Since its introduction in the first quarter of the year, the Toyota Innova has been one of Toyota Motor Philippines Corporation's (TMPC's) backbones in terms of vehicle sales. The multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) averages a whopping 1137 units sold per month and constitutes 34 percent of the company's total sales, based on recent Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines (CAMPI) statistics.

In order to find our why this [R]evolution is so successful, the author took on this second installment of the much-heralded International Innovative Multipurpose Vehicle (IMV) project.

An [Innova]tion in terms of exterior design

The Innova lent to the author was a two-liter, manual transmission, "G" grade, gas-powered variant in gray mica metallic. Upon looking at the vehicle, one can see its near-resemblance to its FX Revo forebears, specifically the VX 200, VX 400 and SR (SportRunner) versions. The similarities can be seen in the exterior design, in which the hood mouldings and side door handles come in chrome, the front foglamps and headlamps are multi-reflector type, both front and rear wipers feature time adjusters and misting ability and both models feature hatch-type back doors. The only difference is that the Revo's overall exterior design is all angles and boxes while the Innova's is more egg-shaped. Also, the Innova features quarter panel windows near the front windshield.

Looking at the outside of the Innova reminds one of its successful Previa line, with a sleek one-box design and a bulbous front end. Striking parallelisms surface in this MPV's exterior at the headlights (they're slightly slanted, but not as chinky-eyed as the Previa's), the front grille, rakish profile and fender bulges at the rear. But what is very evident in the Innova's design is the presence of a lot more curves, perhaps more than Rufa Mae Quinto's.

An [Innova]tion in terms of MPVs

But enough comparisons to its 4Runners, er, forerunners. It's time to enjoy the Innova for its MPV potential. Entering the Innova requires pulling on chrome-plated grip-type door handles similar to its IMV brethren - the Hilux and the Fortuner. A look at the interior gives notice to the spaciousness of the interior, its carpet-to-floor color symmetry and its striking similarity to the Hilux and Fortuner interiors, all in a shade of tan that's pleasing to the eye. Moquette is the material of choice for the soft (but not pillowy-soft) seats, the headliner and the door trim and all in a light shade of tan that complements the relaxing mood exuded by the color of the dashboard and the doors. Just about the only thing that sticks out like a sore thumb is the faux wood trim adorning the two middle aircon vents and part of the door paneling.

Although the Innova claims a seating capacity of eight personnel, the author noticed that this IMV MPV seats seven in relative comfort, as observed in a recent trip to the Meralco Gym for a San Miguel Inter-Media Basketball Cup game. On the trip to the Meralco Gym, the author managed to fit in four people of above average size (i.e., six feet and above, 150-170 lbs. per occupant) in the middle row; all four passengers complained that sitting was seriously tight in the shoulders. Lesson: the 70/30 split second row has just enough width (1770 mm, to be exact) for three people.

The forward facing third row seats (a welcome change from the lateral facing seats of the Revo and most Asian Utility Vehicles) are comfortable for two people only. Entering and exiting the third row is a three-step procedure similar to many large SUVs - push down the headrest, pull the side lever to fold the seatback and pull another lever (located under the seat) to flip up the middle seats. In addition, the third row seats can be folded in a 50/50 manner.

The airconditioning system is freakingly cold, even at the blower one setting. Vents located for the rear passengers (within the headliner and at the center console for the second row, within the headliner and the side paneling for the third row) provides ample air for everybody within the vehicle, whether it's at head level or feet level.

Getting seat time behind the wheel of the Innova is a great experience; in fact you feel like you're driving a boat due to the tall ride height. The optitron (what Toyota calls electroluminescence) gauges and the clock (located within the center dashboard console, above the radio) provide excellent viewing 24/7, while the airconditioning dials and middle aircon vents are within easy reach of the driver. Compartments for luggage, drinks and bric-a-brac are numerous and can be found throughout the MPV - within the doors, underneath the aircon dials, the glove compartment, under the passenger side aircon vent - for convenience of all occupants. And the Fujitsu Ten 2-DIN head unit with CD and MP3 capability is a welcome change from the hassles of changing CDs all the time in search of a particular song; now all you have to do is burn a CD with 100-plus MP3s on it and shove it into the Innova's head unit for countless hours of audio entertainment.

An [Innova]tion in terms of MPV performance

Steering is a bit heavy but responsive, while the brakes grab quickly at the slightest prod of the middle pedal, even without an anti-lock braking system (ABS) in place. The ladder frame chassis (shared with the Fortuner SUV and the Hilux pickup), coupled with the coil spring suspension, felt great running over road irregularities but there was moderate body roll when executing turns. It is interesting to note that the only ones who feel the body roll are the passengers, not the driver. This observation was made by several teammates (and then-Innova occupants) of the author after the said game at the Meralco Gym.

Clutch feel is heavy but responsive enough to bring all 136 hp and 182 NMs of torque to the front wheels The five-speed manual transmission can be a bit notchy (particularly in second gear), no thanks to the rather tall, unsightly and phallus-looking stick shift column. The Innova's engine has lots of torque, but is wanting in power. Mash the throttle in fourth or even fifth gear and the revs take awhile to get up to 3000+ rpm, but then again this was meant to be a people cruiser, not a sports sedan or a luxury cruiser. Interestingly, a top speed run at the SLEX-bound portion of C5 netted a 171 kph top speed, not bad for a people hauler.

Put the MPV in reverse and a backup beeper helps you master parallel parking and long backing maneuvers. However, the backup indicator is sensitive only at 0.9 feet and below, unlike most American SUVs where their backup indicators activate at 1.2 feet and below. Toyota must have thought that most drivers here in the country are good at parallel parking and long backing; hence, the less sensitive backup sensors. But if you wish to turn off the rear sensors, all you have to do is press a button underneath the aircon controls and those friggin' backing beeps are gone.

Keep talking ‘bout a [R]evolution

Although the Innova is basically a transformed Revo, it is apparent that most people don't seem to care. A Php915,000 pricetag, sales charts that are the envy of other manufacturers and a reputation for quality has turned the Innova into the new people hauler [r]evolution, despite some minor hitches. But then again, if February 1986 is any indicator, the only way any revolution (or [r]evolution) will work is to gain the attention of the middle class. And since today's middle class is family-centered, the Innova suits just fine.