Text: Inigo S. Roces / Photos: Inigo S. Roces | posted August 15, 2016 19:03
The Once and Future King
Over the past 11 years that it's been in the market, the Innova has practically become an indispensable member of many Filipino families. Being bulletproof reliable, easy to drive, fuel efficient, and capable of carrying a mix of people of cargo, there's hardly any task the Innova, or any similar MPV/AUV, can't do.
The vehicle has beaten back serious challenges from newer vehicles, in spite of just minor changes over its 11-year cycle. As such, this all-new model brings forth major changes to keep it comfortably ahead for another similarly long cycle.
Most evident of all is the new Innova's more sophisticated look. There are hints of both SUV and minivan styling cues. It bears a similar trapezoidal grille to the Avanza, yet the top half has some aggression to it, like the Hilux. Its broad headlights stretch out to form a shoulder line that runs all the way to the back. The windshield has a more extreme rake to it, and the rear spoiler even aligns with the rear window graphic — styles typically employed by minivans.
While its body will draws stares, it’s the interior that will leave jaws dropped. Like the more premium styling outside, the interior has leveled-up as well. Up front, it bears a beautifully sculpted dashboard, shaped like the profile of a wing. Wood inserts run the length of it.
The cluster may only have two dials but they are embellished with a 3D design. In between is a digital display that can show anything from the consumption, range, warnings or even your current eco-driving score.
Ahead of it is the steering wheel, featuring built-in controls for the audio, telephony, and multi-info display. There’s also a dark wood trim at the top of the wheel, while stitched leather wraps majority of it and provides better grip. On the door, the felt-lined armrests are a treat for the elbows.
There's still no reach adjustment for the steering wheel but the driver's seat is remarkably comfortable, making even long hours spent in traffic hardly taxing to the body. The only disappointing part of the cockpit is the odd arrangement of the steering wheel buttons and the slippery top portion of the wheel.
Towards the center is the new soft-touch LCD screen, integrated nicely into the dash. The cleaner, button-less design is a nice touch, so too is the fully automatic climate control that allows the driver to control rear aircon from the front.
Up above is the new LED ambient lighting system, with adjustable brightness, separate map lights, and a compartment for sunglasses.
The passenger side features two glove boxes, with the top one able to double as a drink cooler. Like the Vios, cupholders are positioned by the aircon vents to keep beverages cool.
Those behind will enjoy the new seatback trays which can hold up to 10-kg. They have built-in cupholders too. And if those aren’t enough, the bench’s center armrest drops down and has two more. Keep the armrest up and the second row bench can fit three people, each with their own three-point ELR seatbelts. Up above are automatic climate controls for more precise adjustment of cabin temperature.
Finally, getting to the third row is easy with just one touch tilting and folding part of the 60/40 split second row bench. The second row can also slide forward to grant some more legroom to those behind. The third row bench can now seat three people in a pinch, with each passenger secured with three-point ELR seatbelts and their own headrests too. It can also be deployed or stowed with ease thanks to the spring loaded hinge. The Innova also helps keep the interior organized with clever slots and clips to neatly tuck the headrests, seatbelts and buckles when not in use.
While many of the interior improvements are welcome, there are others that draw mixed reactions. For one, the bold tiger stripe pattern of the seats and their light brown shade is not to most customers' liking. Nonetheless, these seats are very comfortable, even after being on them for several hours in heavy traffic. Other additions are the blue ceiling LED mood lights. Thankfully, their brightness can be adjusted or even turned off completely.
When the time to depart comes, the Innova and all its eight passengers can be easily hauled by the new 2.8-liter GD-series engine. This is the same powerplant in the top-of-the-line 4x4 Fortuner, yet detuned to produce 171 PS and 360 Nm of torque. It’s paired to a five-speed manual that delivers drive to the rear wheels.
All this can be regulated with the help of the new driving modes: Eco, Normal and Power. As indicated, they adjust the engine mapping to deliver the kind of performance required of each mode. With such a massive new engine, keeping it on normal mode is more than enough to haul a full load of eight passengers and luggage with little difficulty.
The manual's first gear is really short, just enough to get a fully loaded vehicle rolling, while the other gears are much longer. Once at 100 km/h, the engine hums at around 2,000 rpm in 5th gear.
In Power mode, the engine is completely let loose and revving very eagerly. Just a little prod on the throttle gets it revving and pulling with more enthusiasm than most will expect.
Thankfully, this is all brought to a stop by the powerful brakes. They’re a tad sensitive and bite hard when driving leisurely, but much very reassuring when in Power mode. Also, the chassis is quite forgiving, returning a comfortable yet stable ride, maneuvering and handling no differently than your average sedan. This is all thanks to the light steering feedback and tighter turning gear.
With heavy rains and the even heavier traffic it brings, our short time with the Innova returned an impressive 10 km/L in very heavy traffic. With an iPod plugged in, a quite cabin, and very comfortable seats, the hours stuck in gridlock passed by pretty quickly. In the highway, it might not perform as stellarly, returning just 14 km/L.
Nonetheless, many will find the improvements made to the Innova definitely worth the wait. For those planning to drive themselves and their families, this G variant ought to be pick of the litter, with most of the unique trim and amenities focused around driver comfort, entertainment and control.
Indeed it’s much more expensive now, at P1,269,000, yet justifies this increase with well thought-out improvements both inside and out. Its remarkable power and luxurious interior can put many of its current competitors to shame, no doubt ensuring the Innova continues to reign for a long time.