It’s 11 years since Toyota was at the vanguard of the mini-MPV segment with the launch of the Yaris Verso. Now, six years after the demise of the vehicle that came to be known as the ‘ice-cream van’, Toyota makes a long-awaited return to the sector with the Verso-S.
2011 Toyota Verso-S - return of the Toyota mini-MPV
The previous iteration that was sold in the UK – there was a Mk2 that was marketed only in Japan – notched up over 10,000 sales here. With the Verso-S now going up against rivals from the likes of Honda, Skoda and Vauxhall, the market has got a whole lot tougher for Toyota while it's been away. And with the most expensive variant retailing at £16,895, it’s not the cheapest of that little cabal either.
Puffing up that hill…
Many of the CAR staff live in the ironing-board flat Fens. The bad news for Toyota? The Verso-S road test has been handed to a correspondent who lives at the bottom of one of North London’s hills – because if there is one thing the CVT autobox our model came with does not like, then it’s gradients.
Setting off up Mill Hill (a little over 400 feet above sea level, so hardly Scafell Pike) is an unnerving experience. It sounds like every single corpuscle, each minute subdivision of capacity in its 1.33-litre petrol engine is being strained. The same goes for (any attempt at) rapid acceleration onto a motorway. Is that banshee wail the engine screaming in agony or just you as a Norbert Dentressangle 10-wheel artic bears down on your rear end? Yes, once the Verso S has slogged its way up to motorway speed it sits there comfortably enough, but you’ve got to question the choice – if you can call it that – of just one, seemingly underpowered, engine ‘option’.
You mean there’s no diesel?
Nope. Our fellow European citizens across the Channel have the option of a 1.4 diesel, but not here. It’s that 1.33-litre petrol or nothing – although there’s a six-speed manual 'box if you don’t fancy the auto – because the added premium (around £1000), fuel costs, and no road tax savings over the petrol led to Toyota deciding not to bother offering UK customers an oil-burner.
Isn’t it just a four-door iQ?
You can argue that. Shared engine apart, styling-wise it pulls off the same cunning trick of mixing curves with angularity, with not dissimilar respective rear ends. The Verso-S does feel spacious even for six-footers, however, a feeling that’s heightened by that current MPV must-have, the panoramic sunroof (standard in T-Spirit trim). This one is a 1.2 metre-long whopper. As Toyota is boasting that the Verso-S is the shortest MPV on the market, that’s quite a sizeable percentage of roof.
Inside, it’s all resolutely, crushingly Japanese. Switchgear is chunky to touch and clunky to operate; there’s an odd array of dashboard surfaces too, the most offensive of which is a pinstriped two-tone outing across the instrument binnacle which looks like it was cribbed from a Mr Buyrite suit pattern. Compared to rivals, it feels rather down-at-heel.
The new Toyota Touch Multimedia System looks set to be a winner. Fitted as standard, it’s a touchscreen affair that’s easy to navigate (although ironically, we couldn’t navigate on this vehicle as sat-nav isn’t rolled out until May), and eschews much of the car industry’s love for convolution in favour of simplicity. It took seconds to set up the Bluetooth for phone operation and wireless music streaming. Hit reverse and it also turns into the screen for a very good parking camera.
With these mini-MPVs, it’s what’s inside that counts, yeah?
Well, the Verso-S misses a trick in the practicality states by not having sliding rear seats to improve luggage space, but it certainly isn’t cramped in the back. Legroom is decent up front too, while the boot offers a variable floor, meaning it can increase to 429 litres, besting the Honda Jazz (399 litres) and Vauxhall Meriva (397 litres). Ride is decent, even erring a little on the firm side in urban conditions, while steering is direct and precise and delivered through an uncommonly sporty-looking steering wheel, complete with a flat Audi RS4-style bottom section. Trust us, this is where the relationship between the words ‘sporty’ and ‘Verso-S’ end.
There’s a bloody fight raging on out there in the mini-MPV sector, and the reason is choice. Those looking to purchase from this segment may just base their verdict on finance in this chastened times. If that’s the case, the Verso S is on a bit of a sticky wicket. Touching £17k for the T-Spirit with auto box, it’s over £1000 more than the equivalent Jazz. And yet – infuriating powertrain aside – the Verso-S feels spacious, comfortable and reassuringly inoffensive. And for the more mature driver, that’s exactly what they’re looking for.
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