-dash cubby was warped, and one of the retaining clips on the driver’s side sunvisor was broken. The centre console has a high-tech aluminium-look finish, with a large display for the entertainment centre. A navigation button to the left is presumably there in anticipation of Toyota eventually offering a system for South Africa. On the lower section are large rotary switches for the efficient air-conditioning.
The major controls are well positioned – the pedals are not offset, there’s a perfectly positioned footrest for the clutch foot, and the gearlever, mounted fairly high up on a ledge extending out from the central hang-down section of the facia, falls nicely to hand. The ample range of adjustment provided for steering and driver’s seat makes it easy for people of all shapes and sizes to find a comfortable position at the controls.
We’ve already mentioned the Verso’s seating versatility, but it should be added that the centre row of seats, which feature ample longitudinal adjustment, allow plenty of legroom. However, even with the centre seats in their furthest forward position, the pair of chairs at the rear will be uncomfortable for adults on all but the shortest of journeys.
Loadability is a strong point. Even with all seven seats in use, there’s still 64 dm3 of luggage space at the rear. With the two rearmost seats folded away and the second row in their rearmost position, the volume climbs to 320 dm3. And with all five fold-down seats stowed, there’s a gaping compartment that will hold 1 488 dm3 of our ISO-block luggage.
Loadability is a strong point. Even with all seven seats in use, there’s still 64 dm3 of luggage space at the rear.
Slip the electronic key into its slot, depress the clutch, press the start button, and the VVT-i engine purrs into life. Driving away, one is immediately impressed by the lightness of the clutch, and the light, positive steering. Gearchanges are slick – the best we’ve encountered on a Corolla derivative – and the variable valve-timing gives the Verso impressive flexibility.
Press on a bit, and the vehicle impresses with the sportiness of its comportment: there’s never a feeling that the centre of gravity is too high, and handling is neutral, with understeer developing only if you really push too hard into a bend. Ride is well-damped and absorbent, the Verso soaking up bumps with aplomb.
Out on the test strip, the 1 406 kg manual-shift Verso accelerated to 100 km/h in a commendable 11,35 seconds, and topped out at an impressive 196 km/h. Emergency braking was excellent, the test car averaging 3,05 seconds in our 10-stop 100-to-zero programme, the ABS and EBD ensuring there was no loss of stability. In more normal use, the pedal was easy to modulate, and retardation was smooth.
But the Verso’s class act was our fuel test. Its CAR fuel index of 8,70 litres/100 km is the best figure we’ve recorded with a 1,8-litre petrol-fuelled MPV, and equates to an impressive range of 690 km on the 60-litre tank.
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I love this car. Gonna start saving right now …