Text: Jude Morte / Photos: Jude Morte | posted February 24, 2009 00:00
More bang for your (school mini) bus
In fact, it actually is a wholesome vehicle. The TV commercials for its immediate predecessor (remember Doraemon inviting a family of six to come see the APV and Suzuki?) made sure of that, making the vehicle a suitable bus for a family of six, or an extended family. But the times are changing, and Suzuki had to do something to make its sole entry level multi-purpose vehicle compete with the likes of the Toyota Avanza and the Nissan Grand Livina. Even if it means getting a little more suited for, uh, grown up tastes.
Outside the second iteration of the APV is more of a bread loaf on wheels, given its design and overall silhouette. There are changes, though, albeit mostly to the headlights (they're more trapezoidal in shape), the front grille (the horizontal slats are thicker), the rim designs (they look more for heavy duty) and the tailights have a deeper red color than the previous model. Plus, the light purple on the unit doesn't call too much attention to itself.
Inside is the reason why the exterior looks so much like Gardenia sliced bread. Although for front occupants you seat high (and have a towering view of traffic), the front ergonomics are basically the same - circular rotating vents for the leftmost and rightmost aircon vents, a four horizontal-slat grille for the middle front aircon vents and the rear aircon vents and large door storage bins. There are changes, though, as the middle dashboard has a small cavity (under the aircon controls), and the head unit can play MP3-loaded CDs. Just don't expect Bose-quality audio sound.
Behind the front occupants is what sports the biggest changes. Although the rear doors are still swing-type, the second row of seats that welcome rearbound passengers are now captain's chairs (that can move forward or backward with one tug on the black handles below the said seats) instead of one long lateral bench. So instead of seating six in the back, the APV II can only handle five people. Apparently Suzuki wanted to make the vehicle more family friendly, considering even the octogenarian crowd as a target occupant for its multi-purpose vehicle (MPV). But if one needs to relax fully in the back, one can make the second row backrests lie flat (sans headrests) so that they're parallel to the third row's thigh cushions. Once that's done, you can adjust the blower speed of the rearward airconditioner (found at the ceiling area, right behind those in front), lie down in the third row, and enjoy what's going on in front. Or what's happening beside you, since the large rear side glass allows plenty of opportunity for sightseeing. Whether it's for kids or for something else is entirely up to you.
And let's not forget the third row. It can be folded and tumbled forward to handle the occasional odd-shaped cargo or luggage. Or double digit numbers of kids' school bags, which seem to be growing in size as the years pass. Then again, even with the third row upright, the unit is capable of swallowing two balikbayan boxes and three large duffel bags without blocking rearward vision. Sadly, people in the rear only get two cupholders, and they're right between-and-aft of the front passengers. Door storage in the rear is limited too, so any trip with people in tow at the rear section requires them to bring their own thermos or drinking bottles, plus snacks in makeshift plastic receptacles.
As with most MPVs, the APV II's performance is decent but not spectacular. You enter the powerband at a high 3,000-3,500 rpm, and the A/T is willing to downshift only at three-fourths pedal effort, going to second gear on inclines and third (or even second) on flat tarmac. It makes acceleration on all sorts of roads downright scary, but when you stomp on the gas the a/t willingly obeys. The results - a 142 kph top speed and 6.95 km/l on four days mixed driving - are obvious, but expected.
Much like its forward performance, handling isn't exactly pleasing but there's surprisingly little body roll and the ride is comfortable despite a short (2625 mm) wheelbase. Steering feel is syrupy and steering feedback is poor due to a small steering wheel.
The APV II's safety systems are a love-hate matter. The brakes feel wooden and have little bite, especially after the unit has been cleaned. At least there's ABS, but it takes a long time to wake up. Rear glass and thick d-pillars make long backing and parallel parking tricky, because the limited rearward vision from the former and the designs of the latter make it hard to see what's going on rearward. You have to go out and see what's going on behind you A LOT, or ask the fellow riding shotgun with you to help you out. Another quirk - the power-assisted central locking is similar to that on the first iteration Mazda 323 sedans in the country. You pull up to unlock the doors and push down to lock. The good news is that the driver's seat position makes it easy to pull the locks with your right hand and push them down with your left elbow. At least the rear doors have child safety locks so kids won't mess with them and eventually tumble out the doors.
All told, the Suzuki APV II is worth its P810,000 admission price due to its large rear accommodations and rear-facing features. It may not move forward quickly or may give the driver headaches when parallel parking or moving backwards, but an MPV's job is to keep those in the rear occupied (at least temporarily) until the unit reaches its destination. Surprisingly it does, and gives it further potential as a school shuttle for families or a large cargo hauler.