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Toyota Verso TR 1.8 V-Matic M-Drive S

Click to view picture galleryVerso by name, versatile by
  nature — that’s Toyota’s new
  family-friendly MPV. And just
  in time for a long hot summer...”

THE HOLIDAY SEASON IS WHEN THE FAMILY MPV really comes into its own, whether families are transporting themselves and luggage to an airport or for a drive to and from a holiday venue. Sales of new MPVs have not been strong in the last year due to the recession but now summer sales, particularly of medium-sized used ones, are healthy.

Having just come back from a few days in sunny Cornwall I can vouch for the fact that young couples with pre-school age children, couples without offspring and older couples (most with dogs), are now using mid-sized MPVs and this seems to be their solution to versatile and cost-effective family transport.

The previously popular SUV/4x4s were not much in evidence this year, except for a few towing caravans. It appears those users who still need a spacious mode of family transport have ditched the 4x4 and gone to the mid-sized MPV, both new and used.

A new MPV on the scene, replacing the previous model, is the seven-seat Toyota Verso. It now sits on a bespoke platform and, consequently, it is roomier. And it is no longer an extension of an existing model range: previously it was the Corolla Verso; now it is just Verso — and it is much better for that in the style stakes. It looks aerodynamic and relatively sporty and gives off a 'younger' image.

The new Verso features the latest Toyota Optimal Drive technology to reduce fuel consumption and increase power — all while producing less CO2. The new option to the latest range of a 2.0-litre diesel engine — rather than the just the single 2.2-litre diesel unit — will also broaden appeal and there is further engine choice with the new 1.8-litre Valvematic petrol engine. There are also three specification levels: T2, TR and T Spirit. Around 70% of customers will go for the middle TR level of equipment and trim.

Priced from 16,750, a Toyota Verso, seven-seat, five-door MPV with improvements in driving dynamics, quality, specification and 5-star Euro NCAP safety looks to be a smart purchase if, that is, an MPV is what you need.

Families through to 'empty-nesters' to mini-cab drivers all use MPVs because of their load and passenger carrying versatility, so there will always be a market for such vehicles — our needs do not change that much in the real world. It might mean that today we do not buy a new vehicle as often, but an MPV remains an important model. If it's more rewarding to drive then that is an advantage, because for many just mentioning an MPV can be boring.

Toyota does not sell huge numbers of Versos and they see around 4,500 of the new model being delivered to UK customers this year; the majority of them diesel. And for many buyers, the 18,950 Verso 2.0D-4D six-speed manual TR will be the optimum model.

Currently, prices go up to 20,675 for the top specification version and prices are yet to be released for the 2.2-litre diesel, which arrives later in the year and only comes with automatic transmission.

My test model was the 18,750 Verso TR 1.8-litre Valvematic petrol with a CVT automatic transmission ('
M-Drive S'), probably not the most popular single model in the range but useful because of the auto option and a likely choice for the older or less able driver.

Toyota designers may have visited, amongst other places, IKEA car parks where they interviewed shoppers to get their ideas on what a mid-sized family MPV must offer, but in truth the new Verso is not much different to any other well made, mid-sized people-carrier.

The vehicle accommodates up to seven people within three rows of seats. The seats easily fold flat if required to form a level load floor and the doors are wide opening for easy access. All normal stuff. The reliability and build quality, because it is a Toyota, is first class and forward and side large glass areas make visibility almost perfect. However, the rear quarter windows are small and visibility is not good in this area. Even though my test model was fitted with a rear-view reversing camera, I would still insist on the option of front and rear parking distance sensors which I found I needed squeezing the vehicle in and out of busy Cornish harbour-side car parks.

The 1.8-litre Valvematic petrol engine is new and uses lift and duration control of the variable timing of the inlet valves to deliver more power for less fuel with less CO2 emissions. Power over the old 1.8-VVT-I unit is up by a significant 18bhp to 145bhp; torque increases by 7lb ft to 133lb ft at 4,600rpm. CO2 emissions are also down, by 19g/km to 164g/km and fuel consumption in the combined cycle improves from 36.7 to 40.4mpg.

My 1.8 TR test car returned an average 35.8mpg for typical holiday driving, motorways, main roads and hilly Cornish lanes and, don't forget, this was with a CVT automatic gearbox. So I was impressed and for most non-business users I reckon the cost saving on the purchase price when compared to a diesel-powered Verso means the 1.8-litre petrol unit is really a better buy.

The petrol engine was lively, it revved freely, it was generally pretty responsive and for most low to medium mileage users would be the best choice. The 150 road tax bill is not too bad either. My only slight criticism concerns the CVT transmission because it tended to hold onto lower gears longer than necessary whilst overtaking or climbing hills. But with the instrument panel Eco light showing green most of the time, the petrol engine/auto CVT combination appeared to work well.

The handling was safe and secure; the ride comfort was very good with the suspension tuned to the soft end of the range. This is a set-up that real-life customers want rather than the firm, hard and tiring ride qualities seemingly loved by some go-faster members of the motoring media. In reality, customers prefer comfort and a non-tiring travel experience. The Verso gives you that although road noise intrusion is marginally higher than I would have liked.

The steering is perfectly predictable but it doesn't give much feedback to the driver. It just gets slowly on with the job and it is consistent no matter what the road surface.

The Easy-Flat 7 seating is exactly that: easy to use, easy to fold, seven seats in three rows and any combinations in between. The rear two rows of seats fold down to create a completely flat load floor — great for two people and their activity equipment or the family dog and so on. In truth, the rear row in most seven-seat MPVs is used only rarely (when guests need to travel) and most families like the five-seat layout and then loads of extra luggage space. It also means no drag-inducing roof boxes.

However, leg space in the rear row is very limited so they really are only for occasional use. That noted, the legroom for the three middle seats is very good and the new Verso makes a very comfortable five-seater with lots of load space (178-1,696 litres) all in a body 4,440mm long, 1,790mm wide and 1,620mm high. The good news it that it will easily go into multi-story car parks or fit in a normal domestic garage.

All in all the new Toyota Verso is a sound and safe buy. Well equipped from the bottom model up with most of the usual items such as electric windows and door mirrors plus air conditioning, alloy road wheels, Vehicle Stability Assist and traction control as well. The interior plastic trim looked drab but then it is wipe-clean and functional.

Against? With the rear row of seats in use the boot is small and at the same time rear legroom for the third row is very limited, there are some cheap interior plastics and tyre noise intrusion is too high. On the plus side there's now a wider range of models, improved fuel economy, lower CO2 emissions, a new fuel-efficient 1.8-litre petrol engine with CVT auto transmission option, clever and easy to use foldaway seating, a comfortable ride, comprehensive safety equipment and strong residual values. So while the Verso may not be exciting, it is fit-for-purpose and, not to be overlooked, it is a Toyota. — David Miles

Toyota Verso TR 1.8 V-Matic M-Drive S
| 18,750
Maximum speed: 115mph | 0-62mph: 11.1 seconds | Overall test MPG: 35.8mpg
Power: 145bhp | Torque: 133lb ft | CO2 164g/km | Insurance group 7E