Toyota Avanza

The outgoing Avanza was Toyota’s way of saying, “Here’s a no-frills MPV that costs next to nothing, which you can cram seven people inside of and lug them from A to B in some form of primitive comfort.” And to be fair to Toyota it did just what it said on the tin.

Now is time for a new model to pick up where the old one left off. Toyota say the all-new Avanza has upped the ante considerably by going big: it’s big on style, big on space and big on comfort. Some of those things might be a little optimistic – but in my opinion they are all have a modicum of truth in one way or another.

Make no mistake; the newcomer still retains all the virtues of the outgoing model, namely: seven-seater flexibility, compact exterior dimensions and excellent value for money, but there’s a little more finesse this time around. While the Avanza still won’t be winning any Car Design of the Year awards, it is a big step up when compared with the outgoing model – even if that’s like saying my Pug is better looking than yours.

Hop inside the cabin and there’s that same sense of improvement, however I couldn’t help but simultaneously feel that had I never seen the old model I’d just think it was all pretty shoddy really. None-the-less Toyota has made an attempt at making a less tacky instrument cluster and centre console. They’ve done away with the horrible fake chrome and stuck with textured plastics in both matte and gloss finish, rounded off with an integrated four-speaker sound system with remote steering controls, a USB/auxiliary/iPod port and a dual-zone climate control air conditioning system with separate rear roof vents for rear passengers.

One of the biggest triumphs though of the new Avanza is the way in which occupant and luggage space has been increased without substantially enlarging the external dimensions.  All three rows of seats offer occupants ample room including kneeroom and, even with a full complement of passengers utilising all the seats, there is still enough boot space to store a fair amount of luggage.

Performance is a mixed bag. The little 1.5 litre four pot rattles away up front producing more noise than actual power, especially over 3000 rpm – something that becomes exceptionally tedious on a long journey; it’s that same noise you get when sitting between the engines on one of Kulula’s 737’s. Trust me, it’s unpleasant. As is the fuel consumption if you’re doing a fully loaded long run.

It’s when you’re in and around town that the five speed manual gearbox and noisy little motor are in their element. Because you’re just pottering around with a load of people on board the noise is hardly noticeable and in fact it’s not too bad to drive. You’ll also get pretty decent fuel consumption figures in the region of 7.7 litres/100km.

On the subject of ride and handling advancements have of course been made over the outgoing Avanza, which include revised suspension settings to soften the shock from bumps and suppress swaying when changing lanes. I had a go in all the seats on a trip from Johannesburg to Durban and I must admit that it wasn’t all that bad, even in the third row. In fact I’d have no complaints had they given the seats just a little more support.

The kicker is of course the price tag. At just over R200,000 you’d really struggle to find a vehicle capable of carrying seven people in any sort of comfort or style.

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