That was until the arrival of the Avanza in late 2006. But is its arrival too late in a new (and some say, economically harsh) period for four wheeled commonalty carriers?
Step inside and you'll discover Toyota's recent fondness for tan or beige colorways and simple dashboard layouts. Everything is within logical and easy reach of any and all occupants, the only exception being the defogger button under the leftmost aircon vent. The audio entertainment is serviceable but not exceptional, and the Kenwood head unit that came with the test vehicle (a P813,000 1.5L G VVT-i A/T) toting indicators that are hard to read. The interior lighting is also serviceable but not bright, with small lamps the size of budget bathroom soap bars. Speaking of the airconditioning, the Avanza totes a dual zone setup, but in Manila's heat and humidity, both front and rear blowers must constantly be set at the "two" setting to get decent cooling.
Seating is good for five to six people, but toss in seven to eight people and they will find seating tight, especially for those at the third row. It can get tight kneeroom-wise at the last row, but the width of the vehicle (1630 mm) allows for great lateral room for both rear rows. Ingress and egress for passengers to and from the third row is easy, thanks to the second row's folding/tumbling ability.
Storage is great for a vehicle of this setup, as there are numerous places within the cabin for placing small items and liquid vessels. Storage for huge cargo is also great, swallowing two to three balikbayan boxes with the third row tumbled forward and the second row backrests folded flat. The only problem was that the third row folding/tumbling latches are hard to find, for they are in the same tan/beige color as the seatcovers and interior.
Exterior-wise, the vehicle conveys itself as a people (or people-plus cargo) carrier, but has a Jekyll-and-Hide complex. At the front the Avanza borrows a few attractive styling cues from its Innova sibling and gives it an attractive viewpoint, but the rear section looks like the designers simply hurried their work and didn't give much thought into the creative process.
Hit the road and the Avanza engine tends to make the revs drone out sound from the radio or any inside conversation. Problem is, there's little low end response, and decent acceleration is only achieved with a 3000 rpm-and-onwards launch. Not helping much either is the inscrutable four-speed a/t, which tends to linger too long in any gear before taking action. The result is downright average but expected - a 157 kph tested top speed and 8.76 km/l on eight days of mixed driving.
As expected of a primary city-only multi-purpose vehicle (MPV), handling is somewhat boatlike, but more stable than any midsized SUV. Traction from the OE Dunlop SP10 185/65R15s breaks early (with loud tire squeal) at 60 kph, and at 70 kph the vehicle succumbs to understeer. However, there's pronounced body roll and the front wheel discs have little bite. Also, the ride is serviceable, reminiscent of vehicles with leafspring setups; unfortunately the unit has coilsprings all around the four wheels. The good news is that the steering is light (but blunt), and the exterior lighting is bright.
Despite a number of quirks, the Avanza is a good enough vehicle for a middle class family of four to six, or those who wish to turn it into an urban commonalty carrier. Just make sure that the unit rarely gets driven hard, is given an additional fuel supply (such as an external liquid petroleum gas tank), and that it remains strictly in urbanity.