Toyota facelifted the Verso mini-MPV in 2012, but it’s taken until 2014 for what’s under the bonnet to raise its game. A BMW-sourced 1.6-litre turbodiesel is the headline here: it’s the only oil-burner you can spec in the Verso, replacing the old Toyota 2.0-litre unit.
A more frugal diesel sounds just the job for a family-hauling workhorse – we’re testing it in top-spec Excel trim, allied to a six-speed manual gearbox. Can it justify a £25,845 as-tested sticker price?
Tell me more about the Toyota Verso’s BMW engine
Toyota hasn’t simply winched it straight out of an unsuspecting 1-series and scribbled out the propeller badge: there’s a new dual-mass flywheel, revised engine mounts, and Toyota’s own ECU. It’s all in the name of greater refinement, and thanks to the shrunken engine, there’s 20kg less over the nose too.
Power drops marginally due to the 400cc deficit: you get 110bhp instead of 125bhp, and 199lb ft replaces 229lb ft. That adds a hefty 1.4sec to the 2.0-litre’s 11.3sec 0-62mph time (now 12.7sec), though the top speed remains unchanged at 115mph.
Who buys an MPV for performance? Exactly. More to the point, Toyota now claims a 62.8mpg average (up from 57.6mpg) and a 10g drop in CO2 emissions: they’re now 119g/km, saving a whopping £80 in annual road tax.
I’m not expecting a scintillating performer…
Then you won’t be disappointed. That said, the downsized powerplant never struggles to haul 1625kg of Verso, despite the best efforts of its reluctant manual gearbox to delay proceedings. Engine noise only becomes a real bugbear above 3000rpm – 750rpm after maximum torque has ebbed away. Despite the grumbly engine, there’s no diesel vibration through the controls, or buzzing from the lacklustre trim. It’s wind noise that’s more prevalent, especially above 70mph, despite the tweaked Verso’s extra soundproofing and sleeker new door mirrors.
Does 62.8mpg sound a tad ambitious to you ? Us too, but our test average of some 48mpg is a very strong showing, giving the Verso an impressive 630-mile touring range. It’ll be a comfortable cruise too: the Verso rolls heavily if flung at a serious bend, but the payoff is a compliant, well-controlled ride, even on our test car’s 17in alloys.
What about inside?
Toyota claims more than 300 components were changed when the Verso was facelifted in 2012. Not enough of them were concentrated inside. The Verso has now been on sale since 2009, and inside, it’s really feeling its age.
It is curious how Toyota has chosen to equip a car as large as the Verso with a touchscreen infotainment centre the size of a postcard. Then there are the vast expanses of dash-top plastics (devoid of dash-top storage bins). It’s all squidgy to the touch, yet the surround for the main switchgear panel is brittle, shiny plastic. Why lux-up the parts the customer will never prod, yet leave the everyday contact points less tactile than a Happy Meal toy?
The ugly door handles look like the instrument a vet inserts into your dog’s backside to check its temperature, but flimsier. The £560 panoramic glass roof on our test car is a must-have to avoid medieval dungeon ambience inside, even if it does rob a little headroom in the process. Just about the kindest thing we can say about the Verso’s cabin here in 2014 is that it’s hard-wearing. Ford’s C-Max and Peugeot’s 3008/5008 duo exhibit superior materials, while the new Citroen C4 Picasso licks the lot of them for interior design verve.
So it won’t be on Grand Designs any time soon. Is it roomy enough?
Up front, it’s plenty spacious enough. Headroom and kneeroom is a little tight for adults in the middle row of seats, and the heavy rear seats are strictly for children when raised from their flat-folded position in the 440-litre boot.
Mind you, the Verso does look a size smaller than ‘proper’ seven-seat SUVs like the Citroen C4 Grand Picasso and Vauxhall Zafira Tourer, so we applaud Toyota for making efficient use of a smaller footprint. For families with younger children, the Verso should manage just as well as its more van-like competitors.
A sharp Auris-aping facelift – ironically more aesthetically pleasing than the Auris hatch itself – and a decent new diesel engine aren’t enough to keep the Verso on pace with its fresher rivals, which have really moved the game on in the five years since the Japanese contender (successor to the wildly popular Corolla Verso) first arrived.
Losing ground to UK favourites like the Ford C-Max and Peugeot-Citroen’s latest offerings is perhaps predictable, but more worrying for Toyota is the gulf between its product and the Korean rivals from Hyundai and Kia. A top-spec diesel Kia Carens is more powerful, more spacious, smarter inside and a tiny bit cheaper, representing superior value to the ageing Toyota.