Why the Toyota Verso-S reminds us of... a Lambo

Published: 18 March 2011

Drove the Toyota Verso-S last night, and it set me on a strange thought process which led me all the way to… the Lamborghini Gallardo Balboni! Here’s why.

There’s nothing actually wrong with the Verso-S, but it’s an instantly forgettable experience in every way. That’s no surprise – Toyota has gradually abandoned all attempts to be anything other than a purveyor of white goods, and would no doubt shrug its corporate shoulders on hearing that the Verso is no MR2 to drive, or Mk3 Rav4 three-door to look at.

The bigger shock about the Verso-S is how cheap, tinny and plasticky it feels. It seems as if Toyota’s total world dominance has led them to arrogantly assume they can quietly downgrade the quality threshold and hope nobody notices, and as a result the Verso-S feels like the kind of low-grade experience we used to get from the Koreans. But there are two bits of bad news for Toyota: first, the Koreans have upped their game, and are now building better cars than the Verso-S, and second, Toyota’s quality compromises have resulted in the wave of recalls which have mortally wounded the company’s brand.

So, with the forthcoming, rear-wheel-drive FT-86 coupe, Toyota turns back towards a car aimed at pleasing enthusiasts. A desperate plan? Maybe. It’s a joint-venture with the equally off-form Subaru and will have to be a stormer to drive if it’s to avoid falling flat on its face.

Rear-wheel-drive is not a panacea. My belief is that BMWs, for example, are great cars to drive not because their rear wheels are driven but because they are built on superb chassis, with inspired drivetrains by engineers who have spent a lifetime honing their skills. That’s why front-wheel-drive Minis are also brilliant to drive – they’re engineered by those same geniuses.

And so we get to the Balboni, the rear-wheel-drive Gallardo. Here at CAR we wet ourselves with excitement when Lambo announced it was dipping its toe back into its RWD DNA. We conjured up the thrilling memories of Countaches and Diablos past. But the Balboni was no great shakes – too sticky to unseat, too skittish to drive flat-out, it succeeded merely in proving that Lambo was right all along to pursue four-wheel drive and ignore the purists.

Toyota’s FT-86 may prove to be a great car. But if it is, I contend that it won’t be simply because it’s rear-wheel drive.

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By Greg Fountain

CAR's former managing editor, editor, caption chiseller, noticer of ironies