Text: Marcus De Guzman / Photos: Marcus De Guzman | posted October 21, 2015 00:59
A fresh start
I have always found the Toyota Avanza as a curiosity. Here was this odd-looking multi-purpose van (MPV) that has an equally strange name, and, what I considered back then as a niche target market. Nine years and two generations later, the Avanza is one of the biggest volume sellers of Toyota besides the ubiquitous Vios and its larger brother, the Innova.
Toyota Motors Philippines (TMP) still plans on being the top contender in the compact MPV segment, after launching the refreshed 2015 Avanza last September. Now bearing a more chiseled front end and a slightly revised interior among other things, will the new revisions on the Avanza provide a fresher look and feel? Let’s find out.
Let’s start with the most apparent change on the 2015 Avanza, its face. Gone are the swept-back headlights and the chrome grill. In their stead are new headlights, reshaped chrome grill with a lower matte black trim and a restyled bumper. I have to say, the newly-styled front end does look better than the pre-facelift version which I wasn’t really fond of. The side pretty much remains the same, apart from the new 15-inch alloy wheels.
The rear has subtle revisions as well and is comprised of updated combination taillights, a thicker chrome garnish, new G badging and a repositioned tow hook.
Aboard, it has a two-tone interior theme that's a mix of gray and brown. Hard plastic was heavily used throughout the cabin, but they somehow made it look more premium than most budget compact MPVs. The brown fabric seats and door trim also give off an upscale feel, despite being a volume selling MPV.
The seats are comfortable, though the Avanza has an awkward driving position. It took me a while to find a suitable setting for the seats and steering column. Legroom on the 2nd row seats is fine while the 3rd row seats are, again, mostly reserved for children. But if one had no choice, the 2nd row seats can be moved forward for that little extra legroom. I'm 5'5 and I managed to slip in the 3rd row just fine. But I must confess that if I ever get stuck in the 3rd row, I hope it will be a short trip.
This being the range-topping model, it gets a new touchscreen infotainment system that supports AM/FM/CD/MP3/Aux/USB. It also has Bluetooth hands-free calling, Navigation via a SD card slot and steering wheel-mounted audio controls. Aside from the fact that most of its functions are now digital, it is nice to know it has better sounding-speakers and a configurable sound equalizer. Radio fidelity still leaves something to be desired, but listening to tunes off an iPod, iPhone or similar smartphone was surprisingly good.
Power locks, windows and side mirrors come as standard along with a rear window defogger and wiper for good measure. The 12V socket makes a comeback in the updated Avanza and is now side by side with the USB port. Both sockets are still placed at the bottom of the center console, though accessing them is harder as they're now facing towards the driver instead of facing upwards. It does, however, free up space below which is good for placing phones or other items.
Providing the necessary grunt is the carried-over 1.5-liter inline-four engine that now benefits from Dual VVT-i. Strangely though, it still puts out the same 102 PS and 136 Nm of torque from before. Driving around town and along highways, the engine delivers a respectable amount of power throughout the rev band, and the 4-speed automatic transmission responds better. There is still however a noticeable 'shift shock' when the tranmission switches from 1st gear to 2nd gear. There is also the matter of what sounds to be transmission whine when traveling at highway speeds.
Average fuel consumption around the city (1-3 passengers) hovered around 7 to 7.3km/l. Not bad considering the pre-facelift model averaged 6.2km/l. Some may argue that the 1.3-liter engine would be better, but do remember that the smaller engine will have to work harder to pull the car along. The steering and ride quality were also good, though on bumpier roads, it suffers quite a bit. But then again, this is still a body-on-frame vehicle, not a monocoque.
After being with the car for a week, driving it opened my eyes as to what it really was. It's a small family car that can also seat seven at any given moment. It can carry a decent amount of cargo with its configurable seating arrangement but it can still be as comfortable like a sedan. Its size actually works in its favor, as having a larger vehicle means having to find a bigger parking space. Let's also not forget about that new face, which is actually more attractive.
All in all, the 2015 Avanza does deliver a fresher look on an already established compact MPV. The only downside that the MPV may have to contend with is its price, as this top-of-the-range model retails for PhP 910,000. At that price bracket, the updated Avanza is already near the price range of larger MPVs and similarly-priced crossovers.