It's been four years since I used to sell Toyotas, and four years since Toyota introduced the IMV line up: the clod-busting Toyota Hilux, the highly coveted Fortuner, and the Toyota Innova. I remember it clearly because the Innova has become a rather hard sell, especially in the shadow of the Fortuner's ultra high demand on the showroom floor.

Former salesman or not, I knew the Innova already had a lot going for it in 2005, and now, after the Fortuner's demand has receded in favor of a more comfortable SUV from a fellow Japanese manufacturer, the Innova's time to shine has come.

For 2009, Toyota has installed some nice improvements and updates to the new Innova. The exterior gains some new cosmetic bits like a fresh bumper design, new foglamps, a more elegant grille and chrome bits, new taillamps and a new set of wheels. Inside, there's lighter hue for the faux wood panels as well as new leather trimmings. Being a V variant, there's seating for six, as the 2nd row is swapped out for a pair of comfortable captain's seats, meaning the Innova V can go head to head with the pricier minivans.

On the dashboard, there's a new Aux-equipped (for your iPod) stereo system that can be controlled via the steering wheel mounted audio controls. The new controls can also operate the multi info computer that displays fuel range, compass, fuel economy, and other pertinent information. An automatic climate control system ensures that interior temperature levels are conveniently kept constant. Features wasn't really an Innova's strong suit, but as with a Toyota, there's this air of quality about the cabin. The way the pieces fit together, the feel of the plastics and the way there are no unwanted rattles or creaks gives the impression that the price of the Innova is money well spent.

Being an MPV, the Innova's versatility is a strong suit. There are two glove compartments; one above, one below. The center console box is quite large and there's the usual complement of cup and bottle holders for all three rows. With the 3rd row out of the way, there's much more space afforded, and considering that the 2nd row captain's seats can fully slide forward,, the cargo capacity can be comparable to a pick-up's. The folding mechanism on the 3rd row of the IMV line may seem a little cumbersome, as it folds forward then up to the side, but it's easier compared to the Fortuner thanks to the lower ride height.

As a drive, well, it's a mass-market Toyota MPV just like the Revo before it. In the handling department, the Innova's suspension has been adjusted to deal with bad Asian roads, thus engineers did not prioritize handling. When cornering at speed the Innova will lean and, thanks to high endurance Yokohama Aspec tires (read: less grip), wont really inspire confidence in twisty roads. But, when driven smoothly and casually, the Innova's suspension will take care of the rough stuff. Best to leave handling to sedans then.

D-4D common rail diesel technology sure has smoothed over the diesel engine, drastically reducing rattle at idle. With 2.5 liters of displacement and a turbo (no intercooler), the Innova 2.5V gets 102 PS of power and 260 Nm of torque, but still can't match the output levels similar diesels (i.e. Ford 2.5L TDCI has 143 PS, Mitsubishi 2.5L Di-D has 136 PS). The 4-speed gate type automatic transmission makes cruising easy, and there's decent fuel economy too, as the Innova 2.5L delivers city consumption figures 8.7 km/l during rush hour and 9.3 km/l in light to moderate traffic conditions.

When compared to the competition, both new and old, the Innova has marked advantages on different fronts. The Grand Livina from Nissan may have a more engaging drive, but the Innova is longer, wider and taller, hence has much better space and room. The Mitsubishi Fuzion has a clear edge in features and entertainment, but the Innova has an advantage with common rail diesel torque and economy, as well as a better 3rd row.

Even with the misgivings in the performance department, the Innova 2.5V has taken care of its priorities so well that it throws into question the need for the Previa. The Innova, at half the price of its minivan cousin, offers such a great bargain, the same versatility of space and seating, high levels of comfort, quality feel and most importantly, diesel economy.

  • Make:Toyota
  • Model:Innova 2.5V
  • Engine:2.5-liter DOHC 16-valve Inline-4 D4D CRDi Turbo
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  • Transmission:4-Speed A/T
  • Price as Tested: